Writing books is a performance business. At the end of the day, week or whatever time period applies, an author produces something on a schedule.
I know many people write without any firm deadline as they are just starting out writing for illumination and enjoyment, but honestly, I can’t imagine working without a deadline and not self-imposing one. I’ll intentionally place myself in a position where I need to get something done by a certain date. Frankly, I don’t trust myself enough to do otherwise.
When in college, I voluntarily committed to something which required I complete a certain task every day by a certain time, with no excuses. It related to something I hoped would be a career path, but the self-discipline proved to be very helpful and instructive long term.
The successful author-life is equal parts creativity and discipline, make-believe and real-life, story-telling and deadline-meeting.
An aspiring author must come to grips with the fact this profession has a bottom line to it. The bottom line is this: Get things done well, by the agreed deadline, even if the deadline is self-imposed or inconvenient.
Everything else about being an author can orbit around this fact, distracting the author with shiny objects and funny videos, but in the end, you need to get something written by the deadline and by the way, it should be done well.
There are some authors who have ruined any chance at a sustainable or successful career by their inability to hit a deadline, or they didn’t manage their time well enough and turned in a manuscript on time, but poorly written.
Health, personal issues, creative issues, relationships, computer problems, good reasons or just excuses, they couldn’t get the job done on time while maintaining the necessary quality.
Writing is a performance business and they didn’t show up or didn’t perform well.
And like anything within the competitive performance world, once someone fails to meet expectations, someone else is right behind to take their place.
Very few authors can survive a sustained lack of quality and deadline-meeting.
In the Gospel of Luke, the fourteenth chapter, Jesus tells a couple parables and then sums them with a “count the cost” statement which could be taken any number of ways, I suppose, but relates to a person living life as a believer. Have no illusions, there is a cost.
Any author, including Christian authors need to do something similar and count the cost of being a writer.
If the spectrum of the author-life is at one extreme a calm, creative life of drinking tea, sitting in a comfy chair with a laptop, staring at clouds and musing about life all day, the opposite extreme would be a pressure packed stadium of fans yelling for a certain athlete to “run faster” or “play harder.”
The successful author life resides somewhere between the two. While still a solitary endeavor, the pressure to perform from editors, agents and readers can be too much for some to withstand.
“We want you to write something great by next Tuesday at 4pm. Write faster! Work harder!”
Authors need to do the work, hit the deadlines, do the platform stuff, make the contacts with the right people, maintain relationships with others and keep your creative “edge,” while also doing everything else in their life.
Every once in a while, one of the agents for this agency will blog about something similar to this. Our goal is not to discourage anyone, but just the opposite, to encourage those who have the desire to be an author with a vision of what the future might bring. Successful authors already counted the cost and decided it was worth it.
You still want to write books? Count the cost. Do the work well by the deadline.
It’s the bottom line.
Brennan S. McPherson
A few posts back, Dan, you called writing a competitive performance profession, and I’d never thought of it like that before, but it seems so obvious now that you’ve pointed it out. The hardest part of writing, for me, is focusing enough to actually spend time writing. I’ve been using a typewriter for drafting for that purpose. It helps. But before writing, I was a professional touring and session musician while going to school for business. The bizarre part at my little school was that there were music majors who practiced less than me. Some of them started out with better chops, but I spent two hours every day in the “wood-shop” (as a drummer, when you practice, your sticks get chipped away, and sawdust gets everywhere), while they hit the practice room once or twice a week. I showed up to gigs prepared, with all the songs notated, learned, and charted. There was one drum major who practiced more than me (because he could–he wasn’t taking business classes), and he was also a more talented player. We started trading gigs. He’s now the touring drummer for Owl City, because he always showed up prepared, on time, reliable. One day I got hired 24 hours before a 2-hour performance that other drummer couldn’t play at, and had to learn 2 hours of songs I’d never heard, practice through them once with a group I’d never played with, and then perform. I came prepared, and soon started getting hired more. The drummers who never practiced stopped getting hired so much. It had nothing to do with talent. Everything to do with doing the work, showing up on time, and being reliable. I suppose it’s time for me to go sit at my typewriter. . .
The Woody Allen quote comes to mind…”80% of life is showing up,” or something along those lines.
I’d probably add, “90% of success is being prepared and showing up.”
A lot of immense talent wasted by those who did neither.
Brennan S. McPherson
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and SELF-CONTROL” (Galatians 5:22-23). The same God who created me with the talent to write, set me on the path to gain the necessary experience and inspires me with the content also empowers me to meet the deadlines. To God be the glory!
Shirlee, I responded to your comment below. Thank you for this encouragement and shift in perspective.
From an author staring down a May 1 deadline: thank you.
Three weeks…a piece of cake.
My favourite deadline story comes from the world of visual arts; it probably doesn’t have a writing analogue, but it’s still fun.
Paintings submitted for exhibition at the Royal Academy were expected to be finished, of course, but the painters were allowed a day of fine-tuning upon the already-hung work.
