Monday, August 17, 2009

Deadlines: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Whenever we writers hear advice about deadlines, they are always viewed in a positive light. Deadlines help you focus, deadlines help you finish, deadlines are good.

I can't argue that providing focus is a great thing. It helps you push through the daily distractions of work, family, and Twitter (for those of you that are hooked like me).

I also can't argue that deadlines help you close off a story, and help bring some closure to a wandering tale.

But what about the flip side?

That's what I have experienced lately. I shouldn't have done it, but I promised that I would have a story done at a particular time, much too short of a time. While doing so, I violated a one of my very important writing process items. I didn't let the story sit on the shelf for a few weeks before I revisited it. Then I evaluated my work based on the first draft.

The result was very predictable. The story sucked and I knew it. It was funny because it caused me to write a goofy blog post on my own blog.

I was pretty down at that point, I felt like what I had written was total crap, and I just wanted to start over. Writer Alex Moore, made a comment on that post that was right on. Writing a story is not like buying a car. When you buy a car you can't give it back if you don't like it later, but you can always change the story.

To understand why I put the unrealistic deadline on myself you have to understand a little about what happened. One of my characters is a motorcycle chick named Jesse Diamond. She's a total hoot. Unrefined, she says what she wants to, and doesn't give a damn about what anyone else thinks. Sort of like my alter-ego, well, if I was a girl.

To create this character I did some research. I ride with a number of motorcycle groups and so I polled some of the gals in the group for some interesting stories about riding. One of the riders, a gal named Marci, gave me a story that was pure gold. (You'll have to read the book)

So now here's the problem. Marci is very excited about the finished product, because she wants to see the result of her story and how it fit in. She has a vested interest in the book and keeps emailing me to see how it going, and when can she read it. Yep, crank up the pressure to finish it.

In trying to get the story in her hands as soon as I could, I tried to circumvent my process, and it didn't work. Marci didn't get to read the story, and I didn't write a good enough one.

So it's been a few weeks and I revisited the story, made some great edits, thanks to Donald Maass's book "The Fire in Fiction", and I'm now actually very happy with the story. Marci is going to get a copy this week.

So what did I learn from this.

  1. Always stick to your process. If you have one that works for you, make sure you follow every step.
  2. Play careful attention to your deadline dates, and always pad them, because things will go wrong.

In case you're wondering what I ride, here's my latest toy.


  1. awesome toy!! as for deadlines, i don't give myself too many. I guess this is because I tend to write in waves --> things percolate along, simmering on the back burner, as i work out plot complications etc. but i do know that when i give myself baby step goals, my writing improves. good luck w/ the story!

  2. I'd be interested in a post on what you read in the Maass book that helped and what you did with that information. It is no small thing to take something that is not so great and transform it into something that is better.

    Maass can say things that work. That's an understatement, but the truth is that I've had some good luck with his principles and the way he words things. Best of luck with the project.


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