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

Editing As You Write

I have a habit of opening up my draft and re-reading and editing what I’ve already written before I start writing new content. It’s not a BAD habit, sometimes I need to remind myself where I left off or remind myself of the tone I was going for but then something happens where I get bogged down and by the time I get to the end of the text I lose momentum/motivation and don’t want to write anything new.

(Writing, reading, and editing poetry is very different for me.)

And then I get upset at myself because how can I ever not want to write?

I think personally when I go back and re-read something I feel like I have to make it perfect in my head before I can move on to the next part. Because if the first part isn’t 100% right how can I write the next part? Or the next?

I write in chunks and spurts, I don’t have a routine where I write every day. But the time where I wrote the most in one chunk was when I forced myself to not edit what I wrote in my previous sessions.

It’s really hard not to, but I find the results (writing more words) more rewarding than the instant gratification of “fixing” something.

Try it some time. Don’t edit. Just open up your word doc and keep going.

My Inner Editor

My inner editor looks like me only a little older, she is future me yelling at present me for all the mistakes I will make when I start writing.

On the plus side, my inner editor knows her stuff. She knows how to catch mistakes and detach herself well enough to catch most plot holes and inconsistencies.

On the minus side, I do this to myself every day; I am constantly berating and bullying myself–my past self–for the mistakes I made. Sometimes they’re yesterday’s mistakes but mostly they’re mistakes I made YEARS ago that probably no one remembers or even cares about anymore. No one but me.

So my inner editor is a reflection of one of my worst habits, which is self-bullying.

I love writing. I love it so much I don’t care if I’m “good” or “bad” at it. I think if you love something and it gives you joy you should do it regardless of what standards the “industry,” society, or whoever else you value holds you to. So why do I constantly tell myself this isn’t good or that isn’t good or something similar? Why do I do that so much that approaching my keyboard and the blank page becomes daunting and I get no enjoyment from the thing that used to keep me going during really tough bouts of depression?

It’s irrational and it’s mean. And I’ve often found that I have been meaner to myself than anyone else has been. So why do I do that?

I think partly because I’m not mindful enough, I’d rather think about all the things I have to do and get mildly anxious about not having enough time to do all the things than actually doing all the things. Because I’m scared that when the thing is done it won’t be good.

But if the thing isn’t good I can fix it because it’s MY thing and I have that power. So why do I still behave so irrationally?

Years of doing it and I don’t know how to stop? A little nervousness and discomfort is healthy?

You can’t have happy without suffering but this is definitely unnecessary suffering.

One of the things I like about National Novel Writing Month is that the pace keeps you so busy you don’t have time to indulge in those negative thoughts. Especially if you have things to do outside of writing, like raising another human being or paying the bills.

While your inner editor is a good thing to have on hand it definitely has its place and editing/revising is different from creating content. Yes you can edit as you create and sometimes that’s the best thing to do but other times it can slow you down and discourage you. You have to find a happy medium and it’s really hard to do that sometimes because feelings and desires.

I try my best to ignore my inner editor or tell her, “Hey, that’s cool, I’ll get to it later.” And when she screams at me to do it now I slam a door in her face. I don’t know if that’s the healthiest way to cope with my self-bullying because those thoughts always come back but it’s something that works for now.

The things I try to keep telling myself when I feel like I can’t do it anymore are:

YOU WANT TO WRITE.

YOU LIKE YOUR STORY, YOU WANT TO TELL IT.

YOU ARE HAVING FUN.

IT’S GOING TO GET BETTER.

Now go write!

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Photo by Kat Nelson on Unsplash