On Deadlines (Oh, How I Love a Solid Deadline)

fixthislater_wide
(Just a little reminder to myself, written in my first-draft notebook.)

First off, in case I haven’t been talking about it enough and boring you with it, I have a deadline. You haven’t heard? So it’s November 1, and it’s the deadline to turn in the first official draft of my new novel to my new publisher. The book was sold on proposal, which means I had a lot of pages to write, and quickly, and I’m still not done yet, I feel very far from done, and it’s already October 4, and cue urgency, and cue one-track-deadline-mind, cue a healthy motivational level of panic.

I kind of love deadlines, actually. I love all of the above. This gets me writing.

(And, little psychological interlude I guess: Having a deadline makes me feel wanted. Someone wants to read my book enough that they gave me a deadline! That makes me feel really, really good.)

I’ve run into an interesting phenomenon lately when I mention my deadline. It’s one where I am all gung-ho crazy-serious about this deadline—like, I can go around blaming it for everything (I don’t have time to (a) go to the gym (b) clean (c) eat healthy (d) see friends (e) take that freelance project (f) the list goes on, I’m on deadline blah!). I know I take it too far. I exaggerate. I am very dramatic (was accused of this just last night!).

So, yeah, it’s not the end of the world or anything.

But at the same time, I kept sensing that not all writers take these book deadlines as seriously. Or understood why I was being so serious about mine. And it made me wonder about myself? Why do I?

Here’s why.

Talking to some authors while I was away at my last colony, I explained I was there for an emergency residency and I had this deadline and I didn’t know if I could make it but I was putting my all into trying, and the most common response was…

But why do you have to make the deadline?

Deadlines don’t mean that much.

Publishers move deadlines all the time.

And sure, that happens. I remember. I worked in publishing, and manuscript deadlines rarely held. But here’s the other thing about working in publishing—as the production editor for these books, when those deadlines didn’t hold because the author and the editor needed more time? Not always did the publishing season shift. What shifted was the time the other people in the office had to work on the book—the designer, the typesetter, and last and yes actually least, the production editor, the in-house copyediting person who is supposed to catch every last typo before your book goes to press. I’d be the one losing time. And for someone whose job it was to make sure the books were PERFECT, you can imagine how exasperating and stressful this was. I once spent Thanksgiving weekend working on an enormous book, unpaid because salaried employees don’t get overtime and no freelancer could do the work as quickly as I could, at home, because the production deadline couldn’t move and I was the last round in the shrinking schedule. I’ve made mistakes during rush schedules that have haunted me, because not having enough time is never an excuse. The job could be so overwhelming, often due to the way work piled up and everything was due at the same time, and deadlines weren’t always met… that I stopped in 2009.

Yes I know publishers often have a cushion with their deadlines, to avoid just this problem. I am sure I have a cushion. If I need it.

But why be all blasé at the start? I’d rather take advantage of that cushion later, if I need it, during revisions.

When I don’t make my deadlines as a writer, I can’t help but think of that person at the end of the assembly line at my publisher—that person who was me, a short number of years ago—and I want her to have her Thanksgiving weekend, you know?

I really want to make my writing deadlines.

I take them very seriously.

I don’t always make them—and I hate that—but it is not for lack of trying.

At the same time, if I need more time I want to be as honest about it as possible, and say that as early as possible, so the schedule can be adjusted.

For authors, meeting—truly trying your best to meet—your deadlines is a way of respecting everyone in this process. There are a lot of people whose hands will be on this book, in one way or another, and I am honored and humbled by that. I want them to have the time they need to do their best work, too.

Right now, I am very early in the publishing process of this book, and the schedule can be adjusted—there is still time.

…So why am I working so hard, then, and pushing myself to write a crazy amount of words in such a short amount of time? Why not take as much time as I want to write this book?

Art can’t be rushed, right?

Because time is relative. I find that my time expands to fill the time I have. If I’d been given a year to finish this draft, I would have taken every last day of that year. If I had two years, I’d take the two. I don’t know why, but I always seem to feel like I never have enough time. I want to challenge myself with this draft and finish it by November 1, or as close to that date as I can.

Then I’ll revise. My favorite part of writing is the revising anyway.

There’s also the issue of money, which I know not all writers like to talk about because it’s crass, but, that’s part of it, too: I can’t stretch this out and take my sweet time on this—which would be, oh, from experience I’d guess three-and-a-half years of luxurious discovery and writing only when I am fired up and inspired—because I no longer have a day job to keep me afloat. I signed this contract with full intention to deliver. I want to keep this book on time, because I want the next book on the contract to be on time. It affects advance payouts and later book deals and my career for the foreseeable future.

That’s also the reason I wanted to sell on proposal, which is another question I get. I have thought of taking my ideal block of time—three-and-a-half years—and stepping back from all this and going back to a nine-to-five full-time office job so I didn’t have to rush myself and so I could still pay my bills, and selling a book only after I’ve written the whole thing and revised it a few times, too, the idea of which fills me with envy, but I didn’t choose that.

I chose this deadline.

So I’m trying to make it.

I am trying.

I don’t know if I can do it. I may need more time.

If I do, if I can’t complete a good first draft in the time I have allotted, I will be honest. Until then, I guess the production-editor part of me is still alive and kicking. And she really wants me to make November 1.

Advertisements

Possible Excuses for Missing Deadline

  • My manuscript was stolen and I only just paid the ransom to get it back.
  • I am allergic to revision and had to take antibiotics and wait for the swelling to go down.
  • Bad spill. Can’t read revision notes.
  • Grizzly bears / wild boars / rabid pigeons ate it.
  • I had a finger injury and lost all ability to type.
  • I am boycotting writing until they free Tibet.
  • My computer started swallowing words until I had nothing left.
  • Alien abduction, a solid excuse for anything, anytime.
  • Gossip Girl / America’s Next Top Model / The Pussycat Dolls Present Girlicious was on TV.
  • Bad case of the hiccups.
  • Violent amnesia. I had a deadline? What, where, when?

Got a better explanation? I’m all ears.

Deadline vs. Life

My deadline for the revision of my 40,000-word work-for-hire manuscript is this coming Friday, April 25. Even if I tried to keep working on this all day today (Saturday), and then all day tomorrow (Sunday), and then all through the week—keeping in mind I leave for my day job at nine in the morning and get home, at the earliest, at six at night—I still do not think I could physically manage to finish by Friday morning. If you saw the notes on the pages plus the additional notes in the revision letter, I think you would agree with me. It’s a matter of concentration, levels of energy, panicked inertia, and just a lot to do.

And yet…

Yet I’ve had plans with family this week. My mom came in Wednesday—we had a blast. It was worth missing a morning of writing, for sure. I want to spend time with e—we went on a walk to the pier last night; it was wonderful. And tomorrow I have a day trip to see my little sister; we’ve been planning this for weeks. I haven’t seen her since December.

On the one hand I have a deadline.

On the other hand—and it is the hand I happen to be favoring right now—I have a life and I want to, like, I dunno, try to actually live it. I want to see my sister tomorrow!

I think, seeing as it is very likely I couldn’t make the deadline of Friday, April 25, no matter how hard I try that I should still go see my sister.

Please say you agree. Would it help if I tell you that they haven’t paid me my first half of the advance due on signing yet, even though I sent the signed agreement back in February and I was counting on it to pay my taxes and I ended up having to temporarily pay the taxes on a credit card because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to pay rent?

I’m going back to work on the revision now. Outside it’s a beautiful spring day. I want to live! I just have to finish this revision first.