Fiction, however, is an animal of an entirely different stripe. Put most simply, you could continue writing on the same book for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE and it still might never be perfect. You could polish, revise, tweak, reword, rethink, replot, restructure, re-everything... and by the time you're finished, you might still not be sure that the book is the best you could possibly make it, and if ONLY you had a few more days/weeks/months/years, it would be perfect.
But none of us actually have those days/weeks/months/years. Life intrudes, the day job (or clientwork) rears its head, family obligations must be met. And still we have our deadlines to face. How can we get it all done?
That's a trick question - we can't get it ALL done. The key to mastering deadlines is learning not only how to say "no" to certain activities and time-drains, but also learning how to say "I'll do just this much" for the things you really do need or want to do... but which can't consume your life the way perhaps they have in the past. Whether that's Twitter, TV, hanging out with friends, or vegging out on the couch... (or, in my case: laundry, housework, paying bills... eating...) when deadlines loom, hard decisions have to be made.
I've heard lots of different ways authors meet their deadlines:
- Unplug! For however many hours or days, some authors disconnect from the Internet to get their work done. There are even apps that can virtually "unplug" you.
- Time Buckets. "From 8 a.m. to noon every day... all I do is write." This doesn't work in my world, but in some lands of fairies and bunny rabbits, I believe this can work well.
- KidSwapping. Sort of a "you watch my kids, I'll watch yours" trade-off, this method of recruiting a friend to take on your children so you can get work done (with the promise that you'll do the same) can create an oasis of time in a busy mom's world. (Or so I hear. Fortunately, my cat is generally very respectful of my deadlines.)
- Checkboxes. Yes, I'm really a first grader at heart, but identifying how many hours (or words) I have to complete in a given day or week on a given project, and then translating that to "check boxes" that I actually check off as I complete each segment of the day's or week's goals has been my A+ Number 1 Lifesaver when it comes to meeting deadlines. I don't have to do it ALL... I just have to get this next box checked.
- Accountability Partners. As writers, we sometimes live in a lonely world. So having a Writing Partner who keeps you on track with your goals is not unlike that friend you have who forces you to show up at the gym every morning at 5:30 a.m. even when it's raining out and the roads are beginning to ice over because the mother of all snow storms is bearing down on the city but unlike the rest of the sane people who are just turning off their alarms and snuggling back under the covers, you're up and dressed in spandex and running shoes, ready to work out. You know, that friend. Last seen stuffed into a gym locker. (Seriously, though, if you can find an accountability partner who keeps you on track--do so!)
- Pain. Okay, this isn't pretty, but it's true: sometimes, the best motivator is that you simply don't have a choice. It's too painful for you personally NOT to do the work. The need to achieve sometimes can come at you like that, feeling less like a gentle voice in your mind than a baseball bat beating you about the head and shoulders. Trust me, you'll feel worse putting off your dreams than just buckling down and working to achieve them... so sometimes you have to Just Do It.
What about you? I LIVE for ways to improve productivity and meet deadlines, and not just because I've received the most awesome (and exhaustively detailed) editorial revision letter in the History of the World, Part I. So I welcome ANY suggestions or ideas in the comments below!
Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.