Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Deadlines: Definition, Breeds, Usage


Having earned a snippet of free time today I will speak about a topic, which more likely will resonate with writers and bloggers alike and that is deadlines. There is nothing radically new I have to say to those that have an idea what is to lead a social life and maintain a platform on blogs and other social media as well as trying to be a responsible fiction writer. Deadlines are the necessary or otherwise welcomed evil.

In straight text, deadlines represent the outward force that points a barrel at the writer’s head and gets those fingers typing. To continue my alchemist analogy, a deadline is the lit hearth. It simply forces the alchemist at work to get those ingredients in the cauldron and stir, mix and add new ones to the recipe at the according time intervals.

The deadline, always imposing as it is, sharpens the focus and usually under the urgency it creates prompts bravery to just write the story and experiment, when you don’t know all the right ingredients. It promises, if followed through, that the writer will type THE END. With no deadlines or no hearth if we are to continue with the analogy, the alchemist will have to get that cauldron heated by the sun, which will take a long time to accomplish anything. Or worse, keep revising the same recipe without ever experimenting to see the result.

Published authors, no matter what format they write in, face the external deadlines. The hearth has been lit, it’s burning and time is trickling in the hour glass, so they have to start typing or else. Novelists are bound by publisher contracts, while pro short story writers get pressed by official anthology deadlines. However, more than 50% of the writer population is unpublished. These writers do not have a hearth pre-lit especially for them, but they still have to get something done and their inability to set up and follow through internal deadlines is what leaves so many people saying they are writing a novel for as long as several years.

My philosophy here is that the deadline is not something that pops up from outside and gets you into writing gear. An alchemist doesn’t wait for a lightning to strike the hearth in order to use the fire. Deadlines have to be set by the writers, daily, in order for this writing gig we all fantasize about to become a reality. In this line of thought deadlines are actually a side tool that aids the writing process itself the same way the chisel needs the hammer to bring out a statue from a stone.

Setting deadlines is never easy, never enjoyable and it involves making time to write, making changes to one’s daily routine and setting priorities. See how everything is connected and one thing leads to another leads to another leads to another. In order to become proficient with all the skills and tools a writer has in his/hers possession one must first perfect the ways to create the proper mood for writing to happen.

On a side note, finishing a story is only one deadline marked. Submitting it timely is a deadline on its own, which is just as important. This is a lesson I learned from a missed deadline for a zombie anthology I was prepared for a week ago. Since officially a deadline was not announced I had allowed my daily routine to stir my mind into another direction, which resulted in a closed submissions’ status for this particular anthology.

So my advice. Get a note book and start making “What-to-do” lists, until writing deadlines both external and internal become imbedded in your mind. It’s what I am doing and I am accomplishing far more than before the notebook idea.


Taige Crenshaw said...

Very true Harry. Deadlines – even self imposed one - are important. It gets and keeps you going. Over the years I’ve learned what works for me. I have a writing calendar of what I want to write and in what time frame. When I am working on a project during the week (since I have a day job) I set a writing goal of 5 pages a day minimum. I do more on weekends. Once the book is done I take a break of a week or two before I dive into my next project. Of course I leave room for flexibility if a project comes up unexpectedly or if real life issue happens. All in all it is a matter of setting goal/deadlines that work for you. The most important thing is to just keep writing.

Harry Markov said...

@ Taige: Oh yes, every writer has his or hers own rhythm and it's about what works with you on an individual level. Deadlines help with that. I am not yet on that stage to have a yearly calender, but overall I do know what I want to accomplish.

T.D. Newton said...

No need to mince words. Deadlines are a weapon; just one of many in our arsenal. If you ignore them often enough, you blunt the edge, though.

Harry Markov said...

@ Todd: Yup. This is it simply put, but I liked to stretch the topic a bit and see whether I could pull off a longer introspective post like that. Turns out I can.

ediFanoB said...

Deadlines - I hate them and I need them.
At work I get deadlines from other people. But at home I'm responsible for my deadlines. In the end I can't work properly without.
There is one thing which I definitely don't like: A deadline for finishing a book. Reading should be a pleasure and there is no pleasure under pressure.

Harry Markov said...

@ Michael: I know what you mean, but still I wish I could read faster and the deadlines help with that to a great extent. Otherwise there would be sporadic updates here. :)