Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Dreaded Deadline

Like many things in this world, the deadline is a double-edged sword. Deadlines set by writers, their critique groups, or even their writing partners can leave lots of “i’s” undotted, not to mention characters and plots undeveloped or inconsistent. But without deadlines, we can either write one thing forever or not write much at all.

Yet rushed deadlines can eliminate readers, including agents. One reason for rejecting manuscripts is a great idea almost executed. Just not quite. So determination to send out your queries on September 15 or January 1 is only in your best interests if your work is as good as it needs to be.

How good does it need to be? Hundreds of positively dreadful books get published. Yet the goal is surely a good book, not a “good enough” one. Still, about half the writing population never feels satisfied, always thinking it could be a little better. Yes, it always could be, yet writers need a realistic level of satisfaction, a willingness to let go so that someone else can enjoy it, even it’s not perfect. It doesn’t need to be.

It does need to be good. The other half of the writing population is too easily satisfied, quickly deciding that it’s already as good as it needs to be, probably better. But sending or self-publishing too soon is arguably worse than stressing for too long. The novel needs to be good enough not just for you, but for your readers. You don’t want an agent or anyone else thinking, “Love your idea! But you didn’t pick up the pace, deepen the characters, eliminate the passive, exploit the setting, or remove the clich├ęs.”

So. If you honestly think you revise for too long, consider these questions:

·         Would a deadline help you?
·          How will you stick to your deadline if you start rationalizing?
·         Are you aware of a perfect novel?
·          Do you secretly believe that enough patience will make your novel perfect?
·         How will you know that you’ve “finished”?

If you honestly think you don’t revise enough, consider these questions:

·         Is your deadline an excuse to avoid revision that feels hard or boring?
·         Does your deadline provide enough time to polish your novel as it deserves?
·         Have you objectively assessed which improvements your novel needs?
·          If you start rationalizing about need for revision, how will you curb this?
·         How will you know that you’ve “finished”?

Tip: A deadline is a tool, and any tool can help or hurt. You can use it to pound yourself in the head or—make your novel a must-read.

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