Debra – Deadlines

Publishing is a world of deadlines for writers.  We find ourselves “hunkering down” to make deadlines.  Houses don’t get cleaned  Bills don’t get paid.  Showers become a luxury.  Meals are eaten from torn open bags or microwave containers.  Coffee forms the foundation of the food group pyramid.  (Coffee/chocolate, ramen noodles, Cheetoes)  Sleep becomes a thing of the past.

Having lived in that world for so many years, I can sympathize.  (Okay, fine.  I am on a short story deadline at the moment.  What’s your point?)

Writers careen from one deadline to the next because they’re self-employed.  If they don’t do it…no one will.  Some writers are disciplined and never miss a deadline.  That group is a select few; don’t kid yourself.  Deadlines are hard and get harder.  In my experience every writer I know has faced down at least one deadline they know they will never be able to make.  Truly, it’s an act of courage to realize 1) how many pages a day you have to write to deliver your book on time, 2) know that there is no way on God’s Green Earth that those pages per day will happen since the number is roughly twice as many as you’ve ever been known to write in a day, and 3) put your butt in a chair anyway.

Reasons for deadline trouble are many.  Poor work habits are, surprisingly, probably only about 20% of the cause.  Writing isn’t factory work.  You can’t time how long it takes to type a page and draw up an estimate of completion.  First, a writer never knows exactly how many pages a novel will need to tell its story.  Writers have an idea, but even well-plotted writers can’t pinpoint completion to a particular page in advance.   A book could go ten pages or 50 pages long.  One never knows.  And if you’re a slow writer and can only do 5 pages a day…that 50 pages becomes ten DAYS in your writing schedule. Ten unplanned days.

Second, timing how long it takes to type a page really can’t account for all the variables affecting each and every page of a novel.  A writer isn’t typing.  The writer is creating.  Some pages fly and other pages chain you to them, refusing to let you move forward.

Some writers get into deadline trouble because they overestimate their skill in wrestling manuscripts to the ground.  Or they’re afraid to say “no” to opportunity.  When an editor calls and invites you into an anthology, most self-employed people don’t think, “Well, I don’t know.  I am in the middle of a book now, let me think about it.”  Nope.  Most self-employed people think, “Oh, thank God.  I was afraid I’d be out of contract in fifty more pages and never work again.”

Really.  You’d be surprised.  Some of your favorite, some of the most successful, some of the prolific authors all still think that they could be on their last contract and are happy to pad the resume.  Even if they have to squeeze that novella in during four weddings and a funeral.

Life can be a heinous culprit of deadline screw-ups.  You can’t plan unexpected surgery.  You can’t plan your broken wrist.  Or a premature baby, house fire, divorce or any of a million other normal life crisis events that a writer has to face.

Unlike many literary novelists who might only pen a novel every few years, romance authors are told by their publishers to get a book a year out.  Heck, they’d rather have a book every nine months.  Talk about pressure!  Yet so many authors jump in the trench and stay in the trench to meet deadline after deadline.  They’ll emerge briefly between books to brush their teeth, pay the bills and say hello to the family.  If they linger too long, research too much…deadline will get them again.  So, it’s back into the trench.

And what do we wretched readers do?  We chastise them.  We nudge them.  We whine.  “When is the next one coming out?”  We’re never satisfied.  We want more of our favorite authors and we want it quickly.  When we gulp down the newest delicious treat, I don’t think we fully appreciate what it took to get those words to us.

So…in the spirit of acknowledging the good things in my life, I’m saying thank you to the authors who work so hard, alone in a room, fending off the cacophony of voices in their head to write the one story, the one book that I’m going to get to read eventually.

Which reminds me?  What the hell is taking so long?  Enough with this eventually garbage.  Give me my book.  Now!

How impatient do you get waiting for the next-in-series?  Your next shot of “fab author?”  How do you cope with the wait?  Do you check and recheck pub dates?  Do you use a calendar?  Or do you simply put it out of your mind and resolve to be made happy unexpectedly when you see the new book?  If you’re a writer how do you cope with deadline dementia?  Have you ever had to make “the call” to the editor expecting your book?

