Stages of Deadline Acceptance

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
I have a confession to make, dear Reader.

Right now I am avoiding a book. Utterly, shamefacedly, but determinedly.

Part of being the kind of writer I am (i.e., I write to pay the rent since I would be spending hours doing this anyway) is having deadlines. Deadlines mean one has to account for one’s time to that most harsh and forgiving of bosses: oneself. Right now I’m using Google Calendar to keep track of everything, and I am perennially going through the stages of Deadline Acceptance.

Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Here are my stages of Deadline Acceptance.

  • Stage One: “____ months? Okay, that sounds fine, that’s usually what I need.” (Said to agent/editor/self.)
  • Stage Two: “I should really start that book. Get an early jump on it.” (Said to self and beta reader.) Possibly start the manuscript, poke at it, nothing happens.
  • Stage Three: Beta reader tells me I’m not ready yet. “You haven’t done all the initial moaning and whining you usually do before a book really gets going.”
  • Stage Four: Moaning and whining commences.
  • Stage Five: A couple weeks go by. Panic sets in.
  • Stage Six: Panic, panic, panic. Repeat.
  • Stage Seven: Beta reader tells me to quit f!cking whining. “You’ve still got ten months left. Cut it out.”
  • Stage Eight: Moan and flail more. Accept that beta reader is probably right, but still. Obsess about quality of book, what will happen if I “can’t write it”. (Editor will hate me. Publisher will demand advance back. Readers will throw rotten veggies. Sun will go out. Everyone dies and it’s all because of meeeeeeeeee!)
  • Stage Nine: Open blank Word document. (Or the start to the story done at about Stage Two.) Stare at it for ten minutes. Muse wakes up, yawning and stretching. Panic over not being able to reach deadline reaches fever pitch.
  • Stage Ten: First quarter of book falls out of head. Middle of the book doldrums. Third quarter arrives. Long period of hate for the f!cking book. “I’m never going to finish this thing.” (See Stage Eight.)
  • Stage Eleven Moan and whine at beta reader more. Beta loads tranquilizer gun and hunts for chocolate. Children give you strange looks. Husband and teenager hide. Cats flee, except for the stupid one, who perches on arm of chair and tries to help while I snarl in pain. There are still months left.
  • Stage Twelve: Last quarter of book accomplished in dead heat. Sanity (or whatever approximates it) returns. Beta reader is relieved. Children shrug. Cats, husband, and teenager reappear as soon as it’s safe. Deadline has kind-of been achieved. Process of recovery/revision can now begin.

I find it alternately amusing and terrifying that the process fits (at least for me) into twelve steps. Revision isn’t nearly as fraught for me–having a full rough draft eases some pressure, and the remaining months can be spent on revising, polishing, or (more popular and what actually happens) sticking the goddamn thing in a drawer until I absolutely have to look at it again to make it ready. That lying-fallow period is very important for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that after you put a novel away for a couple weeks to a month, one can go back to it with fresh eyes and make it a lot better. Not as better as a trained and gifted editor–one is still too close to the work even after that break–but significantly better.

Right now, for the current contracted project, I’m in between Stages Three and Four. It helps that I’m picking at a Sekrit Project, and that I’ve been through this so many times the panic is almost seeming old hat. (Almost. It’s still panic, after all.) So I’m playing with the fun Sekrit Project, and avoiding the other one with all my might and main.

But. (You knew there was a “but”.)

The contracted project is starting to call to me. It’s tickling the Muse. “Look at how pretty and shiny I am. Look. Come over here and look at me. I’m pretty. Pretty and shiny.”

Which will tip me right into Stages Five through Nine, probably in a day’s time. All that panic compressed into a fifth of its natural lifespan. I’m gonna be a mess. Which means I should get some wordcount in on the Sekrit Project that I’m really enjoying before it all goes to hell. (As a means of tricking oneself into working, it isn’t half bad.)

So, off I go. I keep thinking that the more I go through this process the easier it will get. I’m at thirty-odd novels written by now (notice I say written, not published) and I’m here to tell you the process is only marginally easier than it was the first time, and most of that marginal ease comes from just knowing that I’m going to be batshit for a little while. Knowledge is power, right?

Wish me luck.