Play-by-play: The Weird Things that Happen When You Write Under Time Pressure


Tick-tock…Quick, that deadline’s approaching!

Foolish me.

So, as I mentioned last week, I committed to produce a story just three days after Passover was over. I did prewrite before the holiday, and even had started a first draft in longhand (I often do). It was this surprisingly dark piece, written in second-person. A concerned family member was talking to “you,” and “you” (it becomes clear) are suffering from a clinical depression.

When I picked these materials back up after Passover had wrapped up,  the first thing I thought was: ugh.

  1. The tone was too dark, especially for this particular venue (Ironically, the theme I was given was “Put some spring in your step!” Right.).
  2. The second-person thing effectively pulled you in–making the dark subject matter even more depressing.

I felt like hyperventilating. Was I back to square one? With only three days to go?


I picked up the same characters, the same initial problem, but first changed everything into first-person. The narrator is now telling a non-involved reader about her depressed sister.

Ahhh…not so intense.

Then I filled in the plot, changing some more of the details. I realized the ending would have to be different than I initially imagined.

At that point, I realized that it didn’t make sense for the sister to be depressed–she should be angry. I rewrote the allusions to her sadness (poor appetite, disinterested in normally pleasurable activities), and inserted in their places snide, passive-aggressive comments.

When I looked back at what I’d written, I realized that some of what I’d written reflected my own experiences–not in exact detail, but in the underlying experience. A bit embarrassing. I prayed my editors wouldn’t try to psychoanalyze me.

Next, I asked the closest available beta reader to read the second draft. (Also known as “Hubby,” when you live on the West Coast and it’s already 10:25 p.m. PDT.) He told me that the story was good, but took too long to get to the point.

The next morning, I cut the first 425-ish words.

Then I put back about two dozen of them, in a different place.

I filled in a few more details about the scenery, fleshed out the dialogue to make it more realistic.

Beta gave it another once over. “Much better.”

Thank G-d, I made the deadline.

3 thoughts on “Play-by-play: The Weird Things that Happen When You Write Under Time Pressure

  1. Some of my best work comes from when I’m writing at the eleventh hour. That’s when the proverbial gloves come off and the real voice comes out. And yes, I also learn a lot about myself in the process.

    Congrats on your down-to-the wire success. 🙂


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