Shelley Widhalm

Deadline Wrecker

In 52: A Writer's Life, Editing, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

Pushing deadlines is something I’ve learned to avoid during my daytime job as a reporter, not wanting to annoy my editors.

My nighttime job moonlighting as a yet-to-be-published writer is quite a different matter.

I usually don’t have deadlines except for those that are self-imposed.

I had one Monday at midnight for the Top of the Mountain Award novel contest offered through Northern Colorado Writers, which honors a fiction and a non-fiction manuscript at the group’s annual writer’s conference.

I filed my five-page synopsis and the first 25 double-spaced pages for “The Fire Painter” at 12:00, which actually was Tuesday morning. My heart pounded as I tried to add the attachments and write up an email in three minutes.

When I hit “Send,” I barely made it in time.

Too late for a correction, I noticed a repetition in the last section of nearly the same phrase, not surprising because I wrote my synopsis up to nearly the last minute.

Though I wanted to enter the contest, I wasn’t quite ready for the synopsis stage.

A synopsis is a one-page, five-page or other number of pages summarizing the plot of a novel that includes the hook, the character and plot arcs, and a sense of the setting and other writing elements. It’s told in present tense, includes very little dialogue and gives away the ending.

Given that I’m methodical in my writing habits, I freaked out when I tried to write the synopsis while editing my novel. I couldn’t mentally process how to do things out of order.

I knew about the contest’s extended deadline for two weeks, during which time I painstakingly input the red marks from my marked-up second draft into my third draft. I spent 15 hours a week for two weeks doing the input, which I finished at about 3:30 p.m. on Monday (my Sunday).

I could have skipped most of the input because the contest submission required just 25 pages, not all 283 of them.

Because I didn’t, I ended up limiting my time to write and edit the synopsis. I worked on it for an hour, and then feeling quite tired from sitting too long in a chair, I did errands, ate dinner and got coffee. I then got back to work for a few more hours until, well midnight.

Though I hit “Send,” I’m not done. I’ve got two more drafts to go, then it’s the big sleep for the manuscript where I won’t look at it for a few months. Call it Cinderella meets Sleeping Beauty (or the midnight pumpkin meets girl needing a break).

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