About eighteen months ago, I published my most recent book, Project January: A Sequel About Writing. But I’d actually planned to publish it about four months earlier. Yet as the deadline I’d set for myself arrived, the book still wasn’t finished. I still have the publishing plans for it and my next four books written on one of my whiteboards:
*Project January: A Sequel About Writing – November 2016
*Black Spot – November 2017
*Trine – November 2018
*Project February: A Trilogy About Writing – November 2019
*Matriarchy – November 2020
I eventually finished and published Project January in March 2017 and you can read about how I did that in my post on how to psych yourself into writing a book. But because it was four months late (or at least four months later than I’d planned to publish), suddenly my subsequent publishing plans were also thrown out. (Obviously I like the idea of publishing roughly one book a year.)
That wasn’t the only thing that changed. I started development of an entirely new book. I changed a title. I moved some things around. So as of right now, my publishing schedule (even though I haven’t written it down anywhere else but here) looks like this:
*Black Spot – June 2018
*Motherhood – May 2019
*Project June: A Trilogy About Writing – February 2020
*Trine – February 2021
*Matriarchy – February 2022
Black Spot will be published later this month*. It’s about time. It’s been ready to go for almost two years. Motherhood is the entirely new (non-fiction) book, a collection of essays about the many mothers I know with incredible stories, and the intended publication date coincides with Mothers’ Day 2019 (you can read about its development in my 2017 Project October posts). Project June (formerly Project February) is still being written – I’m at about 45,000 words of what will be 80,000. Trine is still being written, too – I’m at about 85,000 words of about 110,000. And Matriarchy is something I’ve been ruminating over for a long time, the story of a small country that expels all men to create a safe place for women. I haven’t even written 1,000 words of it but the first third is pretty firmly settled in my mind (if not on paper).
Plans are all well and good but I have no doubt that apart from the publication of Black Spot (which is pretty firmly settled for next week), everything else is still up in the air. (How can it be anything else when none of them are finished being written?)
And then, of course, there’s my blog. As I write this, I have 12 blog posts written and ready to be published. Since I publish one a week, that’s 12 weeks’ worth. It sounds pretty good. And I only have to write one a week to keep that schedule filled for nearly three months into the future. Except what I meant to write was that I only have 12 blog posts written. Because for some reason, I’m finding even writing that one blog post a week difficult. I’m certainly not writing anything else either. Why?
Because I’m working a full-time job. I’m also doing freelance editing after hours. I’m helping my sister with her university studies. I’m attempting to keep a house fit for human habitation at the same time as I slowly (very slowly) renovate it. And people keep inviting me to social events. While I’m sure I could happily never see another person ever again, I’m assured that it’s necessary for my mental health so I go and socialise. And every minute I’m doing it, I’m thinking to myself, “I could be writing right now.” And those 12 blog posts? Well, just last year I had – and was managing to maintain – about 65 blog posts ahead of schedule. Ah, the glory days of being a full-time writer!
What’s your point? I can hear you asking. The above is my long-winded way of letting you know that it’s not the end of the world when the deadlines (otherwise known as goals with time frames) that you set for yourself don’t get met. So your book or your blog post gets published later. So what?
The one time it really is a problem is when you’re getting paid to write to a deadline. I was a paid corporate writer for over seven years and I never missed one deadline during that time. Probably because I wasn’t emotionally attached to what I was writing and everybody else seemed to like the results, so that was good enough for me.
Corporate writing is one thing but a publishing contract is another. I’ve written previously about how it isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. This is from the second of two posts I wrote about why it’s unlikely you will and why you shouldn’t take it to heart when you don’t win writing competitions:
“The prize on offer for the winner of the Text Prize was a publishing contract, which is what we writers think we want. But I spoke to two people at the announcement party who made me wonder if I should be careful what I’m wishing for.
“The first was a writer who has been quite successful and has published a lot. But that writer also seemed very tired, almost on the verge of a burn out, because of contracts with short deadlines that had to be met no matter what. Writers without contracts can sit at home and tinker with our books for years trying to get them right without any such pressure. We bemoan the time as it ticks by without any seeming progress, but now I’m wondering if this is the simpler time we will later fondly look back on and dream of returning to.
“The second person I spoke to worked at a publishing company – there were quite a few different companies represented at the party – and I mentioned that I had enjoyed a book the company had published but hadn’t liked the sequel. ‘Neither did we,’ that person responded. ‘Even the author wasn’t happy with it.’
“‘Then why,’ I asked, ‘was it published at all? Why wasn’t it held back until the author was happy with the final result?’ I was told that there were international contracts in place with specific deadlines and that these other publishers didn’t care so much about whether it was any good, just that they could capitalise on the success of the first book by rushing out the second.”
If deadlines work for you, then by all means go ahead and set them. If they don’t, you can set them as well and then watch as they go by unmet. As Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” Maybe you’ll learn to love the sound of them, too.
*Read next week about why publishing Black Spot this month was the intention but won’t be happening.