Deadlines – from a traditional author’s perspective

Even if it doesn’t actually tick – the clock is always there.

Flowing on from last weeks post about deadlines from an indie author’s viewpoint, here are some thoughts from the other side of the spectrum.

I am a traditionally published author… and I love a deadline. I mean, seriously love them.

Maybe it dates back to my years as a TV journalist. The nightly news went on air at five or six or seven o’clock, according to where I was working. And whatever story I was preparing for that show, if it wasn’t ready on time, it didn’t go on air. The next day, there would be more news. Yesterday’s story would simply be forgotten and all that work would be for nothing. So I very quickly learned the importance of a deadline and in 20 years, I only missed one (and that wasn’t my fault – but that’s a different story).

So – a deadline is a good thing.

Two deadlines? That’s a bit harder, but still do-able with a bit of planning. A lot of publishers these days like at least one full novel and one novella from every author in a year.

Three overlapping deadlines? That’s really, really hard work and likely to induce stress and much need for chocolate or red wine – or possibly both.

And anyone who accepts four deadlines is a crazy person. Seriously crazy. This is usually linked to writing in more than one genre of novel under more than one name. (Guilty as charged Your Honour.)

When I look at my writing schedule, this is what I see:

  1. New Australian novel to be go my agent by September 30th
  2. September or October – edits for book number 10, due to be released in January 2017 (under another pen name).
  3. Something called “the New York Novel”, which I have promised my agent I will start writing before Christmas and finish by next summer. The END of next summer (she says loudly, hoping that’s true)
  4. A follow up to book 10, due for release in January 2019, which must be started in September/October and be in the publisher’s hands by June next year, with edits for that probably around the end of summer (see point 3).

(Did you notice how I combined a couple of deadlines in the last two? If I hadn’t, that would be five/six deadlines. And no-one their right mind ever takes on five/six deadlines, because that’s just impossible.)

So – how am I going to do all this?

Research can leave you a bit overloaded.

I usually write a minimum of 1,000 words a day. 1,500 words is normally a good day. That’s about 8,000 words in a week. It might not sound like a lot – after all there are more than 600 words in this post. But there’s research and planning and thinking through plot possibilities. Plus of course there is real life, which often includes a day job.

In the past few weeks, I have been inspired by all these deadlines. Yes. Definitely inspired. It sounds so much better than terrified.

I have been writing as much as 3,000 words per day. Sometimes more. And as always when the words are flowing that easily, they are pretty good words. Of course they will still need reworking and polishing and editing, but they are right there on the page. There is also the small matter of going back and changing ‘loko’ into ‘look’ and trying to figure out what ‘naviess’ is supposed to be. I don’t type well when I type quickly.

When I’m this terrified  inspired, a few things have to give way to make those deadlines. These include ironing, laundry (except in dire emergencies), gardening, exercise and being social. As for tidying the house… well, best not think about that.

In about three days, I expect to finish the new Australian novel – with the working title of The Homestead. At that point, my level of terror will subside just a little. But the funny thing about all of this is that I love it. I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing. Maybe this is the writer’s equivalent of the adrenaline rush that sportsmen and actors and surgeons and stock traders get when things go well and fear is replaced by a sense of accomplishment.

In three or four weeks, I will be able to cross off the first deadline in my list, so maybe I could think about adding that Christmas novella….. after all, I wouldn’t like to run out of deadlines – and inspiration.

Taking the technical terror out of talks

Jenny, Sue and I had a great time last week at the Romantic Novelists Association conference (see the previous post)… for me there was also a bit of work involved.

I have the honour (is that the right word – I’m not so sure) to be the RNA’s geek girl. My day job involves television and complex computer systems, and I am therefore member who looks after all things technology for the RNA.

I spent a lot of the weekend running around (well – actually hobbling around due to injured foot) making sure all the speakers were happily attached to projectors, computers and microphones. And I also gave a workshop on the technology of giving talks.

Here I am - with a very very big screen, giving a talk at a previous RNA conference.

Here I am – with a very very big screen, giving a talk at a previous RNA conference.

Almost every author I know gives talks – to conferences, writing groups, educational institutions, the WI – and even on cruise ships. It’s part of the job description. I often get emails from panicking friends saying things like – I have to give this talk and they say they only have HDMI. What’s that? Can I plug my Mac into it?

Talks are scary enough without the technical terror, so I thought I should offer up some help.

If you want to connect your computer to a large screen TV or a projector, there are two primary ways to do this.

VGA is a 15 point plug that outputs only the screen display, usually to a projector. There is no audio. This is most commonly found in places like the WI.

A VGA cable and port. The other end of the cable is attached to the projector or sometimes a TV.

A VGA cable and port. The other end of the cable is attached to the projector or sometimes a TV.

Sometimes your computer will automatically adjust itself and the image on your laptop screen will just appear on the big screen. If not, go into your Control Panel –> display and screen resolution to find the place where you tell it to detect another screen.

If you need audio when using a projector with VGA, you will need external speakers. I have a cheap pair of speakers I take with me. Some venues will have their own permanent speakers and a cable that you just plug in the same way you plug in your headphones. If you are including a video in your presentation, make sure you check the audio situation.