Technorati Tags: ,
This entry was posted in Uncategorized, writing, writing books, writing process and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Debra – Deadlines

  1. cindygerard says:

    OMG, Deb. You are talking to ME today. To ME. Seriously. I’ve had a series of ‘life interupting’ events since July that have killed my writing schedule and for the first time in my career I’m facing the possibility of having to make that ‘call’ to my editor. The one that goes something like – ‘You have no idea how difficult this is for me to say, but I don’t think I’m going to make my next deadline and I know that’s going to jeopardize my next pub date.”
    Not only will a call like that devastate me, it will make my editor’s life a living hell because MY issues will screw up her schedule too – not to mention, upset my wonderful, loyal readers who I’ve PROMISED that I’ll deliver a book by a certain date.
    Seriously – life has handed me several lemons lately and as of yet, there is no lemonade in sight. Everything is leveling out now (thank Goodness) and we’re not talking major life events – just tons of road blocks that took priority over the work.

    It’s very scary to be in this position. And it’s very disheartening and even as I write this, I’m trying to figure out a way to NOT have to make that call and magically pull this book together on time.

    All that said, it is what it is and I’ll put on my big girl panties and deal with it. Thanks, however, for the platform to ‘reveal’ that like everyone else’s lives, the writer’s life isn’t always smooth sailing.

    And while we’re at it … thank you, thank you, thank you, to all of our dear loyal readers who appreciate what we do and spend their hard earned money (because you all work just as hard as we do at your profession) and BUY our books instead of downloading them free from some pirate site that not only steals bread from our tables but many days makes us (at least make ME) wonder why I work so hard to make a living in this business when on any given day I get a google alert telling me about yet another pirate site that has made my books available for FREE download.

    Yikes, Miss Deb, did you open one of my veins this morning. :o) Sorry for the rant.

    • cindygerard says:

      And PS – In case this got lost in translation – I LOVE what I do and consider myself very fortunate to be a ‘working’ writer, so please, kind readers, do not misconstrue my little tirade for lack of appreciation of my good fortune of being a working writer in such a highly competitive business. I know how lucky I am – believe me. But I also know that ‘luck’ goes hand in hand with hard work – and I occasionally go a little ballistic when I see that hard work given away free by someone who has no right to make that decision about MY property.
      Okay. I’m done now. :o( Carry on everyone ….

    • debradixon says:

      Cindy– OMG! You just made my point. Deadlines can suck. The only reason we do it is for the readers. I think that’s what keeps the writer at the desk long after the “point of no return” is reached. If it were “just” a phone call to an editor, as hard as that is, I think most of us would recognize the deadline isn’t happening much sooner. But we know the reader is waiting.

      We get the emails asking when the next book will be out or just wanting to be sure there WILL be a next book. And, then the writer redoubles the effort trying to stave off the inevitable.

      Writers are pretty darn tough. Sorry about you Deadline Sucking Monsters. We, your readers, will be here for you no matter “when” it turns out.

  2. kris says:

    I love my authors and their books and couldn’t live without them! It depends on the book, there are a few that I keep track of release dates and buy immediately. Between my paperbacks and Kindle, my TBR is so huge that I will never get to all of them unless people stopped writing….and we can’t have that!!!!! I like to read series back-to-back, so if at all possible, I will wait until I have them all in my hands. Most of the time the release dates are too far apart and, not being a very patient person, means I won’t wait for them all!

    Lastly, thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the authors here and elsewhere for spending hours and hours laboring over the books that I get to enjoy!! Without your stories I would be completely incomplete!

    • debradixon says:

      Kris– Amen! Writers are so special to me. I want them to always remember that somewhere, someone is either receiving hours of bliss, lost in a story world or being taken away from something painful while they wait for results or surgery to be over or just wait for the boredom between planes to end!

  3. Betina Krahn says:

    Deb, you clarity-maven, you! You’re so right about the deadline thing– it haunts writers non-stop and pushes us to do things that violate all rules of health, safety, sensibility, and nutrition. Fortunately for me– I have had a great agent to make those dreaded “calls” to editors. . . too many of them. . . which explains the state of my sales just now. sigh. And when making a living becomes a priority, writing takes a back seat. . . a fact that my current editor (blessedly!)seems to understand. And then there are the vagueries of health and chance occurance (illnesses and accidents!) that we can’t foresee or avoid.

    We do our best with what we’ve got and hope that our readers understand. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a reader who comes up to you and says “write faster!” Which, means, of course, “I want MORE.” Flattery of the first class! and who amongst us doesn’t try to work harder to see those readers’ desires fulfilled?

