Nicola here, introducing this month’s Ask A Wench question which is: "What comfort foods and other strange rituals do the Wenches turn to when under deadline?" This is a subject which elicited many sighs, groans and hollow laughter when it was raised amongst us. We've all been in deadline territory and we have the scars to prove it. How do we handle it? What rituals do we indulge in to tempt the Muse? How much extra chocolate does it take to see us through to the end of the book? These are all questions that we will be tackling. And because deadlines are pretty much universal in working and other aspects of life we know readers will have lots of tips and suggestions to share, so bring on the deadlines!
Several of us are under the deadline gun at the moment, so I thought it would be interesting to do an Ask A Wench about how we each deal with deadlines. Or in the term Pat Rice coined, Dreadlines! As usual, we differ greatly. <G>
The Question: Deadlines — do you love them? Hate them? Would you be unable to function without them? Do you always finish early enough that the point is moot? Or do you flounder desperately as the sword of Damocles drops faster and faster?
Anne Gracie here.
I've always had a tendency to start slow and finish in a screaming rush, whether it was school essays or novels. When I was first published, I made all my deadlines on time, but with recent books I've been later and later. Now I'm working to get back on track because I really hate being late. Last minute, fine, late, no.
I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. On the one hand, I need them — I am never satisfied with what I write so if left to myself, I'd fiddle and tweak endlessly and overthink everything, and hardly ever get a book finished. Deadlines give me motivation to move on and a sense of urgency that gradually increases. A bit like the Chinese water torture. . .
You think a deadline can't snigger? Believe me, mine can!
Jo Beverley weighs in:
There was a time when I was always ahead of my deadlines. No longer. Perhaps it's an age thing. I set my own deadlines for my publisher, so I can't complain if I'm in a last minute rush, and I give myself plenty of time, but I always end up at the limit. A book takes me about a year, though I can do other writing alongside it, and for most of that year there seems so much time stretching ahead of me. Yet in the end, as now, I'm chasing down to the line on the editing and polishing. But I get there in the end. Like so much about the creative process, it's a mystery!
The deadline book now is The Viscount Needs a Wife, and you can pre-order your copy now. I will be out on time!
Patricia Rice, the contrarian:
I am a wimp. I cannot handle dreadlines—and that is not a typo. I stress out, panic, and dive for cover—which sort of means no writing happens. People may hate me for this—but I’ve learned to combat terror by finishing my drafts early. Then when I stress out, I at least have a bunch of words strung together. That first draft stinks. It’s pure unconscious drek that spills out without rhyme, reason, or plot. But I edit as the story and characters form in my head as I write. It’s painful. It requires much re-reading. And even when a deadline loometh, I know it’s not ready. But once my editor has gone through it—which can take months—I’m ready to look at it fresh. And by that time, all the elements are in place. I just have to dig them out.
So maybe I’m not so different from my deadline avoider friends—I’m just sneakier.
My first experience in working without a deadline started well over ten years ago, when I doodled around with an insane story that had no genre. It took me years to even realize I was working on a mystery. Once I figured that out… Evil Genius happened. I could never have written it under contract!
I don’t know what it is about deadlines that set off a warning bell in my head. It probably has to do with my Swiss mother, whose sense of timing ran with the precision of that country’s legendary watches. From an early age it was drilled into me that One Must NOT Be Late. (My friends tease me that they can set their clocks by my arrivals at meeting places.)
And for better or for worse, that carries over to being on time in turning in my books. I know, I know, most people can treat deadlines with the insouciance of Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean ("it’s not really a rule, it’s more of a guideline.") But the heebie-jeebies I’d suffer aren't worth the extra dawdling. So as the date looms, the scribbling gets faster, and somehow I manage to make it, though it’s sometimes not easy.
Even my Mother would have given me a gold star for finishing Scandalously Yours on time. Hurricane Sandy hit a week before its deadline. The power was out in my house all that week, I was having to get up round the clock to run the sump pump by a generator to keep the basement from flooding . . . . and I actually finished the ms. on time by the light of kerosene lamps and my laptop charged by a power cord hanging out the window down to the generator. My editor was pleased. (She thought I was crazy, but appreciated my bizarre habit!)
So I’m not a Flounderer . . . though not sure what fish I represent—maybe the darter fish???
Nicola Cornick contributes:
I worked in various administrative roles in universities before I became a writer full time and my working life was ruled by deadlines. Minutes to be circulated, exam timetables to be drawn up, award ceremonies and open days to run like clockwork to the minute… These days I still feel residual stress in June, the exam season.
