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.

A whole lot of romance

Take around 200 romantic novelists and what do you get? A conference, apparently! The Romantic Novelists’ Association conference at Lancaster University certainly didn’t disappoint, with an amazing buzz for the best part of three days.

The RNA is a diverse and incredibly supportive organisation. Writers of all ages, published, unpublished and self-published belong, and new writers are mentored through those painful early days towards publication. At the conference, there are talks and workshops on just about every aspect of writing a novel you can think of – but the best part of it is meeting new writers, making new friends and catching up with old friends.

Three Take Five Authors members were there enjoying the fun this year. Janet Gover and Jenny Harper and Sue Moorcroft.

A common pastime for me during the weekend. It's much better now.

A common pastime for Janet during the weekend. It’s much better now.

 

Janet says: I had a wonderful time and came back totally inspired. It wasn’t just the talks and workshops. They were full of useful information… but I learned something else this year. The night before conference, I hurt my foot, and at one stage thought I would be unable to go. I put out an SOS and so many of my RNA friends were there to help – with a lift to the venue, carrying my things, even dashing out to buy frozen peas to help my swollen foot. For me, that really sums up the friendship I find in the RNA.

 

Jenny says: The Conference is a great time for renewing old friendships and forging new ones – and I had a ball doing both. The only frustrating thing is that there are often two or more sessions running at the same time, so you simply can’t do everything. I’m delighted that I chose to attend the crime workshop. I don’t write crime, but I now know where to turn for accurate information if I ever need it – and it was fascinating. Roll on next year!

Janet and Jenny catching up at the conference.

Janet and Jenny catching up at the conference.

Sue says: I spent a lot of time catching up with my friends in the dining room, the bar and at kitchen parties (invaluable networking) but I also attended some great sessions. The two on commercial fiction were especially useful as I’m teaching a course on the subject in October and the ‘Together we stand panel’ of industry professionals was just fascinating. The conference always gives me a huge buzz!

Sue with RNA President Katie Fforde

Sue with RNA President Katie Fforde

The thief of time …

Alexandre Normand from San Francisco, United States via Wikimedia Commons

Alexandre Normand from San Francisco, United States via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve blogged about procrastination before, elsewhere. It seems it’s a recurring theme! But I ask you – if you are a writer, can you honestly say that you never procrastinate? Because let’s face it, writing a novel may be fulfilling, rewarding, necessary (there are a dozen important and worthwhile drivers) but there’s always something that’s easier to do, isn’t there?

I think kid myself about my writing – I’m not procrastinating, the scene/dilemma/character is taking shape in my mind while I do other things.

Really? Hmm, well maybe. But on the other hand, maybe I’m just putting off dealing with the challenge posed by that elusive plot twist, the realisation that a character needs more depth, a scene more emotion.

Currier & Ives. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Currier & Ives. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was researching this article, I came across this lovely image. Wow, I thought, that’s one the my favourite diversions: a cuppa with some good friends. I headed to an article where it had been used and found – to my great astonishment – that it had been used by a writer (Deborah Makarios) who was writing about, you’ve guessed it: procrastination.

But – there’s a but here – she had used the image in a very different way from what was going on in my head.  It wasn’t about heading down to the nearest café at all. In her research, she had come across a suggestion that a great antidote to procrastinate is motivation, and that one way to keep motivated is to have a mission statement.

Now I spent many years of my life as a corporate communications consultant. What did that involve? Mostly, it was to do with people working in big companies. The big buzzword around the time I left was ’employee engagement’. That is, how do you keep people wanting to come to work every day and, once there, getting them to apply themselves to their tasks with energy, enthusiasm and commitment? I loved the job. After all, there’s nothing in this world as interesting as people, is there?

So, what was they key to success? Most of it (certainly from my point of view) centred on clear communication and reward. Help people to understand what their role was, reward them for a job well done, and engagement would surely follow. (Reward wasn’t necessarily about money,by the way – praise and recognition were equally important).

And one of the simple ways to help people to understand what they were signing up to  – why they were getting out of bed in the mornings – was to try to distil the essence of what the company stood for down into a very few words, a sentence at most. This was ‘the mission’. Mission statements tend to be grandiose. Here are a couple of mission statements from huge corporates – see if you can guess which ones! (Answers at the foot of the blog):

  1. People love our clothes and trust our company. We will market the most appealing and widely worn casual clothing in the world. We will clothe the world.
  2. Use our pioneering spirit to responsibly deliver energy to the world.
  3. Profitable growth through superior customer service, innovation, quality and commitment.

It had never occurred to me that I could carry the corporate ethos forward into my personal life when I left that world. After all, it was what I was escaping from, wasn’t it? However, Deborah Makarios got me thinking. She went ahead and devised her own ‘mission’. It started with that cup of tea – here’s what she wrote: ” … my aim is to write works (novels, plays, what have you) that are like a cup of tea. Sitting down for a cup of tea is both a rest, and a restoration; it eases your weariness and it prepares you to face the world again.” It’s a nice image, and it led her to her own mission: Truth – hope – take heart. (Do visit her blog, it’s lovely.)

Will having a mission statement help to keep me motivated and stop me procrastinating? I won’t know unless I try, will I? So, after a lot of thought, here’s mine: Use my imagination and craft to entertain, amuse and move readers.

In a future blog, I’ll come back and let you know how it’s working! And if YOU fancy devising your own mission statement, do let me know what it is, won’t you?

Oh – and those corporate missions? They were 1) Levi Strauss & Co. 2) ConocoPhillips and 3) BUPA. Did you guess them?