Every writer dreads a deadline, yet at the same time we crave them to give us direction and purpose. I’ve been writing for a living for 30 years and have always had a contract or pre-order deadline, I often had an internal one that pushed me to do better than the deadline because I know I needed to in order to succeed.
The question is: are they good for me?
I survived a couple of decades in traditional publishing by not only meeting every contract deadline but writing one spec manuscript (not under contract) ahead of the deadline. Thus when a publisher didn’t renew a contract, my agent was already out shopping a new book.
As an indie author I would set a schedule and do pre-orders.
Now, for the first time, I don’t have a deadline. My only pre-order is loaded and ready for publication next month (Shane and the Hitwoman).
For the first time in three decades, I sit here without a time lock. Actually, when you add in West Point (which ran like a watch with us literally standing in the hallway as Plebes shouting out the minutes until formation) and the Army, where, for example in covert operations, a covert meet that meant life or death had a window of two minutes before and two minutes after, then you walk away, my life has been full of deadlines.
Part of the reason for my decision not to do a pre-order in the future until a book is either done or close to being done, is that I’m older. I don’t need to impose my own stress. I’ve got around 80 books churning income for me with steady monthly checks. That’s a great blessing that few writers enjoy. My wife reminds me of that all the time when I get grumpy. Which is another reason for no deadlines: I always got grumpy under a time pressure.
So, now, why have I been grumpy without one? Because I like to always be moving forward toward an objective. The last letter in the Meyers-Briggs is either a J or a P. I view that as either you’re a person who likes achieving the goal for satisfaction or a person who enjoy the work without particularly worrying about the goal; the journey is the key. I am a J while my wife is a P. This often causes friction when we’re doing something together. Creatively, I’ve had to understand my desire for goals and see where it helps me and where it hurts me. In the past it hurt me because I got in a rush. I wanted the damn book done. I go slower now. I make sure I do things right (one of my wife’s main gripes was always that I didn’t do thing quite right even though I could check off my mental ‘got it done’ box).
I’ve also learned that when I stall out creatively, it’s not stalling out. It’s because I haven’t figured something out. It’s not right. Yet. I’ve been ruminating on the sequel to Shane and the Hitwoman and having problems. I know the protagonist and the antagonist. I know the protagonist’s goal. But I didn’t have a setting. I was missing key pieces of what I needed. It took almost three weeks of letting it tumble around in my head for the pieces to begin to fall into place. That’s not to say I wasn’t working those weeks. I’ve got a nonfiction project I’m grinding away on and marketing and other things. But I didn’t force myself to start cooking something with the wrong, or lacking, ingredients.
This is part of process, something I’ve focused more and more on as a creative. More to come on how Phoebe and the Traitor, the sequel, is shaping up.