The dream of a new writer is to have all the time in the world to revel in their novel or nonfiction book. To lay back in languid luxury as thousands of teeming fans send messages of adulation throughout the world.
Then you wake up and find out the writing life is not that idyllic.
Most writers labor under a deadline that was agreed on at the time of their contract. Or a deadline self-imposed as part of their own rigorous planning schedule.
But then life interrupts.
The Interruptions of Life
Everyone experiences disruption that throws off a carefully planned to-do list or calendar. Did you plan for that trip to the ER for a family member before it happened? Of course not. Or when the air conditioner in your office goes out and the temperature outside is well over 100 degrees? Or when all the websites you manage are not working because the server ran out of disc space without any notice? What if all three happen on the same day? That was my experience earlier this month.
Separately, they are challenges. Combined they can be rather distracting from that day’s to-do list. Need I say that was an understatement?
Tip of the Iceberg
Each of you have similar stories. Chemotherapy treatments. Children with difficult physical challenges. Sudden illness, either personal or family member. Unexpected death of a loved one. Loss of job. Longtime relationships explode–friendships, spouse, or children. Carpal tunnel. Evacuation notice received due to fires. Back problems mean being unable to sit long enough to type anything meaningful. Mold found in the walls of your home. Family pet with a terminal diagnosis. The latest paralyzing news cycle. This list could go on. (And then COVID-19 happens.)
And you have to be creative in the midst of it all. You are finally able to steal away and sit in front of your screen. You try to clear your mind and get back into the book that is due in 30 days and you have 35,000 more words to write. Your mind sternly says, “Be brilliant–now.”
It feels impossible.
Are You Alone in All This?
Can we agree it is not a matter of “if” but of “when” this happens? It can be debilitating emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
There is a reason why it is important to be part of a group of people who care for you, whether family, church family, or your writing community. You should not try to bear the burden alone. Galatians 6:2 reads, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” There is the old saying that a burden shared is a burden cut in half. It is so true.
Reach out to those you know, and let them know of your trials. Not to engineer sympathy but to truly ask them to pray for you and support you in your time of need.
God wasn’t surprised by your circumstances. In fact, He has been there for you all along. First Peter 5:7 reads, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
This should be a general principle in all of life, wouldn’t you agree?
But What Does the Writer Do?
While the above reminder can be a balm, it doesn’t solve the deadline problem does it?
I highly recommend you talk to your agent (if you work with one). For one thing, we truly care about your well-being. No, you are not bothering us with trivial stuff. We genuinely want to know.
If the current challenge becomes an ongoing one and will cause inevitable delays in making that deadline, you definitely want to have your agent involved.
We can talk with your editor and see if the schedule can be adjusted. Usually the publisher is amenable to creating a mutually agreed deadline extension. But be careful not abuse the extension.
Please don’t wait until the day before the deadline to tell your agent or editor that you can’t meet that date. If it means only missing by a day or two, that might work, but not with the surprise news that you won’t be delivering the manuscript for another three months. Publishers work on regimented production schedules with key tasks throughout the process that must be met or a book will not be published on time.
Why is that a big deal? Back in my publishing days at Bethany House, we had a book that was late to the market by over a month due to an author not returning the final galley on time. Unfortunately, advertising had been purchased in a major chain’s catalog. Because the book wasn’t available when the catalog was mailed to consumers, that chain fined the our company thousands of dollars for lost revenue. Those folks don’t play around!
Patterns of Disruption
A publisher understands life’s interruptions. But if a particular author misses deadlines consistently, they start getting a reputation; and it’s not a good one. I once heard an editor exclaim, “What’s the point of a deadline if it is always ignored?” The joke is that the word “dead” is in the word “deadline” for a reason!
Treat the deadline with respect. You will be simultaneously treating your editor and your publisher with respect.
You are not alone. (1 Peter 5:7)
Your situation is not a sob story no one wants to hear.
Share it with those who support you.
Reset the schedule, and factor in possible delays.
Don’t let the enemy tell you it cannot be done.
Robyn Renée Monroe
Great article. I love the list of life’s interruptions. So realistic. Thank you for the encouragement and the reality check.
Lynette B Eason
Thanks for this, Steve. I always hesitate to share if something major is going on because I don’t want to be “that” author. LOL. I just have it in my head that no matter what life throws at me, I will NOT miss a deadline. And I haven’t. But I’m not sure that’s anything to brag about. Looking back, I wish I’d asked for some help in some situations. Might have done my mental health a world of good. 🙂 I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I often write about characters who have trouble asking for help and live to regret it! HA! Great advice here. Thank you!