    • debradixon says:

      Betina– I didn’t factor in the agent. Yep, some authors do have a buffer for the call, but as you say, it still isn’t a great call to face.

      Readers keep us on task more than anything I think, because it is satisfying. Sure we get checks for our work, but the satisfaction is seeing a reader light up when they find out your next book is right around the corner for them.

  4. Cindy Smith says:

    First, let me start by saying to all authors….Rant away! Since you are self-employed, you don’t get the forum that most of us “regular” people get to “complain” about the down-side of our jobs. Everyone needs to let off a little steam every now and then. I cannot imagine the effort that it takes to provide your readers with those beautiful stories, not just from a logistics standpoint, but a creative one also. I have sat for hours, literally, looking at a paper that I must write for some course that I seem to have an insane desire to torture myself with, and for the life of me, cannot figure out how to put the words in my brain to some cohesive sentence on the paper. So I truly have a profound respect and admiration for anyone who can do that. So, my hat is off to all authors. Thank you from a reader who cannot imagine what she would do if there wasn’t another story around the corner.
    Speaking of which, what do I do in between books? I have a tendency to sometimes read too fast, therefore missing key bits of information. I don’t check books out from the library…I buy them. Solely for the purpose of being able to go back and read and re-read them again and again. To date I have read “Gone With the Wind” 27 times. I also have a wide assortment of “must buy” authors. This allows me to not think too hard about why the next book from so-and-so isn’t in my hands yet. Unfortunately, most of my favorites have been very busy lately, as have I with college courses, that I currently have a stack of “new releases” from about 8 of my favorites that I haven’t gotten to yet. 😦 I cannot wait for summer… college and a whole lot of me time!
    So to any author reading this, Thank you for all that you do, miss out on, and dread doing. This reader truly appreciates it!

    • debradixon says:

      Cindy– I love you. Seriously. This was just the perfect reminder that when we readers nudge authors, that nudge is wrapped in all the best wishes. It’s not a whine so much as a hope.

      And lucky you to have a “can’t wait to get to these” backlog.

  5. Cindy Smith says:

    PS. After sending my due assignment to my instructor around 11:00 last night, I did manage to get started on “Deadly Promises”, and finished Cindy’s part around two am. Then, of course, started at the beginning and got over half-way done with Sherrilyn’s. Wonderful so far….now I am off to finish them! Have a Great Day!

  6. Keri Ford says:

    You know those few authors you hear about who are “writing 4 books ahead of their current deadline”?

    that’s what I”m going for. we’ll see how long I keep that up LOL

  7. kylie brant says:

    I too am in panic deadline mode because of life interruptus 🙂 I had plenty of time to write this book. Plenty. The problem is, I’ve been dealing with hypo-thyroidism for years and couldn’t get help from a doctor because my numbers ‘weren’t high enough’. But the symptoms were there and worsening by the year. Brain fog, distractibility, overwhelming fatigue, weight gain, muscle cramps, insomnia… It got to the point where I’d sit my self down. But the words didn’t come. 3/4 of a page was grueling and I’m used to writing ten a day. I began thinking I’d never write again. If I hadn’t found an understanding doctor, I’m certain I wouldn’t have.

    I’m currently on the right dosage of meds (I think) and the brain fog has lifted. I’m back to writing 10-20 pp a day on an extended deadline. I just don’t know if I’m going to pull it off this time. But at least I no longer harbor the notion I’ll never write again. Thank God for that doctor who treats the symptoms and not the numbers!

  8. lois greiman says:

    The broken arm last year was the first time I was more than a couple days late for a deadline. Avon dropped me after that. What does that mean?

    • debradixon says:

      Lois– That so sucks. Big publishing has been widely publicized for finding any excuse to drop writers in these economic times as they reduce their contract commitments. Sounds like you were in a perfect storm and are the poster child for why writers never quite feel secure.

    • cindygerard says:

      What??? I mean …. WHAT???? OMG, Lois. I’m so sorry. But you know what – their loss! I have no doubt that some lucky publisher will snap up your next amazing book! Hugs.

  9. debradixon says:

    Kylie– Yep! This is exactly what I’m talking about. You cannot plan “undiagnosed hypo-throidism” into your schedule. You can’t account for the increasing drag on your productivity. There is no chart for that!

    I’m so glad you finally found a doc who’s paying attention to the problem. Fingers-crossed on the deadline!

