I ❤ Deadlines!

clockJust look at that fancy header! (It took me ages to work out how to add that heart).

Last Friday, 30th October, was a date I’d had firmly fixed in my head and in my diary for several weeks. It was the DEADLINE for entries to The People’s Friend serial-writing competition and I was determined to enter it.

I’ve been thinking about trying to write something longer than short stories for ages. The jump to a novel seems huge, so, although I realise that, stylistically, it’s very different to writing a novel, a serial is longer than a short story and needs more planning, characters, different points of view and all that, so it seemed the next logical step to attempt one.

But without a deadline, I was still just thinking about it.

In the run up to 30th October, I did some very silly things. As you know, I went to Spain for 4 days, to get eaten by mosquitoes (took my notebook and brought it back again, pages still blank); then last Tuesday I went to Champneys for the day with my mum! (Had to use up the gift voucher I had or it was going to expire…!).. and so on and so on.

I was thinking a lot about the serial but not writing much, so it looked like I was going to miss the deadline. Then I worked out that if I posted my entry on 29th October, by first class, special delivery (which would cost me £7.25 but would be worth every penny!), I could buy myself another couple of days and my entry would be guaranteed to get there on time! So all I had to do was finish it…

Those of you who also entered will remember that you had to write the first part (6000 words), plus you needed to submit a synopsis (max 1500 words) of the rest of the serial. To my amazement – and by the skin of my teeth – I did it. But if I hadn’t had that deadline of last Friday? I don’t suppose I’d even have finished the first part. I am one of those writers that NEEDS deadlines. And self-imposed ones just aren’t the same, are they? It’s just too easy to cheat.

Other writers, I have discovered, have also thrived on deadlines.

Take Charles Dickens, for example. Every one of his novels was first published as a serial – either weekly or monthly – so he always had a deadline when he wrote.

And when he wrote Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh gave himself a deadline. He asked for 3 months leave from the army in order to write it and took himself off to a hotel in Devon to do so. He averaged 2000 words a day and had to keep asking for extra time but he got there in the end (it took him nearer to five months than three).

But my favourite deadline story is Kazuo Ishiguro’s. He wrote The Remains of The Day in just 4 mad, frenzied weeks, which he called ‘The Crash’. You can read more about it here.

He and his (very supportive!) wife agreed on a deadline. For four weeks he would work solidly from 9am to 10.30pm (very civilised hours!). He wouldn’t read any post, or answer the phone, no-one would come to his house: he would only stop to eat.

It’s a bit like doing NaNoWriMo, I suppose, but the end result, rather than a load of waffle (which is what mine have been!), was a rather fabulous novel which, if you haven’t read it, I can highly recommend.

Deadlines stop you from procrastinating!

I reckon the reason so many former journalists become successful novelists (eg: Jojo Moyes, Sophie King, Ken Follett, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway… ) is because they’re used to working to deadlines. They’ve never had the luxury of procrastinating: they’ve been trained just to sit down and get the words out.

So, I need to get better at setting deadlines for myself. Any tips, anyone?

And if, ahem, you’re doing NaNo this year – like I’m supposed to be (!) – Emma Darwin has some great tips and advice over on her blog here (in fact, even if you’re not doing NaNo you might want to have a look..)

Easton Court, Devon, where Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited

Easton Court, Devon, where Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited

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15 Responses to I ❤ Deadlines!

  1. Heather Walker says:

    Ah deadlines! Enjoyed the post, feel the panic! I’ve been there. I never thought I could write a novel until I sat down and split the total word count I needed into a daily target, saw how many months it would take. Suddenly it was do-able. Like NaNoWriMo (which I also did last year in three weeks, phew – not great ending but happyish with the rest) you do have to be disciplined.I stuck to my goals (make sure yours are reasonable, allow extra time for those things that crop up in life). The editing is the bit I anguish over – still not got a complete ready-to-submit novel (4th edits as we speak), Any advice on that appreciated! Maybe it’s down to how you work. I am quite a logical person and when I put my mind to something I can do it. It was a surprise to me! So, good luck. Write that novel!

    • Heather, thanks for your encouragement. Yes, self-discipline is definitely the key! I need to give myself a severe talking to.. just as soon as I’ve taken the dog for a walk, been swimming and packed my bag for going away tonight…aaagh!

  2. Tracy Fells says:

    Enjoyed this post, Helen. To be honest I can’t write anything without some sort of deadline. It really does help you to focus on what needs to be written and by when – essential for when you have an editor waiting on something. Though I do have a soft spot for Douglas Adams’ quote about how he loved deadlines … loved the sound of them rushing by. But could never work like that!

    • Yes, I do need to set myself some more deadlines or I’m never going to get anything done! Sally, my writing buddy and I have ‘drifted’ slightly this year (we religiously sent each other a piece of work for comment once a fortnight up until quite recently). Her novel-writing and my faffing have put paid to that but we’ve got a ‘meeting’ in December and I’m sure we’ll soon get back on track!

  3. Thank you Helen. We picked up our new puppy 2 weeks ago so my blog (new to blogging, started this year) and memoir I’ve been trying to complete for over 3 years (yes, really!) completely has gone off the bubble. Your comments have struck home so I’ve cleared rest of today to get back into the writing zone, that now will include a Benji blog, so off I go ….. Thank you.

  4. Alex Gazzola says:

    I sometimes set myself ‘mini deadlines’ (‘Finish this paragraph by 11am and then have a cuppa’) but am pretty useless at getting motivated for a distant one, I’m afraid …. Was it 10.30pm not am for Ishiguro? Not so civilised, if so …. I’d be spent by that hour, although I do tend to find I work better the later it is.

  5. Whoops – well spotted, Alex – yes, 10.30PM! I have changed it now!

  6. Good luck with The PF serial competition, Helen. I shall watch out for it! Self-imposed deadlines are easier to ignore, aren’t they?

    • Thanks! I got a rather ‘stern’ rejection for a short story from People’s Friend yesterday, which has filled me with doubt now, about the serial, as I obviously don’t have a clue what they want…! But never mind, too late now and I’m not sorry I entered. It made me write 7500 words that I wouldn’t have done otherwise!

  7. juliathorley says:

    I can’t work without a deadline. I can spend ages tidying and sharpening pencils without one. However, in my ‘proper’ job as a freelance editor timing is … everything, so I’ve become pretty good at imposing my own. That’s not to say that I never succomb to the lure of ‘just one more episode’ on a Netflix box set, though.

    • Ah yes, the lure of Netflix! I remember when we were watching the entire series of Breaking Bad (on DVD though, cos we don’t have Netflix) and it was ADDICTIVE! But very enjoyable too (and you can, surely, count it as research?!)

  8. Well done on making the deadline – although I winced at the cost of it! Good luck with the competition.
    Yes, I need deadlines. And offering myself a reward for meeting deadlines also helps to keep me going.

  9. Thanks, Linda. It was a bit on the expensive side (no wonder I have no money!) BUT I consoled myself with the thought that I quite happily pay £5 to enter a writing competition, so another couple of pounds is neither here nor there. Of course, if I’d been organised, the whole thing would only have cost me 60p-ish, for a large letter stamp..but I’m trying not to think about that!

  10. Wendy Clarke says:

    I create my own deadlines. I have to write a story a week or I imagine that writing chum, Tracy Fells, will throw teacakes at me at our next meet up (it’s enough to get the ideas rolling).

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