Deadlines… or just dead lines?

Viv Hampshire talks about the effects on her writing of being put under pressure

There are times when we all have to write to order. If we want our work to be accepted for publication, it’s vital that we remain open not only to suggestions from editors and publishers, but to directions too! And one of the most important of these is the dreaded deadline. Whether it’s a magazine article, a seasonal short story that could miss its slot, or the submission of a completed novel manuscript, there will always be a date by which it HAS to be done… or we are in big trouble, quite likely missing our chance to see our work in print, and probably getting a bad reputation as a non-professional time waster along the way.

But having to finish writing by a certain date means added pressure. When it comes to a novel, it’s bad enough juggling plot, sub-plots, research, setting, characters and everything else that goes towards a great story. Now we have to finish it on time too! For me, this year, that meant getting my unfinished novel ready to send off for its critique under the RNA’s New Writers Scheme before the end of August deadline. Yes, they will take a partial, but having paid for a reader to look at a whole book, it’s a terrible waste to only send a few chapters. The last couple of months as the deadline approached saw me scribbling away at such a furious pace that I went way over the word count I had intended and actually wrote the last half of the book in about triple the time it had taken to write the first! 

It's not a hobby any more

It’s not a hobby any more

But what can happen when writing becomes a race against the clock instead of the pleasurable and leisurely pastime it used to be when it was just a hobby and not a way of life? The most obvious problem for me is a potential drop in quality. When I don’t have the time to carefully consider every word, rewrite every clanky paragraph, and rip up my synopsis umpteen times and start again, there is a real danger that what I write won’t be as good as it could have been, or as good as I would like it to be.

What if the dreaded deadlines do nothing more than push me into producing just that – dead lines, that don’t spring to life on the page and that nobody will want to read? But, how will I know if I don’t plough on and get to the end? When weighed up against not finishing at all, perhaps that’s a risk we should all be willing to take. Novels that are not quite perfect have the chance to be seen and edited and ultimately accepted. Novels languishing in drawers because they are never quite ready have no chance at all.  

Trying to achieve perfection comes at a price, and for me that price is definitely time. Therefore, I have made the decision to just do my best, get the words written, and stop worrying about every little comma or trying to become the next literary sensation. There are many less than perfect books out there – all accepted and published – so why shouldn’t mine be one of them? I can no longer afford to take three or four years playing around with a novel to tweak it into submission. Submission… there’s a pun there somewhere! So, until I acquire an agent who will no doubt be only too keen to push me on at a pace, it’s going to be self-imposed deadlines for me. A novel a year from now on, and I’m already three chapters into the next one!



7 thoughts on “Deadlines… or just dead lines?

  1. As you say, the best thing to do is get it down. Don’t edit as you go along, just keep going. Even if your last chapter is only three words long (and two of them are, The End) and its really rough it’s so much easier to work on something that is finished, incomplete though it might be. Good luck!

  2. I was with you all the way reading this, Viv. I also find that getting that first draft finished without stopping to perfect every word actually leaves time to fine hone at the end. It doesn’t remove the deadline or indeed all of the pressure but somehow that latter is reduced because at least your story is told. You have some leisure, though it may not be much, to grab it by the throat, shake out those spelling errors, turn a phrase around to make it read better and send it off. Then, as you have obviously already done, take a deep breath and jump into the next one.

  3. Both Viv’s article and Natalie’s reply rang bells. I wonder if either of you read of the author of One Day, who, in order to stop himself from his ceaseless aim for perfection and hence a blank screen, invested in softwear that did a remarkable thing. If he paused to think of the mot juste what he had already written
    would disappear. The result was he wrote 35k words of gobble-de-gook. Viv, Natalie, I wish you and your fellow writers well in looking for the middle way – and I must find one for me:-)

  4. Thanks Moyalydia. Not sure I want to write gobbledegook, but I do need to press on and stop worrying too much about being perfect. Having a bit of a wobble at the moment because I am not sure where the story is going, but I’m sure that happens to us all! And yes, Natalie, I have dived straight into this novel without yet knowing the fate of the previous one – which is probably a good thing. As writing and selling short stories has taught me, waiting around for responses from editors (or in this case agents) can waste an awful lot of time best used in other ways – and it makes no difference to the end result anyway. If rejected, just write another!!

  5. Thanks for your comment Lorellepage, and welcome to our blog! Self discipline is certainly tough, especially if there are other demands on your time. There’s nothing like someone else cracking the whip to make you work harder and faster!

  6. Just saw your comment Elaine, and welcome to our blog. I hope my last chapter ends up a bit longer than 3 words as that won’t be much to work on!! But I agree. You can’t edit a blank page. Writing anything is better than writing nothing! Good luck with your own writing, by the way.

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