Care And Feeding Of Deadlines

Dame Lilith
Dame Lilith
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Deadline Dames, Friday Lili edition. We’ve been talking about deadlines this week, and I don’t know that I can possibly add to what the ladies before me have said.

But I’m going to give it the old college try. You knew I would, after all.

I actually (get the rocks and rotten tomatoes ready) like deadlines. They’re comforting. In the first place, a deadline means I’ve sold and promised to deliver a piece of work. This means I get paid, and if I get paid my kids eat. (Sometimes after a year of work and waiting, to be sure. But that’s another blog post.) So the deadline is like a security blanket for me.

That security blanket is along the lines of being in a shark cage, eyeing a Great White and wondering if I’ve cut myself shaving that morning. It’d be a lot worse without the cage, right?


Right. But I have a deep dark secret I’m going to share with you.

I always “pad” my deadlines. That is, I ask for more time than I think I need. There is no harm in asking, and that way I can arrange the deadlines the way I like them–far enough out that I don’t ever have to turn in a rushed job. I get nervous when I get within a month of a deadline. Really nervous. If I’m not turning things in “early” I start stressing out.

They’re not ever going to ask me to write for them again. I’m close to deadline. I can’t do this. I just can’t. It’s within a month. I know I only have four words more to go but what if they’re the most important four words of the book and I fail and my children starve and the sun goes out and it’s all my FAULT?

You know, the regular kind of worries that go with a creative life. I don’t say they’re rational, I just say they happen.

Part of making this creative life a paying proposition is taking a hard look at what you need to consistently produce. I need that extra little bit of time to fool myself into thinking I’m early, because I do better work when I’m not freaking out. And seriously, when publication schedules are done a year in advance, me asking for a month more than I think I need isn’t a big deal. It’s more like creative insurance. This way I am rarely late.

I also have to have my agent say “no” for me (and TO me) or I’d drown in a pile of deadlines. I want to please, you see. I want to please my editors so badly that sometimes I would agree to things that would work me down to a bare nub of myself, leaving me a burned-out, broken husk.

This is not what I want. The name of my game is consistency, and keeping the engine inside my head well-cared-for so it can continue to turn over and feed my kids. Really, most of my professional writing life turns out to hinge on that one simple priority. As well as getting a few chuckles along the way for my own personal gratification…but that’s another blog post.

This is yet another reason why a good agent is worth so much more than that fifteen percent. The agent’s priority is a business priority. He or she can make those decisions based on solid business sense that a writer may not be able to, because of the emotional connection a writer has to his or her product. Lots of “new” writers make inappropriate business decisions–and pay for them.

I asked my agent once if it mattered that I was asking for more time than I needed to finish a book. “Are you kidding?” she replied. An extra month is no dealbreaker. (An extra year might be. And really, if you’ve gotten to the point where you need that extra year, you’ve most probably got an agent and your agent should be taking care of this for you.)

But Lili, I hear plenty of my Friday readers saying. I’m not even published yet. I don’t have an agent. Why are you bothering talking about this?

Because deadlines are not just for the agented writer. They are also for the writer just starting out who thinks they might want to make a living at this crazy game.

Any time you have a job, you have tasks you need to get done by a certain time. Writing is no different. If you cannot set yourself a deadline and stick to it, you are probably not going to get far in the writing profession.

The editor is not going to come to my house with a brickbat and MAKE me write. The editor might ask for the advance back or just not take my book if I turn out to be an utter flakewad. This is a consequence, and no less dire for it being delayed. The consequence of not learning to set yourself deadlines as a new writer can be never getting published.

Some “writers” are okay with that. I’m not. I mean, hey, if you want to, that’s okay. But it doesn’t work for me. My kids have this need to eat, you see…and so do I. I’ve been trying to break myself of the habit, but no luck so far. I just like food too much. And I get all cranky when I’m hungry. (The first three letters of “diet” are a WARNING. I’m just sayin’.)

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that any creative career requires even more stringent self-motivation and the ability to set oneself harsher deadlines than most other careers. Consistently producing high-quality work (i.e., work people will pay for) in an industry that has such delayed gratification (and paychecks), when the only person it comes down to is you…well, it’s not for the faint of heart. In a writing career, there is no room for the person who wants to depend on Someone Else to provide the pin to stick yourself in the bum with–in other words, to provide motivation to get moving and DO. In the end, every deadline comes down to you, you, and you alone. It’s a hard place to be, rattling that shark cage and watching that monster as it edges closer.

But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

And now for the contest! The bad news is: I don’t have books to give away right now. The good news? Comment on this entry by midnight PST on Saturday, January 24. A random winner from those comments will get to choose two items from Japhrimel’s Corner. I’ll send you those items for FREE. And really, a coffee mug saying “Oh yes, I CAN kill you twice?” Everyone needs one. So comment away!