Business Musings: Deadlines (A Process Blog)
In the middle of our summer move, I was going slightly crazy. I had set up a lot of deadlines for the first time in years, and I was afraid I would blow all of them.
I was truly out of practice at dealing with deadlines on the writing. I had been so burned out from traditional publishing and a rotating series of deadlines that, in 2009, I decided that I would only publish things once they were finished.
That was all well and good except for one thing which I had not known at the time: There were a number of projects that so scared me I wouldn’t tackle them unless someone literally forced me to do so.
Some of those projects are ones I’m really well known for.
Add to that my growing illness and inability to concentrate, and for a while I really couldn’t meet deadlines.
Then we moved. I decided to forgo a working office for a while, and get to know my city by going to restaurants, libraries, and outdoors (in the winter) to write.
That too was well and good until the pandemic. Then I was stuck inside, trying to write in a shared space. That decision had a major impact on my concentration just as I was returning to good health.
So, we moved. I have a lovely office. I realized I need a dedicated office for a couple of things. I like to spread out on big research projects, and I couldn’t do that in a shared space.
I also needed the office to keep organized. My online calendar worked well enough to get me through, but I need the paper calendars too as well as actual paper reminders.
When I’m really going on a writing project I’m an airhead. I can barely remember my name, let alone what I have to do next. Trying to keep that all in my mind was very difficult and made deadlines hard.
I realized after getting my vaccine hat I wanted to spend my fall/winter doing things I hadn’t done for more than a year. Not just going out to restaurants and seeing friends, but seeing plays and concerts and taking classes and just enjoying life.
To do that, I had to be very organized. I needed to have systems in place that allowed me to get work done at the level I wanted to and I had to give myself time to play.
Sounds lovely, right? Drop a massive disorienting move in the middle of it, and suddenly the deadlines weren’t my friend. They became something that terrified me. I was out of practice with them. What rose in my mind whenever I faced one was You can’t do that. You’re too sick. Which was the old way of thinking.
And besides, it wasn’t true.
But I had to switch my attitude somehow. I had to figure out how to make deadlines my friend again.
I had no idea how to do that, aside from hitting the deadlines. Which I did, often in typical Kris fashion, which meant that I was early. That surprised me.
But in the height of the move, when everything seemed impossible and my life was scattered between three different addresses, I had a realization.
I was on my morning run, which was also proving hard, partly because of the physical exhaustion of the move, and partly because climate change has given us all kinds of challenging weather. In late June and early July here that meant record heat.
Record heat in Las Vegas is 117 or above. Mornings were 91 to 95, which meant that I couldn’t really run in the outdoors; I had to go to the gym. The mornings when I was able to run outside, I had to do it at 6:45 a.m. when the temperatures were hovering around 88. I’d run to the Fremont Street Experience and lap around it, because the casinos left their doors open so that they would air-condition the walkway I was running on.
It was there, as I was doing laps around confused Midwestern tourists (Why isn’t anything open? I thought this was a 24-hour city!), that I realized I was really, really lucky.
In my life, yes. In my marriage, and where I lived yes, but in particular, I was thinking of my work.
I not only had deadlines, I was lucky enough to have real deadlines.
By real deadlines, I mean deadlines imposed from the outside. If I set up the deadlines, I would often miss them. I’m not as harsh a taskmaster as I want to be.
And I’m very James Kirk about some challenges. By that I mean, I approach challenges like Kirk approached the Kobayashi Maru test: If there was a way to beat the system without playing by the actual rules, I would do so. And I’m really bad at that when I set up the rules.
With that in mind, this year, I set up outside deadlines. Two different short fiction editors had been asking me for material. I asked them for deadlines, with the understanding that they were not obligated to buy what I wrote.
They complied. The first deadline was hard enough, but I managed because we weren’t in the thick of the move. But the second was in the middle of the worst of it, and (here’s where I sound like a beginner), I had no ideas. Which actually bothered me.
Usually I can sit down and start writing without an idea, and get something done. But that wasn’t working because my concentration was fractured.
So I looked up old story starts and titles, which got me thinking about other things—and suddenly, I had a story underway. Thank heavens.
I had to abandon two other deadline projects to do it and keep working on the move, but I did.
Because that’s how deadlines work. They make you prioritize things.
With my illness, I had gotten into the habit of prioritizing the easy stuff because it was…well…easy. So I’d work on one long project and do something easy.