When I started to write full time I thought that I would kick back a bit and devise my own schedule. Two things stopped me. The first was that I was generally on a contract to write two books a year so I had a very clear deadline. The second was that I was trained over many years to work from 8.30am to 5pm (4.30pm on Fridays!) and if I tried to be more flexible with my time I felt guilty when I wasn’t writing.
Actually I think it’s even more complicated than that. My mother’s family were sticklers for good timekeeping, seeing it as next to godliness, and embraced the Protestant work ethic with fervour (hence the guilt if I wasn’t constantly “busy”). I can remember arguments from my childhood because my stepfather was the exact opposite, always late, and always in a minority.
The outcome of this was that for 15 years of my writing career I stuck faithfully to a schedule and never once missed a deadline even though sometimes the stress of doing so was pretty extreme and the closer I got to the deadline the more my brain would freeze. Being late just didn’t seem an option.
Then, this year, I changed genre from Regency historical to time slip and my muse simply would not deliver the ideas within the required time span. I struggled. I froze completely. The words wouldn’t come. The structure of the book was wrong. Everything made me panic. I wrote a pitifully small number of words. Finally I had to ring my editor up and ask for more time and once I had done that I felt hugely relieved and the words started to flow again.
At last I have learned that being late on deadline isn’t the worst sin. I still make sure I’m never late meeting my mother’s family, though!
Susan King's turn:
For my first few books, I was diligently on time or even weeks early, but since then I've certainly encountered my share of deadline woes and extenuating pressures. So I've turned books in late (to be fair, not horribly late, just late-ish, which suited my editors, who were late-ish types too, so we would adjust the deadline a little to please everyone). Looking back, I can pretty much attribute the beginning of those softening deadlines to the year my kids started staying up past 8:30 p.m., and there went those quiet evenings to write. Once the house was gradually overrun with my boys and everyone else's boys, from little to teenagers and beyond as the years went by, I was happy to hit within a couple of weeks of a deadline.
Mix in the complications of aging relatives — and add my natural tendency to be a seat-of-the-pants writer rather than a disciplined planner (the right brain's in charge, the left brain only wakes up for research and early draft, and then later as the deadline looms) — and deadlines are approximate, but if my editors are fine with that, it works. I'm the kind of writer who has huge cumulative creative bursts in the later stages of writing. I can produce in a few weeks what eluded me for months, so I've learned patience with my own process: I'm simply wired as an impulsive right-brain creative, and I've learned to finally accept it and stop wishing I was a more organized soul.
I've also learned to accept that writing books surrounded by a very busy household means that my deadlines always need to be flexible. Some of my notable deadline adventures included finishing the last chapters and final polishing of a rather intense novel while all three kids had strep throat at the same time and then gave it to me …. And there was the time that I was writing the last chapters of a book when one son, home from college, came in with his friends to make their first batch of beer. It was winter and freezing, and we had to open the windows to clear the noxious hops odor — but the brewery in my kitchen did lend an air of historical authenticity to The Highland Groom — a tale of whiskey smuggling!
Mary Jo here, sadly reporting that like Anne, I am one with the flounders! Coming from a graphic design background I was certainly familiar with deadlines, but a lot of design is left-brained, while writing turned out to be a slippery slope of increasing right-brainedness. My first book was sold on a partial manuscript, so even then, I needed a deadline to get it done.
The slide began on an early book when I asked my editor if I could have a week or so more and she said, "Sure." Then she explained that she'd learned that if she insisted on hitting the exact deadline, she'd get a book, but it wouldn't be as good as if she gave her author the extra time needed. The slide began…
That same editor once said that I always delivered in a timely manner, in a late-ish sort of way. I'm not so sure about "timely," these days, though! The Muse is a lazy Wench, and I've found that she is increasingly less inclined to show up a nano-second before she has to. My current editor has started making sotto voce comments about thumb screws. I've found that scheduling a holiday for autumn, when the book MUST be done, increases my motivation, but really, who wants to punch the "Send" button two hours before flying to Prague??? Which I did a couple of years ago, no honor to me!
Jo Beverley suggested that it would be fun to rerun Christian Borle's rendition of "It's Hard to be the Bard," that I put into my last blog on RWA and seeing the Broadway show SOMETHING ROTTEN. This is a different clip, though. He's singing alone at a Barnes & Noble CD signing so you can really hear the words, and all the very familiar writer lamentations!
How are you with deadlines? An early finisher, or do you go screaming to the finish line as some of the Wenches do???
Mary Jo, screaming to the finish line of Once a Soldier