Thoughts on Deadlines and Why I Can’t Meet Them

A personal accounting of one of the more complicated aspects of a self-publishing author’s life: deadlines.

Alright, here’s the deal.

I can’t meet my own deadlines.

“Oh, but because it’s your schedule you get to make the rules and you’re in charge!” (If my cats cared this is what they might say.)

No. I’m not in charge. Because the minute the second I think I can meet a deadline something happens and I can’t.

This time, for example, I wanted to self-publish a short story collection on Halloween this year. It was going to be full of creepy, speculative fiction and I was going to have an absolute fucking blast writing it.

I made the decision to do this back in August when neither Regina nor any of my faeries were being particularly talkative and I thought I needed a “fresh” project so that I would keep writing every day and still feel productive.

Can you guess what happened?

I didn’t write a damn thing. I only have 2 short stories. That is not acceptable. Because now I’m faced with two paths: 1) scramble like hell and write 4 new things now and maybe they won’t be good and maybe they won’t make sense but by G-O-D they’ll be there, some of my other responsibilities may fall to the wayside but I am determined. Or 2) scrap the deadline and let the stories happen when they happen.

I’ve tried to form thoughts about being a self-publishing person and keeping a schedule and so far, but it’s time to take a close look once again.

Back in December 2018 I published a novella called Dead Girl Moon. It was meant to be a front runner to Havoc’s Moon, which was supposed to be published in March or April of 2019. That didn’t happen. I rearranged my schedule and changed my deadlines. I wrote for April Camp Nanowrimo and July Camp Nanowrimo and the book still didn’t happen. Another other novellas happened but then it rebelled and split in two (magical literary mitosis y’all) and I ran out of brain power to edit them down and add plot filler to make them whole and not nonsensical (well…nonsense will still happen but you know what I mean).

And then I started school and my writing hit the brick wall of academia (not for the first time) and since no progress was being made I scrapped my schedule yet again. But I thought: surely I can write a short story a week still. Surely my brain can manage that much. If I have all of September and the first half of October to write one measly little short story a week I can still meet my deadline. 6 weeks=6 stories and I’ve surpassed my quota. I win!

Can you guess what happened?

I haven’t written a complete short story yet. I have 2 drafts of stories I worked on back in March and April that I didn’t finish then and haven’t finished now.

The goals are not being met.

More importantly, the writing isn’t happening.

And now I have to figure out why.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with.

1) I have to write something every day. 10 words. 100 words. A 3 word poem. 1000 words. Whatever. I have to write every day or else I go crazy.

This is different from putting your ass in the chair and turning out pages for your holy WORK IN PROGRESS every day.

This is about expression and practicing. Like meditation, do a little every day and you’ll feel better. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes, 3 minutes.

Because I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write I wasn’t writing at all. That is bad. That is harmful. That leads to insecurities like imposter syndrome and self-loathing.

So I need to write every day but I cannot compartmentalize myself and say, “Today I am going to write a poem.” Or, “Today I am going to catch up with Regina.”

When I get the urge to write or a little idea fragment pops into my head I need to stop what I’m doing and write it down even when I’m in class or talking to a friend or whatever. I need to pay attention to my inner writing voice and let the ideas flow.

If I go the rest of the year without writing Havoc’s Moon, I’ll be okay as long as I’m still writing.

2) Life shit gets in the way of writing. Family drama, Biology tests, Chemistry labs, whatever. All the things that are *gasp* more important than writing right now.

(Digression: It’s not that I want to make writing my “full-time” job or be a “professional” writer. I want writing to be THE MOST IMPORTANT in my life. I’ve had to come (by trial and error) to the realization that writing is not and never will be the most important thing in my life. It’s in the top 5 (…okay it’s #6 on the list…the cats are #5) but it’s not THE MOST important. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be dedicated or passionate about writing. There was a time when writing was the only thing that made me happy and I ate, breathed, and shat poetry. But then I changed my life, made my situation better and found things other than poetry that I could love. That’s when I thought proper time management would let me do the things I wanted to do. And when I couldn’t keep to a schedule I felt like I wasn’t dedicated enough. Especially when I was such a “strong” writer before. But those are incorrect thoughts because there’s no ONE right way to write. And people are allowed to change and evolve.)

So I need to not add writing to the list of things going “wrong.”

Writing has always been the healing factor, the savior. Not the stressor.

That means I need to get rid of deadlines completely. And schedules. And plans.

When I have a project finished, I will publish it. Beyond that I can’t plan anymore. I can’t predict when I will have time today to write let alone plan out Nanowrimo next month (which I still want to try even though I have Thanksgiving with my in-laws this year and studying for final exams).