HDMI  is more recent technology and is used to connect to a big screen TV or a proper multi-media desk. It shares both sounds and the screen.

HDMI connections. The plug looks the same at both ends. This is for large screen TVs

HDMI connections. The plug looks the same at both ends. This is for large screen TVs

Most new laptops no longer have VGA ports. They only have HDMI. You are going to need a converter to attach to an older projector. You can buy a HDMI to VGA adapter online or at any electronics/computer store for £10-20. Remember, if at any point you go through a VGA port, you will not have audio at the other end.

If you have a MAC – you won’t have either VGA or HDMI – so you will have to get a proper MAC to VGA or Mac to HDMI converter. These are easy to buy and work just fine.

A MAC to HDMI converter. There's a similar one for VGA too.

A MAC to HDMI converter. There’s a similar one for VGA too.

The final piece of technology you need is what is known in the trade as a clicker thingy. These require a USB port on the laptop.

Most clickers also have a laser pointer included. The laser won't work on most TV screens.

Most clickers also have a laser pointer included. The laser won’t work on most TV screens.

Using a remote clicker allows you to move away from the laptop, walk around as you talk and wave your arms around too. Try not to do what I did and wave your arms with such enthusiasm that you accidentally throw the clicker thingy into a wall and break it. Oops.

Ok – so that’s the technology – I hope that helps.

Over on my blog at, I am talking about the slide presentation itself and how to make it entertaining and interesting. It’s all about bouncing balls and honeycomb wipes. Do drop over for a look.

Fear. Has it halted your writing dreams?


So what is stopping you from being an author?  Or, if you’re one already, what offers your greatest obstacles?  No, it’s not Time.  If your passion calls loudly enough, you can always squeeze hours from the day, no matter the siren call of Facebook or the demands of work and family.  The problem is another voice is calling louder:  it’s Fear.

Oh my, the terrors of creativity!  Where to start?  There’s that inner critic that says you’ll never be good enough, that it’s crazy suicide to stick out your head, only to have it shot away.  It sneers at your aspirations, mocks your dreams.Wim_van_den_Heuvel_en_Yoka_Berretty_(1961) (1)  What if you write total crap?  What if you have no talent? Or for some the reverse might paralyze. What if you become successful beyond your wildest dreams? Will your friends still love you? Will you be able to handle the heat?

At twenty-one, working for literary agent, Carol Smith, I yearned to write short stories for our women’s magazine contacts.  (These being my disastrous dating days I had a wealth of tragi-comic material.)  But Carol’s encouragement couldn’t quell my nightmares, imagining someone reading my work and hating it.  Worse yet, hating me.  Thinking I was stupid, boring, totally worthless.  I’d have stayed in that hellish limbo if our new secretary hadn’t produced her own story within days of being hired.  Nothing like a competitive panic and the fear of left behind to spur you over an artistic hurdle!  Plus, I realised, by using a pseudonym no one would know I was the authorial culprit unless I confessed.  Oh yes, I was very brave.

Eventually, as we writers do, I started a novel, pouring into it all my angst: hundreds…thousands…of words.  It went on and on. I showed it to a couple of editors who suggested, unsurprisingly, major cuts. Shamed and crippled by 320px-Frightthe suspicion I may have exposed some tormented aspects of my psyche, I bolted to South America instead.  Years later, my sister Pam and I entered the novel-writing arena, knees shaking, hand in trembling hand, as we together we dared the rejection trail.

As they progress, authors discover tricks to overcome creative anxiety, for what else is writer’s block?  Write anything, they say.  Just put words on paper, ignoring the internal editor that shrieks you’re spouting rubbish.
A few pages of total garbage are sometimes enough to shake loose true inspiration.  My trick when I’m stuck is to scrawl a rough draft with pen on a yellow legal pad. Or – lazier –  pass the stubborn bastard over to my writing partner, Pam.   For some, writers’ groups help.  Still, the one time I joined such a group, I found myself sweating buckets, the only person present (and the only published author besides) who absolutely refused to read her work aloud.

Five novels on I can affirm it gets easier.  I know my enemy.  I know the only way to defeat him is to write, although beginning any new book tends to awake the monster.   The bad news: publication is half the battle in a never-ending war.  Today’s authors need to become publiScared_Girlcists as well.  For a shy reserved writer, what could be worse than having to blow your own trumpet, fight against the self-effacing little girl inside that wants to shriek, ‘Don’t bother reading my work, it really isn’t very good!’?

Instead, you put yourself out there like a nightclub stripper, shaking your stuff all over the internet, luring in new readers, inviting reviews, good or bad.   You grow a thicker skin.  Tell yourself the writers of glowing five star reviews are amazingly intelligent souls with exceptional good taste and those who slapped you down with one or two stars can go take a running jump.

What’s the bottom line?  For Pam and I, it comes down to this.  If you want to write, write.  Ignore the naysayers, the loudest of which will probably be buzzing about your brain.   Accept that, just as with new acquaintances, for all those who think you’re brilliant, there will be others who vehemently disagree.  And remember that many famous authors like Hemingway and Mark Twain discovered their own prescription for courage.  Whisky. Lots of whisky.512px-Scotch_whiskies



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We’ll choose the winner on 10th March.

Best of Luck!   And let us know what sparks your personal terrors!