A Tale of Too (Many) Deadlines
Writers and deadlines go together like income and taxes, or cats and litter boxes. Meaning one is great and the other is … well, you get the idea.
You can’t be a writer and not have deadlines. They might be externally assigned (your contract calls for delivery by a certain date) or self-imposed (an anthology market closes in a week and you want to submit), but sooner or later, they rear their awful, misshapen faces and breathe down your neck with their stinking, rotten breath.
So, when you decide to become a professional writer, you better have a plan in mind for how you deal with them.
Some people don’t have a problem. They never procrastinate, never run late, never get distracted, and don’t feel the pressure of that final hour rapidly approaching.
I call those people aliens. Because they can’t be human.
Me, I don’t work well under pressure. I tend to rush and then I make mistakes or don’t turn out something of the highest quality. And in this biz, much like working in a nuclear power plant, that can hurt you.
So, I’ve developed a certain business model. I don’t pitch books to editors unless the book is either finished, or nearly so (the words “on spec” don’t exist in my vocabulary). I make sure that my manuscripts are clean (doubled-proofed by me, proofed by multiple beta readers) so that I never have to worry about drastic edits from the publisher (here are your 400 pages of edits, by the way, they’re due in two weeks!).
Some of this is because of my poor ability to work under stress, and some is due to me planning ahead—I run a business, and I can never predict how busy I’ll be a week or month or six months from now, and writing always has to take a backseat to the main source of income. So, because I value my reputation for quality, and I don’t want to get a different reputation as someone who misses deadlines, I make sure I don’t have to worry about them.
Now, short stories are a different matter. I write stories throughout the year as ideas come to me, and then I look for markets to place them in. But sometimes a themed market opens, and they always have submission deadlines (30-90 days is pretty much the standard). Now, I might get lucky and have a story that fits the theme, but more often than not I don’t. Which means coming up with a story, writing it, getting it beta-read (hurry, guys! It’s due tomorrow, sorry!), and submitting within the assigned window.
This process might be easy, or it might be difficult as hell. How long does it take to come up with an idea that is good and original? How long does it take to write (am I busy with work?)?
And then there are times when the whole universe seems to conspire against you.
This past March, I got edits back from my publisher for my next novel (Hellrider, coming out in August, hint, hint). No problem. Had to rewrite a few scenes, adjust a couple of continuity glitches. Close to zero typos to fix. At the same time, several fiction markets opened. Three for short stories, one for novellas. I wanted to submit to all of them, but no way I could start until I finished the novel edits. Of course, the busiest time of the year for my business is from February to June, so I am in the midst of already working 9-10 hours a day just for the day job.
I finished my edits in the two-week time frame, but that caused me to miss one of the antho deadlines. I didn’t mind; it was my lowest priority out of all of them.
Then I worked on a short story for the anthology that had an April 2 deadline. Got it done, submitted on time. Then it was time to start working on the novella, due April 14. It was one that I had started late in 2018 but I’d put off to finish and submit a different novel. So I had 10,000 words already written. Piece of cake—three weeks to do 20,000-30,000 words, with the outline already complete.
Then work slammed me. I found myself doing day job projects on the weekends, when I’d normally be working on my writing.
Then, at the 24,000 word mark, I realized the plot was terrible and filled with continuity issues, and more than that, I didn’t like the arc for the main character—too obvious, too common. So I scrapped the entire outline and redid it. Went back to the 10,000 word-point and started over. Next thing I know, it’s April 9 and I’m still only at 24,000 words. And it’s decision time. Do I keep going, rush the crap out of the story, and submit it without proofing it? Or do I admit defeat and finish the novella at my leisure, making sure the quality is top-notch? (And I don’t get an ulcer in the meantime!)
Easy choice, although disheartening. I wave the white flag. I’ve been in the business long enough to know there will be other novella markets. This year, next year, whenever.
Now, with that stress off my shoulders, I can concentrate on some backburnered work for my HWA mentee, then do the story for the third anthology (due in June), and then finish the novella.
Would I have a different work model if I were a full-time writer? Probably. I could devote 4-8 hours a day to writing, pump out books in half the time it takes me now, and still have time for edits and short stories.
But even then, I doubt I’d ever let “on spec” enter my vocabulary. The stress of knowing books are due on a specific date?
Makes me shudder!
My next novel comes out in August (Hellrider), and the print editions (hardcover, trade paperback) are available right now at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hellrider-Fiction-Without-Frontiers-Faherty/dp/1787582620.
When Eddie Ryder is burned alive by fellow members of the Hell Riders motorcycle gang for ratting on them, he vows revenge with his dying breath. He returns as a ghost, with his custom motorcycle Diablo by his side. After he finds out he can possess people, he launches a campaign of vengeance that leaves plenty of bodies in its wake and the police in a state of confusion. Spouting fire and lightning from his fingers and screaming heavy metal lyrics as he rides the sky above the town of Hell Creek, he brings destruction down on all those who wronged him, his power growing with every death. Only Eddie’s younger brother, Carson, and the police chief’s daughter, Ellie, understand what’s really happening, and now they have to stop him before he destroys the whole town.
“Hellrider is a thunder and muscle hell ride through dangerous territory. Fun, wicked, and unrelenting. A horror thriller that breaks the rules and the speed limit at the same time.” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author
And in the meantime, check out all my other titles: http://tinyurl.com/jgfaherty.