So no schedule. No deadlines. No nothing beyond write something every day. Maybe after school or during the summer I can try to build a frame for my viscera but not right now. Right now I just need to ooze around on the table and try not to get dehydrated.

3) Grow as I writer.

But not get caught up in the world of the “side hustle” or the “authorpreneur.” That’s what got me in trouble in the first place. I would watch YouTube/AuthorTube videos of people who have fans and followers and newsletters and for some silly reason I thought, “Well, they’re successful. I need to be like them.”

No. I don’t need to be like them. Even though they’re really cool and shiny.

Writing is not my day job.

My day job was sticking people with needles. My future job will be sticking people with needles and then looking at what I pull out under a microscope. Right now my job is raking pine needles.

I will still eat if I don’t publish a book. They might not. They have to do the marketing and the newsletter writing and the promotions and all that stuff that makes my brain hurt.

I want to learn the marketing stuff because I find it interesting. I don’t want to spend hours on social media begging for people to read my books.

But when I say grow as a writer, I want to do things that make my writing better. Like with anything in academia, there’s this stigma/stereotype that once you “get” an MFA you’ve made it (and I’m going to talk a lot about all that later) or that you’ve learned all the things you possibly could about writing and you are now the best ever.

That’s not true. Some of my classmates’ writing sucked. Sometimes my writing sucks. I do my best not to show you the stuff that sucks but reading is SUBJECTIVE and you, the reader, can like or hate whatever you want. Some of my classmates who I think their writing sucks went on to get book deals. The chick who wrote 50 Shades of Grey is super rich now. Whatever.

Some of it is skill and artistry, some of it is personal preference, but the things that define what make writing “good” are not universal or quantifiable. I mean, spelling and grammar are kind of a necessity but beyond that it’s all up to the reader.

I’m going to stop getting off topic now.

What I want to make clear is: I’ve let myself get distracted by all the shiny things in the self-publishing world that are related to writing but are not writing. In my distracted state, coupled with all my other not-writing responsibilities, I’ve let my writing slip, and not just the word count. I’ve been writing shitty, unusable stuff. And that’s good because all that stuff needs to come out but I also want to get serious about writing again.

Just writing.

So I’m saying “fuck off” to everything else (except you, dear reader, you’re awesome) and only focusing on writing words. Showing up to the page and getting 10, 50, 500 words a day until I feel like I’m back on solid ground.

To anyone waiting for more of The Slaughter Chronicles: I love you and I’m sorry you have to wait longer.

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Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Pretend You Don’t Know

When you’re editing your manuscript, read it though, at least once, as if you know NOTHING about your story.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own heads when we write, especially during the first draft. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to catch errors and inconsistencies you have to not only get critical, you have to suspend your own imagination and forget–temporarily–everything you know about your own story.

Crazy talk, I know.

But doing that changes your perspective and can give you insights you might not otherwise have.

But one of the hardest lessons I learned in my college poetry classes was not to make internal references or “inside jokes.” I might get the reference but someone who doesn’t know me sure as shit won’t.

The same thing applies to fiction. Readers can’t read minds. You might write something that makes total sense to you either because you get the joke or you know what’s going to happen three chapters or three books down the road.

Your readers don’t know these things. They might get confused. They might stop reading.

It also shows you things that you might take for granted. For example: does everyone know werewolves are bothered by silver? Does everyone know what necromancy is?

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to spell out every little detail, dumb your writing down, or waste pages with info dumps but it is important to be mindful of what expectations you are putting on your reader and if those expectations help or hinder your story.

Looking at your manuscript this way doesn’t just help fill plot holes. It can show you ways to enhance your narrative structure.

Here’s an example from my own experiences:

I love prologues.

I know AuthorTubers and many a podcast host tell you to avoid prologues like the plague. But I’m one of those weird people who love reading prologues so I thought, “Fuck it, I’m gonna write a prologue and it’s going to be my MC, Regina, reporting on the death of another character. And it’s going to be awesome.”

Well, I gave the manuscript to one of my beta readers and she didn’t like it. She has no idea who was talking and no idea who these characters were. Because there was no context. I knew what was going on because I have the WHOLE STORY in my head. She didn’t. And it didn’t work for her.

Then another beta reader said the same thing. And I was sad…because I made the thing and would have to change the thing.

If one beta reader has an opinion you can take it with a pinch of salt. But if more than one person has the same problem, the problem doesn’t come from their interpretations or expectations, it comes from your writing.

And I thought, “Well, what if I make it an INTERLUDE instead?”

