Two Weeks of Chocolate

Because entries for Operation First Novel are due September 1, you may think August is the most important time to prepare your manuscript. But take it from someone who’s entered the contest three times (and won this past year): The last two weeks of July are vital.

The month before the deadline can be a time for panic. So the more you can accomplish in the two weeks before the contest’s final month, the better.

Here are a few tips that worked for me as the final month loomed:

Always have chocolate within easy reach. No explanation needed.

Keep body, mind, and soul functioning at the perfect pitch. Stay hydrated, keep your stomach satisfied (chocolate), get moderate amounts of sleep, and have your Bible close by. A verse or two throughout the day keeps the devil away. And an occasional short walk can refresh a sluggish brain.

Gear up. Have you met anyone who claims not to be overworked? Now you can say it and mean it. Just two weeks—see what you can produce.

Practice delayed gratification. For two weeks put aside entertainment, social media, and other nonessentials. When I finished my manuscript, the joy of accomplishment far outweighed the thrill of American Idol and Survivor. (Instant gratification is why the chocolate’s close.)

Remember the big picture. Writing a winning manuscript is the thrill of a lifetime. But winning wasn’t my goal. Instead I asked God to turn me into someone He could use. The more I wrote, the closer I drew to God in dependence. His Truth was reflected in my work. And the feedback I received from contest judges showed the million words I’d written in the process were worthwhile.

Nowhere near finished? Who cares? See what you can do in two weeks. On my second manuscript, I was only 40,000 words into the second draft when I entered those important two weeks. I decided to get up at 3:00 a.m. every day and pound away to see how far I could get. Two weeks and 20,000 words later, I knew I had one month to finish and hone. I would get it done! (After some well-deserved sleep.)

The Christian Writers Guild is a fantastic group of writers who pray for one another. I pray for you every day. You’re not in this alone. You, with Christ, can do it.

While these are two weeks that will try your soul, God knows the end (Jeremiah 29:11). He knew I would win. Not with my first or second manuscript, but my third. And I will take with me for the rest of my life the wisdom to tackle those important two weeks before the final month.

Peter Leavell won the Christian Writers Guild’s 2011 Operation First Novel contest. His historical fiction, Gideon’s Call, will be released October 23 by Worthy Publishing.

Photo credit: David Castillo Dominici


  1. says

    Peter, thank you so much for these words! I took a break from revising to cruise the blogs I follow, and there you were, when I needed the encouragement. Yes, I’m feeling the incredible pressure of the contest deadline! I vacillate between being sure I’ll win, to sure my entry will flop, to just hoping for some constructive feedback to help me make my novel better. But most of the time, I know I just want to honor and lift up Christ. I’ve stuck to my plan for finishing my manuscript, but I sure couldn’t have done it without my husband’s support. He’s pitched in when I’ve been pretty much checked out—writing and thinking. Thank you so much for your prayers! And now I’ll go eat the Mounds bar chilling in the fridge.

  2. says

    This will be my third time entering, too, Peter. Since I’ve made so many changes to my manuscript, I feel like it’s my first. Win or lose, my book is a better book thanks to all the input from the OFN judges, my fellow contestants and my Word Weavers critique group. Such encouragement is rare.

  3. says

    Great advice, Peter, although I substitute chocolate with things like dates, nuts, snap peas, cherries, and carrot sticks. Now if only I had a third manuscript to enter instead of my first…for the third time! Editing like crazy here.

  4. David P. Jordan says

    I think the worst thing that could happen in these critical last weeks before the submission deadline is to have a computer go bad! I’m still waiting for my new one, fortunately with each revision I thought to email my manuscript to myself through the web so I’d have a handy copy.

  5. Mary Kay says

    Thanks, Peter. Appreciate your guidance, encouragement, AND especially sensing the companionship of you and other writers in this journey.

    Let’s pray each other (AND our computers!!) through these last weeks. And David, thanks for the idea of mailing a revision for backup.

    Blessings, all.


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