Monday 30 May 2016

How to Thrive on Deadlines

Paula working as a Pirate
before she realised she
could write like the wind
We are so pleased to introduce the latest recruit to Notes from the Slushpile, our best-selling writer pal Paula Harrison — she who has sold more than a million Rescue Princesses and seems to have books effortlessly leaping out of her jumper. Recently, Paula branched out from princesses to dragons, unicorns, firebirds and magical foxes. As if that isn't enough, this September, Paula's launching a new middle-grade book: Robyn Silver. What an example for us slow-coaches to emulate and the Slushpile is sooooo lucky to have her! Welcome, Paula ... we're hoping some of your publishing magic dust sprinkles over the rest of us!

I have a book to finish.

No one in my house is impressed by that excuse for not doing the washing up any more. I always seem to have a book to finish. My work squeezes into the school day and spills over into the evening. With two chapter book series to work on and a novel for 9+, I sometimes feel like I’m juggling hoops, whilst riding on a unicycle, whilst taming a lion, whilst... You get the idea.

A sketch of me juggling whilst riding a unicycle whilst taming a lion.
Drawn because SOME people in my house found it amusing!

Not that I’m complaining. I know how lucky I am to be published and writing full time. But there’s a lot to do and while publishers will move deadlines back for authors of stand-alone books, in my experience they tend not to do so if you’re writing a series. It could be that changing the time gaps between the books is problematic for them. (It's worth mentioning here that I've never written for a packager - all my stories are dreamed up and written by me - but I assume if you do the deadlines involved are not particularly flexible either.)

So I’ve developed a few tricks for writing more than one book for more than one publisher. Authors who have to do this are often picture book and/or chapter book writers. But first here’s a quick round up of what I’m currently working on.

Secret Rescuers is a chapter book series which I’ve largely completed. I’m waiting for copyedits on the last two books. 

Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes is for 9 + and is DUE OUT IN SEPTEMBER! Sorry did I get a little excited there? Did I mention I have an awesome cover and very shiny proofs courtesy of my new publisher, Scholastic? I’ll be writing more of the second book this summer. 

Young detective series with a secret title! This is what I’m currently writing and it’s due out in 2017. Not having written mysteries before, I’m finding I love it. But I can't tell you anything else about it yet!


Make a plan

Whether you keep it in your head, note it down on paper or make a spreadsheet on the computer, you need a plan of what you’re going to write and when. It take practice to work out how many weeks or months each stage of a book will need – first draft, edits, copyedits.

My plan is in my head mostly, but if you’re new to managing multiple deadlines I’d recommend using a calendar. Allow yourself a cushion of extra time in your plan because stuff happens! You may get flu or the washing machine may break. Life can get in the way!

Let your agent and publishers know how you’re getting on

If things take longer than you’d expected, let your publisher know. The sooner you tell them there may be a problem, the easier it is for them to try to find you extra time. Nobody wants to be that person who says they can’t make a deadline but with lots of notice it is less of a disaster.

Focus on one thing at a time

Writing is an immersive experience and we live each story as we write it. You can’t do that properly if you’re thinking about the book you’re about to move on to when this one’s finished. You also can’t immerse yourself fully if you’re thinking about the cat’s vet appointment this afternoon.

Find ways to pour yourself into the story. For me, music is an excellent short cut into the mood and mind-set of my story. I have at least one piece of music for each book – sometimes more. Sometimes I find a song that suits a particular character. Then I’ll play it before I start writing.

Objects can also be helpful. For Pale Peak Burning, the last in the Red Moon Rising trilogy, I kept a chunk of granite taken from the Peak District where the book is set on my desk. When I wrote, The Storm Dragon (Secret Rescuers book 1) one of my kids made me a little dragon that sat beside my monitor. I know writers who create mood boards either using collage or online using Pinterest or a similar site. I also change the wallpaper on my computer to suit each story so that as soon as I switch on, I’m in the right frame of mind.

The original Storm Dragon - in Plasticine

Organise yourself in a way that suits you

Like most writers, I have a large collection of notebooks and I make sure I have plenty written down to refer to. It’s the worst thing in the world to return to your story at edit stage, after spending time writing something totally different, and have gaps in your memory about settings etc. If you think you may forget, write it down or draw it!

Protect your creative time

I’d like to refer you back to Teri Terry’s recent Plot Bunnies blog post here. All this organising, making plans and writing down notes can make you feel as if your writing life lacks colour. You need time to mull things over – to have that unexpected thought that changes the direction of your story. Allow time in your schedule for this – the creative spark is what brought us all to writing in the first place.

 (Pssst! If anyone says you’re writing too many books remind them that Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets! Taking 7 years to write a book is absolutely fine and so is taking 4 months. Let's embrace our differences as writers - be that many books or few!)

No deadlines were missed in the writing of this blog!


  1. Communicating how your getting on is so important - it helps keep you focussed on the deadline too - which reminds me....aaargh!!!

    1. Thanks for being my very first comment on my very first Slushpile blog Kathy!

  2. Welcome to the newest Slushie!
    June is gearing up to be tricky month for deadlines for me *gulp* so timely advice.
    I've never been that great at working on more than one thing at a time, but I think I'm going to have to

    1. I know you can do it with a few lunches out to help you along!

  3. Great post Paula! I am in awe of people who can multi-task and write multiple books at the same time! As Douglas Adams once said: 'I love deadlines- I love the wooshing noise they make as they go by.'

    1. Thank you Peter. I think the secret is Don't Panic - I'm quoting Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy of course!

    2. Don't Panic: is on my Dad's Army mug ;-)

  4. "Focus on one thing at a time" is what I struggle with. I need to write in a place where I can flee the rest of the world. I wish I could just write at home. Welcome to the fold, Paula!

    1. Thanks Candy! I don't think the internet is really a writer's friend when it comes to focus sadly.

  5. I've never used music to get me in the right frame of mind but I'm going to give it a try as I'm currently working on really different things (I'd usually try and write one thing at a time). Congratulations on everything, Paula. You're a whirlwind x

    1. Thanks Clare! Good luck with your new story. I hope to see you and hear all about it soon!

  6. Welcome, Paula. One deadline makes me focused, multiple deadlines would make me stressed so hats off to you. And good luck with your Sept launch.

  7. I have a mantra: "It's the stories that matter" - it makes me proritise. Somehow, writing has to come first. Setting aside a set amount of time each day when you are not allowed to do anything but write is the best advice I've had. Staring out of the window is just about allowed, and lifting mug of coffeee to mouth, but otherwise you sit with writing materials or computer and write ... or not.

    1. Yes you have to give yourself permission to do nothing else. Good luck Sue!


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