Wishful Deadline Thinking
Blogger: Wendy Lawton
If you’re currently facing a deadline, are you kicking yourself for wishful thinking? You know. . . the editor asked if you could possibly get the book out in six months instead of eight months and in the Sally-Field-like euphoria of the moment (“They like me, they really, really like me!”) you say, “Sure.” Now you realize you are in the first third of the book. You hate your characters. The book is stupid. The setting seems inane. You spend more time playing Angry Birds than working on the manuscript. And the deadline looms in just ten weeks. Gulp!
Why does this happen so often?
- When we are trying to set a realistic deadline for an upcoming book we are often in the final stages of our current book. That’s when the writing begins to flow. We know our characters. All the plot threads are coming together and the words are flying off our fingers. When I was actively writing I’d get so excited about the possibilities during this golden time. I used to say I could average 5000 words a day with gusts up to 7500. I’d start plotting and planning how quickly I could write a book given those numbers. Duh! Writing speed needs to be averaged over the whole book– the excruciatingly slow first part of the book, the draggy middle and the sizzling final portion.
- Figure on ramp time. Every time you leave a project you need to plan on extra time to get ramped up to speed again. We have mini ramp time with every new day. More ramp time on Mondays. Serious ramp time after an extended time away from the project.
- We tend to be optimists– best case scenario planners. Unfortunately things happen. A child gets sick. An aging parent needs care. A spouse loses his job and is at home all day. We injure a tendon in our typing hand. We lose a loved one and find we can barely write our names let alone write a compelling novel. If we’ve allowed no time in the schedule for unforeseen events, we are tempting fate.
- We need to make money and writing faster may seem like the best way to accomplish more funds in a shorter span of time.
- Sometimes we are just too new at this and don’t yet understand our own creative rhythms. When an editor asks, “Can you do this in six months?” we figure he wouldn’t be asking if it weren’t possible.
- Some of us are people pleasers. Remember the song from Oklahoma? “I’m jest a girl who cain’t say no. . .?”
- We feel pressure because we know our readers are asking us to write faster. As a reader, I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve begged many of my favorite authors to write faster. I hate having to wait an entire year for their next book.
- We don’t factor in time for the book to rest before we begin rewriting and smoothing the book out. Any writer who thinks he can turn in a first draft will not be seeing future contracts. Editors are demanding cleaner and better manuscripts all the time. Allow for enough time to do sufficient rewrites.
- We also don’t figure in enough time for our first readers to read the manuscript and get it back to us. Factor this in as well.
What can I do to avoid this?
- Keep accurate daily records of your writing progress. After a few books you’ll have a good idea of your own pattern of writing.
- Keep a list of unplanned things that cropped up during each book. Doctor visits, vacations, that broken ankle– all of it. You’ll never be able to factor all this in to your future planning but it will remind you that life is messy and you can plan on some surprise time stealers during the writing of that next book.
- Don’t give an answer to an editor’s request for deadline possibilities off the top of your head. Think about it. Talk to your agent. Be realistic.
- Factor in the rewriting and first reader processes.
I’m not yet contracted. Is there anything I can do to prepare for the question of how much time it takes me to write a book?
- So many not-yet-published writers say, “I wish I had a deadline. I’d write much better to a deadline.” How do you know? You need to give yourself a deadline and then keep track of your progress just as a contracted writer would. This information will be invaluable when you are contracted.
- If you have critique partners, ask them to act like editors and hold you to your deadlines. No excuses.
- If you find you cannot write under those conditions you’ll know writing for publication is not for you. You’ll save yourself years of angst.
Got any tips for us on how to set a realistic deadline? For those of you who are bi-vocational, how does setting deadlines work in your industry? If you haven’t yet been published how might the copious amounts of time you have to write a book be an unrealistic scenario? Have you ever fallen in love with an author’s debut novel only to feel that the subsequent ones feel rushed or are disappointing? Let’s talk.