Maybe 20 years ago, although it could have been 30, I was friendly with a writer who was working on a novel. In December she told me if she didn’t have it finished and sold by April, she would stop writing. She was approaching 40—she couldn’t afford to waste too much time if she didn’t have immediate success.
I’d been teaching novel writing for a few years and I knew that for most writers 6 months wasn’t nearly enough time to write a good book, find a good a agent, and sell it to a good publisher. So I asked her—if she got to April and she hadn’t accomplished everything, what would she do? She said she’d just stop. End of story. She’d do something else.
I could have told her, and maybe I did—it doesn’t work like that. Writers write. That’s what they do and if they don’t meet some arbitrary deadline they’ve set for themselves based on who knows what formula—they keep writing.
Not her, she said. So sure she’d be finished with the novel and happy with her new agent.
Here’s what happened. April came, the novel wasn’t done. It wasn’t even finished by the following April—and to no one’s surprise she was still writing. It took four years for her to finish the book. She did get an agent. No publishers picked it up. So she started the next book.
Ten years later she was still writing.
I’ve lost count of how many writers I’ve worked with in the past 20 or 30 years who have told me they have an absolute deadline. Before the kids get out of school. Until I need to find a new job. (I won’t even mention that wild November ride with NanoWriMo that may have made this whole fake deadline syndrome worse.)
The pandemic has created even more of these false deadlines because sooner or later kids will return to school and offices will reopen and all that free time will shrink. Right now I know at least three writers who have to be done by June, July, and August. Otherwise . . .
Here’s a secret I sometimes try to share. The deadlines are meaningless. Unless they’ve got a contract, an advance, and a drop-dead submission date from a publisher, the deadlines they’ve set for themselves don’t carry much weight.
Writers write. Books take as long as they take. Agents aren’t always easy to get and even then, there’s no guarantee a publisher will buy the book.
So instead of driving yourself crazy to meet some arbitrary deadline—let your imagination set the schedule; give the book as much time and space as it needs.
Enjoy the process.
No matter what date you’ve set for yourself, if you want to write a book, you’ll keep on writing.
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