  10. Helen Brenna says:

    Everyone seems to be having such a tough time meeting deadlines right now. I think because the publishing industry got hit just like everyone else, writers – self-employed, as you reminded us, Deb – took on more than they could probably reasonable chew to try and get income levels back up.

    I knew this job would be hard, but I was hoping at some point it would start to get a tad easier. I can write faster, but the expectations increase even faster.

    I’m adding my thanks to all readers!

    • debradixon says:

      Oooh, Helen. You just hit on the dirty little secret of publishing: expectation.

      You’re only as good as your next book in this business!!

  11. Pingback: Tweets that mention Debra – Deadlines | Riding With The Top Down --

  12. MIchele says:

    Halle-freakin’-lujah! Well put, Deb. You said what many of us only think. I’m one of those who, if offered a contract while I’m up to my ears in other work, will not refuse for fear that it could be my last one, and I just want to keep the momentum and be able to put food on the table. I’ve been blessed lately with being able to sell and keep the contracts coming, but I am very grateful, and know that tomorrow it can all change.

    • debradixon says:

      Michele– Exactly. Even in good times the “self-employed” mentality piles work on us for fear that the good times will dry up. It’s the old adage, “You have to make hay while the sun shines.”

      Writers are some of the hardest working people I know!

  13. Hellion says:

    I’m horribly impatient…and I’m like a website stalker, waiting for the next book to come out. I do sometimes write to authors and gush about their book and how wonderful it was, but I’m sure it’s not enough. It’s not like I sent chocolate along with my gushy note or anything.

    In fact, I’m stalking books today: Eloisa James and Elizabeth Hoyt. 🙂

    • debradixon says:

      Hellion! That’s what we like to see! Gushing emails. Really it does help buoy an author up.

      I will admit to website stalking!

  14. Bless you, Deb. I’m the heroine of your post today, right? (No, Cindy, you can’t be. She’s talking about me.)

    And here’s the sad truth about the next contract: only a handful of writers don’t have to worry about it right now. Some of the best writers in the genre are having trouble finding homes for their next books, and many of them have been publishing steadily for YEARS. It really makes me sad knowing how good those books would be–WILL be (from my lips to God’s ears)–and how many poorly written (poorly edited? not edited at all?) books are reaching the public. I’m part of the public, and I see lots of books, so I know this for a fact. I know that wonderful writers are struggling to secure the next contract, meet the next deadline, pay the next bill, and they struggle because they need to make a living–this has been their livelihood for quite a while now–and they are professional novelists. They have high standards for themselves, and it takes time and effort to achieve those standards book after book.

    Can you tell I’ve been reading for contests lately? Can you tell I’m under an excruciating deadline? I truly believe the biggest threat to the future of commercial fiction is poor quality. And some of our best storytellers are either without contracts or they’re about to turn in the last book on a contract and suddenly there’s handwriting on the wall, and the messenger isn’t kidding.

    The publishers worry about numbers. I wish they’d worry more about quality.

    • debradixon says:

      Kathy– This is an incredibly tough time for writers. It’s hard, brutal work with no guarantees even for those with a long track record.

      There are joys of course! But deadlines are not one of those joys, especially when meeting a deadline these days means moving on to face the next uncertain chapter in publishing’s future.

  15. Hi Deb,
    I was trolling around the internet and came across this blog.
    What a great find! You doing what you do best–telling it like it is.
    Couldn’t agree more on the deadline thing. Somehow the minute the word ‘deadline’ is applied to anything in our lives, we either freak and tear around, or we panic and procastinate.
    Stella (Ruth) MacLean

  16. debradixon says:

    Hey Ruth!! Uh…Stella. (g)

    So glad to see you popping in! I hope all is great with you!

    I’m going to have to consider my deadline behavior. I don’t think I freak and tear. I think I “freak and bear.” As in “bear down.” But deadline does definitely ring a bell response-wise just like Pavlov’s bell.

  17. leannebanks says:

    I can only do what I can do. I was late with my most recent deadline, but I let my editor know WAY ahead of time. She gave me hints about what she needed and I made sure to meet those dates. I keep trying to be a speedy writer, but the truth is… I have to THINK about what I write next. I write by emotional development of the characters. I tried NaNo WriMo. Alas, I can’t start writing fantasy when I’m writing contemporary. That’s not an option. I keep my editor apprised of my progress, but otherwise (facebook, social life, etc…) I go underground.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s