Chris Lough, in a recent Tor.com column, reflected on George R. R. Martin’s struggle to complete The Winds of Winter, the sixth installment of Game of Thrones. For Martin, the increasing pressure to complete a manuscript reduces his creative output. His cure is to find other outlets to let off some steam and shift his focus. Most of us don’t have HBO, a contract, and possibly some lawyers reminding us to meet our deadlines. And since many writers these days self-publish, the deadlines tend to be mostly self-inflicted.
For my part, I’ve had a bit of both. I have had three books published through a small press which imposed deadlines for the editing process to publication. However, most of the deadlines for writing, revising, and marketing were my own. I don’t know about you, but I personally feel the weight of a self-imposed deadline. I get automated reminders telling me I’ve got a week or a day or an hour. OMG! Usually the deadline provides just the right amount of tension to get the job done. And at other times, well, life plops down in the middle of everything like some huge elephant–or maybe it’s an ogre. Whichever, the deadline blows by and I’m left a bit defeated. What to do?
The obvious thing, and what many of Martin’s critics want him to do is to just get on with it! But there comes a time when the harder I push the more my muse or whatever it is pushes back. And so I walk the dog, take rides on my scooter, take a day off and drive to some lovely spot with the top down, direct my creative flow toward my music, or step into the kitchen to make ancho chili braised short ribs. Trust me on this–the ribs are awesome, which I attribute to the recipe more than the chef.
And how long do I let this ‘play’ go on while my manuscript lays dormant within the confines of my hard drive? How long does Martin focus on managing his Santa Fe theater? The answer in my mind is ‘until I’m ready’. Of course the fear is that I’ll just keep on with other things and drift away from the writing. But in my heart I know writing is a bit like a lover I just can never get enough of. And so, one day I wander back to my laptop, my fingers aching to convey the story in my heart. And I’m off. Yes, I might have missed the deadline, but the work is better for it.
What kind of deadlines do you set for your writing, what happens when you miss a deadline, and how do get back on track?