Deadlines: tyrants or liberators? How to write a novel–part 16

When I see the word “deadline,” I can’t help but think about folks who procrastinate. We all know them. They’re everywhere. There’s one living in my house; he’s married to my wife. I’m also reminded of the old joke (probably from Rodney Dangerfield): “I said I’d fix it, and I will. You don’t have to remind me every six months!”

RIP Hoppy

“I tried to warn yer old man, kid. But he just wouldn’t listen.”

I’m a natural born procrastinator, so you might reasonably expect me to react badly to deadlines. And you’d be partially right. It’s not simply a rebroadcast of the “Ant and the Grasshopper.” For me, it’s the sequel: “The Ant and the Son of the Grasshopper.”

The difference is that in the sequel, the grasshopper’s offspring knows what happened to his daddy–let’s call him “Hoppy”–and it was downright ugly. The poor shlub froze to death, homeless and hungry. That’s a serious object lesson! Deadlines for me are like winter for grasshoppers. I respect them, ’cause I don’t wanna die just yet. I’ve got way too much stuff to do.

As an independent writer/publisher, I have the option of wasting as much time as I like, which, generally speaking, is a good thing. But I also know that unless I give myself a deadline, I’ll never finish anything.

Deadlines have consequences for others, too. Especially if you consider yourself a pro. Case in point: J.K. Rowling, author of the incredibly successful Harry Potter books, missed her deadline from Scholastic Books for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth title in the series. And she missed it by several months. Granted, she had very understandable reasons–like getting married and giving birth.

The problem is that Scholastic needed the profit from the sales of Rowling’s book to stay in business. They based their annual budgets on it. By the time they learned the manuscript would be severely delayed (which had not been the case with any previous Rowling work), it was too late to cancel the press time they’d already contracted. Without Rowling’s book, they had very little material to run through all the presses they’d lined up to produce the millions of copies they needed to meet demand. Though idle, the workers still had to be paid, and Scholastic had to take delivery of enough paper to gift-wrap the planet. They nearly went bankrupt.

So, there are sound reasons for having deadlines, whether we like ’em or not. We can treat them as tyrannical entities meant only to forestall the arrival of our personal muse, or we can make allies of them. Further, if we don’t have deadlines, it probably makes sense to create them. If you’re anything like me (and if so, please accept my condolences), setting reasonable deadlines might just provide the motivation you need to finish whatever it is you’re working on.

dead hoppyFinal thought on this topic: The operative element of a deadline is the word “reasonable.” Set yourself up for success. Don’t sign up for any deadlines you know you can’t make. Build in a little padding. And if you’re negotiating a deadline with someone else, go ahead and assume something will crop up to delay things. If it doesn’t, you’re ahead of the game since there’s nothing wrong with beating a deadline. It just gives you more time to work on something else. Or maybe just goof off for a while.

But miss a deadline? Ugh. Makes me dream of a frozen grasshopper carcass. RIP Hoppy, ol’ pal.

Next up: It’s really not about you!



About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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3 Responses to Deadlines: tyrants or liberators? How to write a novel–part 16

  1. mreedmccall says:

    Interesting post! Deadlines are indeed more complex than most realize (not to mention deadening, sometimes, to work beneath). 🙂

  2. nativeson49 says:

    Gee, Josh, I feel as though I’m at church again when I KNOW the preacher is directing his sermon at widdle bitty me out of the entire congregation. (You weren’t ever a Southern Baptist minister were you?)

  3. joshlangston says:

    Uh, no. I’m a Unitarian. The sermons I give usually deal with adverb abuse, although I can get pretty fired up about stative verbs, too.

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