This year, with deadlines, I didn’t have that luxury. In fact, the easy stuff has piled up, and I find myself working on a bunch of easy things on a single day just to get them out of the way.
They annoy me now, rather than make me feel like I’m working.
Then there’s one of the editors of my work in translation, who wants a new book in a series that is selling exceedingly well in their country. We have a vague deadline, but vague is good in this case, because I have a few other things to do before I get to it.
But vague is enough to add a nag—because I know the books are selling well there, and because I don’t want to lose the translator who has helped make them a success by letting some other writer snag that translator for a long project.
So suddenly, my project has a lot of urgency. Which is good.
My other deadlines are coming from readers. And not just because the readers have asked for more work, which they do all the time. (On the day I wrote this, I got an email from a reader who just discovered my work and who finished my very first novel, The White Mists of Power. He wants a sequel. I have no idea how that novel could ever have a sequel, even if I was in the same space I had been in nearly 40 years ago when I wrote that book. So much as I like listening to readers, sometimes doing what they want just isn’t possible.)
Last year, I realized I would never get to the super hard projects without an assist. So, I actively asked my Fey readers to give me a deadline on a novella. I did a Kickstarter, so these wonderful people paid ahead.
I knew that in order to write the novella, I had to review all 7 of the existing Fey books. Which was a heck of an undertaking. I also knew my brain well enough to know that if I did that, I wouldn’t want to quit with a novella.
That’s proving true. I’m deep in the Fey project now. The novella might or might not be a novella. But it is a novel and maybe three—and that’s prequel stuff, not the awaited 3rd Place of Power book. Since I write out of order, I’m doing all three books at once. (Sigh.) So it’s all very complicated.
Add to that, starting back into the project, has been as hard as expected.
If I hadn’t had the Kickstarter, I would have quit reviewing the existing Fey books after the first one. I don’t like rereading my old work. And what happened with those Fey books in traditional publishing was extremely painful.
I’m writing a series of blog posts about that, which will be going into a book for the Patreon supporters. Those posts have been hard, because I have a lot of scars from the project.
Which means the initial deadline was even more necessary than I had realized. The Fey project would have remained a I’ll-get-to-that-someday without the fan support. They funded the Kickstarter, and gave me a real deadline.
I owe them a debt of gratitude.
Sometimes, the deadlines come from a streak. That’s why I’m writing this process blog tonight. I had planned something longer, but I couldn’t do it. I have a massive headache. I’ve had it all day.
If I hadn’t had two separate streaks—one on my fiction and one for these blogs—I wouldn’t be writing this. I’d be on the couch, watching a truly stupid movie. (When I have a headache, I have a penchant for movies in which things blow up. I don’t care about the plot or the characters. Explosions are the point. Probably because the thought-value of those films is nearly nil.)
I don’t have enough brain power to do all the links and organizing that come with a research-heavy blog, so I’m writing this one. Right now, I have a self-imposed deadline. I have to finish a certain number of blogs before December, so that I have time for a couple of other projects.
I seriously thought of skipping tonight and piling the blog into next week. But that way lies failure. There are only so many skips before the streak blows up entirely.
Better to write a process blog and save the research-heavy blogs for the days when I have more brain power. We have a mantra for our in-person workshops that applies here: It doesn’t have to be perfect; it does have to be finished.
Or in this case, it doesn’t have to be heavily researched; it does have to be finished. Which I am doing.
I am lucky to have these deadlines. They come because readers like my work. If readers didn’t like my work, those editors I mentioned wouldn’t have obliged and given me deadlines. Readers also like my work enough to support the Kickstarter to literally kick me in the starter. And then there are you folks, the readers of the blog who have, fortunately, told me that you like the occasional process blog.
Deadlines have their place in a writing business. Having deadlines helped me through thirty years of my career. Then there were the illness years, when deadlines were more of a hindrance. Now, I’ve come full circle. Deadlines help.
And you all have contributed to them.
“Business Musings: Deadlines: A Process Blog,” copyright © 2021 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / PixelsAway
I’m glad to know you had gotten hit with the no-idea bug, because I fight that one from time to time.
I find a deadline that’s not mine very motivating in getting something finished. And like you said, a streak is also something that pokes you to keep going when you don’t feel like it.
Great stuff here, as always. Thanks for sharing.
