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.

*

Photo by Patrick Perkins 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!

June 2019 Stats

I’m really embarrassed to share this information because I did really, really bad this month. But this is how life works sometimes.

Word Count:

I’d be surprised if I hit 4,000

Days I didn’t write:

Almost all of them.

Submissions:

Got 1 acceptance. Nothing sent out.

Project Notes:

SO this month was terrible for my productivity. Mr. J drove up from Alabama in the first week and we stayed in Arkansas for a few days before driving down to the Florida panhandle to visit my aunt for a week. Then further down the state to visit Mr. J’s grandfather for another week. And then a few days in Mr. J’s home port before I flew back to Arkansas.

But even thought I didn’t do a lot of writing (I gave up tallying my word counts and days after the first week) I did a lot of outlining and brainstorming. I fleshed out secondary characters and sub-plots. I worked on motivations and story arcs. It was a productive time in every other aspect of writing except actually writing.

My two other main projects, Resonance and The Heart of the Forest Cycle, are progressing more slowly than I would like but they are progressing. The biggest news there is that instead of being a trilogy of novels, The Heart of the Forest Cycle is going to be at least two volumes of short stories and novellas. I have a lot of characters in that series and tying all of their story lines together was becoming increasingly difficult so I’ve separated nearly everyone’s stories and things are flowing more easily. I might be able to publish the first volume sometime in the fall but I’m still not going to make it a priority. The Slaughter Chronicles comes first.

July is Camp NaNoWriMo. I will be participating this year. I didn’t win camp this past April but I also had unrealistic expectations. So for July, I will work on finishing the first draft of Havoc’s Moon and polishing Moon Shine for publication in October.

Here’s looking to a larger word count in the future!

May 2019 Stats

Warning: I did not do so well this month…

Word Count:

14,428

Days I didn’t write:

11

Submissions:

1 rejection. Nothing sent out.

Project Notes:

So you can clearly see all the things I didn’t do this month (mainly write). But here’s what I did do:

I attended the Arkansas Writer’s Conference and met some extremely lovely local writer ladies.

I am working hard to study for the College Algebra CLEP exam so I can enroll in Biology and Chemistry classes this fall.

I moved all my furniture from our apartment into my house in Arkansas. I have a new writing space and everything! And with that move came the re-introduction of Mr. J’s cat Tiny Rick into our family. Titain and Leela are not pleased.

Also quit smoking AGAIN and withdraw has killed my productivity.

June is going to be no less busy. I’m taking a vacation to Florida with Mr. J next week and have to do a few more home repairs for my mom before we leave. I’m working on the final edits of Moon Shine and hope to be ready to publish it when I get back.

I’ve also been working on my urban fantasy series: The Heart of the Forest Cycle. At first I thought it was going to be a trilogy with each book focusing on different central characters but now I am thinking it needs to be a two-volume collection of short stories and novellas set in my magical universe. Because I’ve woven so many plot threads and am having a hard time connecting everything.

Whenever I find myself in a plot jam like this I find cutting things down is the best thing to do. I’m a poet first, fiction writer second, and I utilize a lot of my poetry skills to fix my fiction. I like to think they give me a unique perspective.

So what was going to be BOOK ONE of the HOTFC is now three stories about modern fairies set in the same universe. I’m working on adding two additional stories to give the collection more meat.

I’m not going to plan for it but if I can stay on task with my work in The Slaughter Chronicles I might be able to keep my original August deadline for the Heart of the Forest Cycle.

So far I have published one novella and two short stories this year. My original plan was to publish two more novella, one more short story, and three novels. So that’s five things I have not published yet and we’re already half way through the year. And I want to go back to college in the fall…

My new plan is to publish at least the two novellas and one novel bringing my total publications this year to 6 pieces of fiction, which isn’t bad. If I can maintain my self-discipline and stick to my plan the short story collection will come out as well but, again, I’m not going to push it, I have too much going on.

See you on the other side!

March 2019 Stats

Word Count:

35,274

Days I didn’t write:

6

Submissions:

1 acceptance. 2 sent out.

Project Notes:

I have started so many new projects. I am very annoyed with myself. Never stifle your creative process BUT I get stressed out when the “To Do” List keeps getting longer. Maybe one day I will figure out how to prioritize.

February 2019 Stats

Word Count:

34,368

Days I didn’t write:

8

Submissions:

0 acceptances/rejections. 0 sent out.

Project Notes:

So I wrote 4,000ish more words than last month even though I wrote for less days. One of my goals was to write every day this month but I had a lot of home repair projects that were more time consuming than I originally thought and Mr. J came to visit me and while I thought I could write and spend time with my significant other, I put writing on the back burner to spend more time with him.

For March I plan to write every day.