And that works so much better because by the time this character needs to die you, the reader, know a little bit more about the world and can follow along with the MC and learn the WHY and HOW without getting confused.

So now, whenever I’m editing I always make a plan to read through whatever I’m working on as if I have no idea what’s going on. This helps me get into the mind of a reader and I can think about what kinds of things I, as a reader, would want to know.

I recommend that at least once you read through your manuscript and pretend you have no idea what’s going on. See what happens.

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Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Go To Your Setting

when it’s reasonable, of course.

GO TO THE PLACE YOUR BOOK IS SET!

…okay if you’re in the US and your book is set in Paris and you have no money, don’t go bankrupt for it…watch as many documentaries and street walk about on YouTube as you can.

This piece of writing advice has a personal anecdote.

This past Monday I drove down to the Mena, Arkansas area and planned to spend the morning hiking at Queen Whilamena State Park and the afternoon exploring the little, teeny-tiny towns surrounding the state park.

The drive down was really pleasant. But then it started raining. Thankfully, by the time I got to the Queen Whilamena Lodge and Restaurant the rain had stopped BUT there was fog EVERYWHERE!

I had not checked the weather app on my phone. I didn’t even think about the possibility of anything but clear skies and humid air (summer in Arkansas, y’all). But that is not what I got.

There was a fleeting moment where my heart sank and I thought, “I drove all this way and now I have to go home…”

But then I took another look at the fog, which was literally getting thicker by the minute and I thought, “HOLY SHIT THIS IS PERFECT WEATHER FOR A HORROR NOVEL!”

I mean look at that! That’s amazing!

If I’d gone on a “normal” day I’d have hiked, got some nice pictures of trees and buildings, and gone home with nice things to think about but this–the fog, the rain–gave my setting character. Or my setting looked at me and said, “Acknowledge that I am a force of nature!” while slapping me in the face.

And there was this really nifty fungus on the trail that was all glistening and fleshy. I almost walked face first into a MASSIVE spider webs trying to photograph it.

A new beginning to one of my books bloomed in my mind. I got to make rough stage blocking for an action scene and took pictures of this one specific outcropping from multiple angles for reference later. I was so inspired IT WASN’T EVEN FUNNY!

So the moral of this story here is think about what your setting is like in bad weather. You never know what will happen. But also, it’s important to visit, if you can, where your book is set because you’ll get to think about concrete details you may not have considered from your chair at your writing desk.

And I learned that my main character’s favorite food is not pizza like I thought it was, but fried green beans.

You never know what’s going to happen when you go out on location.

Good luck and happy writing!

Self-Sabotage

According to Psychology Today, “Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems in our life and interferes with long-standing goals. Among the most common self-sabotaging behaviors are procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury such as cutting.”

Mindtools.com also says that self-sabotage includes negative thoughts, indulging in unfulfilled dreams, anger, feelings of worthlessness, and worrying about all the things in all the ways (worrying about “things that really shouldn’t matter” and “fearing that if you fail, others will think less of you.”)

As a general human being and a writer, I do (and have done) all of these things. Some of these parallel with anxiety and depression.

So how does self-sabotage relate to writing if you enjoy writing? Surely you wouldn’t keep yourself from making your deadlines, you want your deadlines, you want your drafts finished. Right? Yeah, right.

There were times when I totally knew what I was doing and that yes, I chose to binge watch 5 episodes of Dancing Queen instead of write. Voluntarily. But there were other times, like when I spent the entirety of my 20s drunk because drunk was easier than dealing with the problems. Is self-sabotage the same as negative escapism? So many parallels.

To break the cycle or cycles of self-sabotage you need to (again from Mindtools.com):

1. Recognize your behavior

2. Monitor your negative thinking

3. Challenge that thinking

4. Make self-supporting behaviors

Easier said than done!

I’m a sociologist, not a psychologist. I can’t make all the bad things go away.

But I can say that, when it comes to writing, self-sabotage is a bitch and the best thing I’ve found to do, for me, is just ignore it and push through.

Because pushing through gets the words on the page.

I was supposed to have two new novels published last year. I’m still writing them because I got in my own way last year. This year I am determined, double determined to not let that happen again.

Because the worst kind of self-sabotage I indulge in is negative thinking. I tell myself this is going to be awful and I’m going to fail. I tell myself if doesn’t matter because I’m not going to meet my deadlines anyway, so why try?

Mr. J constantly tells me to relax and stop being so hard on myself. Easier said than fucking done. And really, there’s no good reason I should be hard on myself, I’m fine, I’m not doing anything wrong. But I could later, and it could all be shit. Therefore the now should be shit too because REASONS. That’s what I deal with in my head every day.