I love these process blogs! You wrote:
“…and (here’s where I sound like a beginner), I had no ideas. Which actually bothered me. Usually I can sit down and start writing without an idea, and get something done. But that wasn’t working because my concentration was fractured.”
It’s funny, when I first started writing just for the fun of it, having to have an idea never even occurred to me. Writing always started with the simple urge to tell a story, so I’d just write a line, then another, and off I went. Wasn’t until I got “serious” about writing and aimed for professional publication that the whole issue of “getting ideas” started to creep in.
Then I spent some time out in L.A. trying to break into Hollywood (shudder), where the Big Idea or High Concept is treated as more important than the actual story. That got lodged into my brain pretty hard. Then, when I turned back to writing novels, I sadly discovered that the publishing world had soaked up some of that High Concept nonsense as well. At the time, New York was still the only game in town. I’d almost quit writing for good because every idea I came up with was either not “Big” enough, or the ones that were…I didn’t really want to write.
When indie-publishing came along, the first new series of books I started writing was an action-thriller horror mashup I wrote after reading one of Lee Child’s Reacher books and wondered how a character like Reacher would fare in a world made by someone like Stephen King. It was exactly the kind of book I wanted to read, even though I had some doubts anyone else would. I had a lot of fun writing that series. But it didn’t totally kill my “Need Ideas” syndrome. (It often takes me a while to see the lessons in my own experience.)
I wasted a lot of time starting and rejecting projects because they weren’t “good enough” or “to market.” I know, I know! But I’m getting better, finally. I’m trying to trust that old part of me that started writing stories as a way to escape the mundane horrors of junior high school. (It turned to a middle school two years after I escaped. ?) I’m still not to the point of just leaping from nothing. But I’m trying to require less of the ideas I do have, because by the time I’m done with them, they’re going to be something different (sometimes drastically so) from what I started with anyway.
Not sure there’s a point to this. I certainly went on longer than I’d planned. But that notion of being able to write something without even having anything to write about when you sit down at the keyboard struck a chord. I imagine it’s that ability that’s allowed you to write so very many short stories. At least with novels, once you start, the idea carries you for a while before you have to come up with an idea for another one. If you had to wait around to have an idea before every short story, it naturally seems like it would take longer to write each one.
I don’t know if there’s enough here for a whole blog post, but if you ever wanted to expand on how this works for you, sounds like another good process blog to me. ?
. . . Lee Child’s Reacher books and wondered how a character like Reacher would fare in a world made by someone like Stephen King.
Yes! Which series is that, because I had the same thought.
In fact, now that you mention it, I need to read through all of the Reacher books again with that thought in mind.
Thanks . . .
When I hear the word “deadline” I think of producing “widgets” not “bespoke” items like books.
You sold nine novels before the first one was even published. When did you start working to “deadline”, and why would you keep doing that when you are now Indy.
No matter how many books or short stories you have written, it doesn’t matter. Each story is unique, bespoke, handmade. You have never written that story before, so why are you writing to “deadline”.
Write for pleasure, not for “deadline”. Write to read the book so that you can see what the story is.
For reading the Fey books so that you can add to the story, do yourself a favor and read them for pleasure, not to analyze them. Read the whole series three times, and that will open things up. See the story the way a fan does, wanting to know what happens next. Wanting to know what was happening in the rest of that world.
If you can’t read your own stuff for pleasure then you are doing “critical reading” instead of reading for pleasure. That’s awful.
When the latest Laundry book comes out, I read it, then read the whole series and the latest again.
When the latest Foreigner book comes out I do the same, but strangely I cycle back through some of the books as I read along. So I am looping through two or three books as I work my way through the series. And I do that every time I read through the series.
That is what a fan does when they read what they love. Get back to reading for pleasure.
BTW, This started for me in the 70s when I would read all of the Andre Norton books each summer. It’s been a while, decades, but I need to read through the Andre Norton again now that I have them in trade paperback sets, in larger print than the mass market paperbacks that I would read as a kid.
Interesting that you assume I’m not reading for pleasure. What’s the point of reading otherwise?
Oh, and I sold 9 books before the first one was published. All, except the first one, were written under deadline.
Wanted to say I enjoyed Ten Little Fen from the KS.
So, I’ll get in line and poke (gently, I assure you), asking for more.
But now, Thanks!
LOL. Thanks. I’m glad you liked it!
Great article, Kristine! A process blog is always nice to read from time to time. Thank you!