Self-Imposed Deadlines

For those of us out there who are not yet published…(and I prefer pre-published, rather than aspiring, because I look at it as something that will eventually happen rather than something that might happen, it’s that whole self-actualization thing)…setting a self-imposed deadline can be counterproductive.

You are not losing money if you miss your self-imposed deadline unless you are under contract. Pre-published authors are generally those without a contract yet.

You do not yet know how much time you have to get something done, and you do not yet know how much work it will take before something is truly ready for submission. You might think that you’ll be ready by a specific time, but having not yet finished something that generates professional publication interest, you do not yet know what your end point will be.

In other words, you don’t yet know what it takes to get there. You cannot yet set yourself a deadline of finishing if you don’t know what it takes to finish. And it’s not worth stressing yourself out when you have other obligations, such as the day job, the home, the family, the pets, and other day-to-day things that take up your time.

That’s why it’s not a deadline if you’re not under contract. It’s a GOAL.

I can say that my goal is to be finished with this draft of my novel by next weekend. Obviously, I’d love it to be earlier, but I’d like that much done before Thanksgiving Week.

I can, knowing the critique schedule for my writer’s groups, set a goal for having the remainder of it critiqued and those pages edited. I can say approximately how long those edits will take me based on how long editing critique pages from this group has taken me throughout this novel.

I know that once I have the rest of the critiques done, that I will have to go over the entire thing from front to back and make sure that everything matches up, and front end changes are made, grammar mistakes caught, and otherwise make sure the thing is as tight as I can. I’ve done this kind of work before, on a different novel. This one is going together better than that one, but I could always be surprised.

I’m lucky enough to have a list of people who have volunteered to do some beta reading. My GOAL is to have them the whole thing by the first of the year if I can. And then I’ll have to consider any comments or critiques I get from them.

Putting all of those things together, I can set myself a GOAL of querying by the end of March 2011. I’d love to get there faster. Who wouldn’t? But this gives me a timeline to work toward. And, should something in my life blow up in my face, I know, at this point, that I can set aside my novel long enough to deal with what’s right in front of me rather than stress myself out.

If I was under contract, I would have a set deadline. And I would be stressing myself out to get there. Why? Because a professional reputation is at stake. Income is at stake. And my work and career would be at stake. Those are different stakes than I’m under at the moment.

Why the difference? Because when I hit submissions with this novel, I want it to be as good as it can be. I have the freedom and the time to make sure I’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s. I’d be asking someone to take a chance on me, and I want them to know what I can do. Despite what Dennis Lehane calls the “Ticking Clock Syndrome” with regard to pre-published authors, there is no rush to get something out there.

I’m not saying that I don’t feel the need, or the desire to get something out there immediately. We all do; we’re human. We see friends and acquaintances reaching their goals and dreams faster than we are. We’re not getting any younger.

But putting something out there before it’s ready does not get us across the finish line faster…in fact, it might actually delay it. And I’d rather take the time up front than have to wait longer on the back end.

So I don’t call it a deadline. I call it a goal. What are yours?



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