On one occasion J.M.W. Turner offered a lovely, grey-and-blue toned seascape, and came in on Fixing Day to see it hung beside a bright Constable landscape and a work depicting Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.
He fetched his oils, and, humming to himself, affixed a daub of red lead to the face of a wave, then quickly shaped it into a buoy. Then he left, still humming, and with nary a word.
It was as if a coal from the fiery furnace had decamped to set Turner’s sea alight.
But let the last words be from John Constable:
“He has been here, and fired a gun.”
Well said—-good advice.
I am terrible with self-imposed deadlines. If I don’t meet the deadline, who am I letting down? But being the people pleaser that I am, a deadline imposed by someone else–with consequences–motivates me. In fact, I usually beat a deadline because I never know what might pop up at the last minute and interfere with my plans. Shirlee, you gave me a new perspective with the fruit of the spirit…self-control. Maybe I need to approach self-imposed deadlines prayerfully and set God-imposed deadlines instead. When I’m not making the progress I should, I’m not honoring him. Thank you for that!
Beautiful words, Karen!
A twenty year career writing and producing radio scripts may be the reason that deadlines don’t intimidate me. If you don’t finish the broadcast, there’s dead air. Now that’s pressure. Thanks, Dan.
That’s such a cool takeaway, Rebekah. Doesn’t it seem like the Holy Spirit spends a lot of time changing our perspective?
Rebekah and LK, yes, 152% true! I’ve seen God bless in the past month through a pipe of stacked deadlines… Thanks so much for sharing that. <3
I had a mentor in my former career who said she always showed up for meetings prepared, and usually she got what she wanted because she was the only one who was. Preparedness works (Proverbs 22:29).
Anyone remember Franklin Planners? Oh my, the lists and carryovers! LOL! I tend to be a task-oriented person, so I have to watch setting unrealistic deadlines, and deadlines for activities that really don’t amount to a hill of beans. I guess each of us has different challenges.
LK, you’re so right about setting unrealistic deadlines. Oh my, I’m so guilty of that sometimes! And a planner? I made the mistake and didn’t buy one big enough for this year! I use the Big Sky planners.
Dan, it’s as if you had been given divine instructions as to what this writer needed today. Admittedly, I’ve had “getting it done” issues for the past several months because of some of the “excuses” mentioned in the article. This morning I felt the need to establish a deadline for completing a manuscript. After reading your post, I know it was God who was leading me towards due diligence in finishing the task. You can be assured that a copy of this blog will adorn my work space. Thanks for writing it and at the right time for me.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
I loved this blog posting, Dan. Thank you for saying what needed to be said. I set a deadline for myself every day and that makes such a difference in how I approach my writing.
Case in point, I made it my goal to finish my dissertation in 12 months. It had to be completely done, signed, sealed, and delivered. Four hundred pages later, it was. On time, on schedule. I did it by making a commitment to set aside a certain amount of time every single day to dedicate to that goal. I got it done. Some friends of mine graduated three years later than I did because of not keeping a schedule.
Writing is a serious business and, if I say I will get something finished, then I will and I will do it to the very best of my ability. Thanks again, Dan!
Well put, sir. And I’ve heard a bit of your personal deadlines from talking with Steve at Mount Hermon recently. You’re dead serious about exceeding those deadlines. 🙂 Sheesh, you go, man!
Do you ever get a bit frustrated when your fingers don’t keep up with your brain? Does that happen to you? It does me. I think I need to go back to Speed Typing 101.
I like what you said. Successful writers already counted the cost and decided it was worth it. Do you find some writers starting out overlook counting the cost or asking what it even involves?
John de Sousa
Thanks for this potent motivation! As a young pastor, Sunday morning would come without my permission, or readiness. If it meant working into the night, so be it. The rising sun would not negotiate. I have to remind myself of those days, and this was a needed help!
I appreciate your post illuminating the practical realities of a writer’s life if success is to be achieved. Yesterday’s moving post from Steve (“Books Change Lives”) and your post today form an interesting duality. Steve’s might be termed “Inspiration”—yours, “Perspiration.” Both are essential. Without inspiration, there is no vision. Without perspiration, there is no realization of the dream. The question becomes, how does one channel the energy of inspiration to create an effective writing life? I think the answer lies in the synergy between perspiration and inspiration. The juxtaposition of these posts has given me a greater passion for the business side, because I can see more clearly how it powers the ultimate objective of changing lives. Many thanks to you both!
Paula Scott Bicknell
Great post! I’m at the place in my writing journey where the pressure is rising. Counting the cost right now. Thanks, Dan.
Martha Whiteman Rogers
Well said, Dan. I’d be a happy camper if I could just write and edit to make it better without all the hassle of promotion and publicity and marketing, but it’s all a part of the process. I’ve always set deadlines for myself and I have only missed one publisher’s deadline, and that came when I was ill and in the hospital and couldn’t write. Without deadlines, I’d write only when I felt like it, and I’d never get anything done.