Monday, February 18, 2008

The Importance of a Deadline

While writing my Amazon review for Baty's book, No Plot, No Problem, I re-read the book again. (I first read it more than a year ago.) It was as funny as I remembered it, but I was also struck anew by the core wisdom of Nanowrimo. Maybe because it's the logic behind Misque.

"The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It's the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen." (p. 14)

He actually names three things here, but this is also why Misque works. Big Task. Community. Deadline.

The task you have at Misque is, in some sense, a sequel to the task of Nanowrimo. It is to edit and package your novel -- to take it from that rough, "this is crap" draft you forced yourself to finish to a polished jewel you'll be proud to send out. During Nanowrimo, you worry about quantity rather than quality. At Misque, it's time to look at quality rather than quantity.

Ok, the fact is, if you're a perfectionist like me, and like almost every other writer I know, your manuscript will never be as polished as you like. A part of your mind will always nag, But what if it's still crap? And since you're playing for keeps now -- preparing your novel to be sent to an agent, editor or perhaps for self-publication -- you have to make sure your novel is the best it can be.

Definitely a Big Task.

In fact, I've been told it's impossible to do in a week. Among my annoying habits is reading writers' blogs and inviting the authors of blogs I like to come to Misque. It's meant to be a compliment; I only invite people I think probably have a good chance of qualifying, not to mention who's books I'd like to read. But some people find it annoying to have a stranger write a comment on their blog, saying, "Hey, come to my writer's retreat!" (If you were one of those thus annoyed, please accept my heartfelt apology.) Some people are piqued because they can't afford Misque and assume I must be making a fortune from being the Misque coordinator. (I'm not -- most of the cost goes to paying the bill of the luxury resort and the yummy food.)

Oddly, some people object to the goal of the retreat itself. One writer wrote back to me, full of bluster and outrage, telling me that a draft could not be revised in one week!

True. It would be ludicrous to think you could revise your manuscript in an ordinary week -- a week where you also perform your job; spend time with your family; plan, shop for and cook meals; watch tv and surf the net; attend to a million other tasks and worries.

Fortunately, a week of Misque is not a week of ordinary time. Your meals are delivered to you; your day job is set aside for a while; you family may be with you in Hawaii or maybe not, but they understand you're busy for most of the day doing something else. You and your fellow authors concentrate on nothing else but writing for a week. They have the same big task as you. And a strange thing happens. The magic of many minds working together to achieve a big task in a limited amount of time unleashes powers of clarity and creativity you didn't know you posessed. Problems which held you up for months now dissolve in days. The perfect opening sentence flows from your fingertips! The twist at the end comes to you in a flash! You suddenly figure out what to do with that scene in Chapter 19 which just didn't make sense before!

I'll be honest. Sometimes, what you discover in that week is the gigantic hole in your plot, which no simple plot-band-aid can fix. It means a total reworking of the novel. Of course, it is heartbreaking to discover that your novel is no more ready to embark across the ether to an agent than the Titanic was to cross the ocean. But really, isn't it better to discover this weakness, now, while still at port, so to speak, than after you've set sail, hit the iceberg of rejection and lost all hands to icy, shark-infested waters? You might have gone years still trying to make a broken novel work, never knowing what's wrong. This way, you know in one week, and furthermore, you'll probably have a pretty good idea how to fix it. That's a huge difference.

There's also another phenomenon. Sometimes a writer is as blind to the strengths of a novel as to its weaknesses. You might come to Misque with a draft you think is pure dross, only to be told it's already gold. Maybe it doesn't need any more polishing, but in your perfectionism, you've never allowed yourself to see that. Admitting your novel is ready to send out means you have no more excuse not to send it out -- and risk rejection. The trick is, if you avoid rejection, you avoid success. The support of your fellow Misqueans can give you the confidence you need to make it past the first rejection letter -- and the second -- and the tenth -- and the fiftieth -- and the hundredth (and you know many a novel know regarded as classic has been rejected that many times!) if need be, to succeed.

If you have any questions, or think you would like to apply to the Misque Writer's Retreat, email the Misque coordinator at

For scheduling information and specific submission guidelines, check out the website:

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