And the best thing I can do with that negativity is ignore it, even thought it’s coming from inside me. I just tell myself to shut up and write even if what I think I’m writing is the worst kind of shit imaginable. Even if I know for a fact I won’t make my deadline, I’m going to do it anyway because I want to, because I love writing.

That takes will power and sometimes I can’t ignore the negativity and I sleep all day because napping is easier than getting drunk and facing all the bad things. But that’s okay to because when I wake up I try to write again.

I have to constantly remind myself that I LOVE this, I LOVE writing and I’m not going to fuck up something I love. The negative thoughts can’t predict the future, my negative self doesn’t have a crystal ball. And neither do I. The negative thoughts are just my imagination and they don’t mean anything.

Mr. J told me no matter what happens, as long as I keep trying, he’ll still love me.

So that’s the advice for today: no matter what, keep trying.

Details (and why critical readers are important)

Be careful about being descriptive about one thing but general about another thing in the same sentence.

Specifics ground the reader in your scene.

Recently I wrote a paragraph and I gave it to Mr. J to read. He read it and said, “So you’re going to give me what kind of gun he has but you’re not going to tell me what beer he’s drinking. It’s (insert name of really fancy gun here) and just plain beer. At least say he’s drinking a stout or something.”

So I did. And it sounded better.

Overcoming Obstacles

This week I watched a talk by Laurel K. Hamilton at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference about things that make her want to stop writing and how to overcome those things.

Watch the video here.

The things that I took away from her talk were:

1. Find what only you can write: Don’t force yourself to write in a genre or style that isn’t compatible with your voice. Know where your voice lies. She says it better than my paraphrasing but the point is, I feel, that you have your own unique story and you need to figure out how to tell it in the way that is YOU, not the way you think you need to write to make sales or the way other people think you should write.

2. If it’s a priority, DO IT: don’t make excuses for yourself like “Oh I can’t write, I have to do the dishes” (I mean, the dishes are important but if writing is MORE important don’t put writing before the dishes) of “I have to stop writing and go to bed so I can be fresh for work in the morning.” I do this all the time and I need to stop because even though earning money to pay the bills is important writing is, aside from keeping my husband and my cats alive, my top priority. I need to treat it like it is, one of the most important things in my life.

3. Treat writing like it’s a job: Even thought I’m tired I go to work, even though I don’t want to work I go to work every day. It needs to be the same with writing. Even if what I think I’m writing is crap I still need to write because I wouldn’t just show up to work and say, “hey, these emails are crap, I’m going to watch YouTube for an hour or so.”

4. Failure is only complete when you give up: Self explanatory.

So some of the things that make me stop writing are:

1. My day job: when I come home I’m tired and tell myself I can’t possibly think one more coherent thought, I need to lie down and watch Netflix. This is not how you write.

2. Not understanding my goals: some people call me an organized and well put together person, I disagree because I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. Maybe I use organization to make order out of the chaos but unless I take some serious time to plan out where I want a book to go or what I want to accomplish by writing something and unless I’m absolutely certain about the direction I’m taking either nothing gets done or I am dissatisfied with the finished product.

Slowing down and really thinking about what I’m doing is very important and even though it takes time, I need to dedicate that time to the work.

3. Fear: I’m afraid I will never finish a draft. I’m afraid all my ideas will stay ideas and never become finished books. I’m afraid that when I finish a book I won’t think it’s good enough. I’m afraid that my husband won’t like it. I’m afraid my mom won’t like it. I’m afraid everybody will hate me. I’m afraid that no one will read my books and when I die all my stories and poems will disappear as if they were never written.

The thing you have to keep telling yourself is hard to do but you have to do it: writing is fun. You love writing. Don’t stop writing.

Writer’s Block: Jump Around

When you’re stuck on the beginning of your story, or stuck somewhere in the middle and you have no idea what to do or where to go, write the end. Start from the back and work your way forward.

If you have even a vague, rough idea of how you want your book to end or even if you have just a gut feeling, write it down. If you have no feelings at all, no clue whatsoever, make something up and go from there. Start at the end and work your way back. You may come up with something that will surprise you.

When you’re afraid of/reluctant to writing THE END because you think it’s not good enough or if you’re worried that your end won’t be your REAL end and you’re wasting your time, don’t think about it. Force yourself not to think about it. Or tell yourself you don’t care if you write crap.

Think about where you want your characters to end up, who you want to kill off, who you want to give the happy ending to. Then switch it up, or don’t. Do all the thought experiments. But most importantly, don’t censor yourself.

JUMP AROUND IN YOUR MANUSCRIPT.