Deadlines are meant to be broken. That was often my feeling when I worked in manufacture. Some of the company regimes I worked under seemed so blind and blinkered to the realities of the physical process, the limitations of machinery, curing times for adhesives and sealants, that their ‘deadlines’ where laughable to say the least. It’s important to remember at this point that I worked in aerospace. Every part I manufactured was destined for commercial airliners. Those parts being integral to the planes airworthiness and ultimately traceable back to me. It was me individually, rather than the company, who was responsible for the parts and the thousands of lives that would rely upon them during the aircrafts service-life and yet it was the company managers asking me to cut corners to shave time off an overdue production deadline. I refused, every time.
For many writers their work is a labor of love, a project spanning years and years without anything so gauche as a ‘deadline’. Many ‘trunk novels’ (manuscripts where writers flex and learn their voice and craft) sit unregarded, unread and unfinished. The writer returns to them after spans of days, weeks or years, endlessly rewriting or revising but never truly finishing. Indeed the whole idea of a trunk novel is to refine your style, experiment with ideas, worlds and characters. I have a trunk novel or two but they are projects that I hope, one day, to finish and publish. The thing with my trunk novels is I don’t go back again and again. Currently they sit in the ‘waiting’ pile, waiting for my full attention. In the meantime I have current and future projects so, to get to the meat of it, let’s talk about deadlines.
Of course, when you work on a paid contract a deadline is inevitable. The customer, the recipient of your work, has to have a deadline and so then, do you. It’s always important to make a note of these deadlines and you should work with every intention of meeting them. Life, however, is life and unpredictable, sometimes things do arise that challenge your ability to meet a pre-set deadline. Any project coordinator worth the title is well aware of this when they initially set the deadline so there should always be a little wiggle-room worked in should life throw it’s inevitable spanner in the works. But, and it’s an important ‘but’, never ever count on it. If you’re contracted to write piece you should always work to the goal of meeting your deadline. Any extensions granted by grace or fate should be seen as a gift.
When working on your own projects a deadlines isn’t a thing that you have to set yourself. In fact you can happily pursue your works in progress without ever setting yourself a deadline but, that being the case, when do you stop? I personally agree with the sentiment that ‘a novel is never finished’. Whenever a writer goes back to their work they will find something to tweek or change and, in that respect, the work is never ‘finished’. However, if you plan to release your works, self-published or to query, then they have to be ‘finished enough’ and a deadline is a good way to push yourself to that point. The important thing is never to flagellate yourself for failing to meet a self-imposed deadline. The idea is to encourage yourself to finish, not make yourself feel guilty if you run-over.
For myself, especially now in the COVID-19 period, I struggle to find any sense of urgency. The lack of events, face-to-face with readers has sapped my drive. I sit in a timeless miasma and, although more people are reading now, I can’t manage to kick myself into gear. I had promised myself to have finished a project, one conceived at Worldcon Dublin 2019, in time to submit within the year. When I say finished I mean written, edited no less than twice and subject to beta and sensitivity readings. While the project is well progressed it has stalled. I won’t make the deadline but knowing that should engender some forward motion toward that point.
Suffice to say that the phrase ‘deadline’ can, in fact be reimagined as ‘lifeline’. Black Knight was released, full of errors, badly laid-out and all, as a step toward getting the entire trilogy to print. With one book out I had to release two and three (there is a special circle in hell for the authors of unfinished series), I even managed a revised second edition of book one free of (most of) the errors. I imagine deadlines as lifeline for my works chances to see the light of day, reach the intended audience and find their way to success, maybe even in my lifetime.
So don’t be afraid to drop a deadline on yourself, set that goal for a finished piece and, if you don’t make it, drop it again and set a new one.