When the bleary morning comes,
another sleepless night is through,
and the risen knowlege numbs:
all the nightmares have come true.
You can see it in the mirror,
you can touch it in your face,
you feel Reaper coming nearer,
and you’re going to lose the race.
How, then, can one face the day?
Is there legacy to build
before completion of the play,
when the heroes all are killed?
Will no soul (my secret fear)
even recall that I was here?
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Oh, Andrew! You have a cohort of Steve Laube Agency website friends whose minds you’ve challenged, amazed, and entertained, whose spirits you’ve lifted, and who will long remember your name. I’m sure I’m not the only one who prays for you when I read your sonnets. I hope you have relief, peace, and encouragement today!
Linda, thank you so much…after the Night That Was and in The Morning That Is, your words are a treasured balm.
Your poetry astounds and I continue to be in awe of your talent. Just one small correction in your current work: You’re not going to lose the race. You’re going to win.
Kay, thank you so much for the affirmation…and for the correction!
Please pardon my late reply. Some new bad stuff happened yesterday, and I’m pretty trashed, but not yet done.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Your blog reminds me of watching my husband prepare to preach this week. He is not a pastor, he is a camp director. While he loves interacting with campers, running a fun program, and highly values Biblical teaching … he hates having to preach. And yet, with camp cancelled this summer he keeps being asked to do just that as various pastor friends are going on sabbatical. It is a calling though and he said yes when it was clear that he was supposed to. So … most people who preach regularly have an office, a quiet place to seek God and to study. We live in a two-bedroom apartment in camp housing with three sons and a 117lb dog. Three sons when confined in a small place are never quiet. There is wrestling, school work includes a flute, trombone, and clarinet. Even screen-time involves shouting, battles, and often zombies. And yet … the call remains. He worked at home, took walks, escaped to the camp for awhile. He made it work, and God was present in the end result. So much of life has deadlines, I think it means being faithful in the moment, caring for your family and your business and those God brings into your path. Being faithful in the little things.
May God richly bLess you! For all the words of encouragement.
This was just what I needed today. Thank you.
Wow. You’ve been “reading my mail!” Thank you for this.
I so appreciate your sensitivity, wisdom and encouragement.
“Don’t let the enemy tell you it cannot be done.”
Yep. Wise words for unsettled times.
Steve, thanks for this post.
Back in my software development days, we would start the creation of a large project with what we called the “mountaintop experience.” The excitement was palpable, and everyone was rarin’ to go create the best software product ever. We created optimistic schedules and we were sure to meet the deadline.
Halfway through the project, servers had failed, some people had moved on, weather had interfered, and we arrived at the place we called the “valley of despair.”So much left to do. So little time to do it in.
Instead of frolicking through the tulips, those of us who were left put our shoulders to the virtual wheel and trudged on. Sometimes we made the deadline, other times we didn’t, but we always gave an honest assessment of where we were in the project to our upper management.
My takeaway is that persistence and honesty pays off whether you’re developing software or creating a new world through your writing.
Life does happen. Thank you for this post.
I was relieved to learn that many of my optimistic fellow-writers didn’t accomplish all that was on their to-do list when the pandemic began. But writing for newspapers taught me that deadlines get met, no matter what. Thanks for this post, Steve.
After a long career in Christian Ed and children’s books, God “retired” me with a brain hemorrhage. I had to learn to read again. When I received an offer from my best publisher for an eight book series, I accepted it with modifications to the timeline. Halfway through the eighth book, my head went into a flat spin. My doc stomped around the room asking, “Why would you even think of doing this?” My marvelous editor tucked her shoulder in behind me and together we moved step-by-step to final mss. Sometimes God sends an angel. Do you feel your halo glowing, Steve?
OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU
Thanks dear Andrew! I am praying for you too.
Thanks for this post too, Steve. I remember a day that I was confused because I did not see your blog post that day.That was probably the day you had your issues. I believe in respecting deadlines no matter what because it is like keeping a promise. God honours promises. Purposing things in one’s mind and bringing God in can help us to keep deadlines in any situation’… in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct they paths.'[Proverbs 3:6]
God bless you, Steve.
What a timely article, Steve! Thanks so much for your encouragement and also to help us know that we are not alone. This is just spot-on during these crazy times.
It’s refreshing to hear these things happen to many others–and they can be survived. Sometimes I have accepted a storm of interruptions to the progress of a particular project as signs the project is valuable. That helps me believe in the worth of gathering my prayer/email list team and pushing into the wind together.
I have no doubt you’ve already seen answers to prayer in your trying week, but I’m praying you won’t have to look very far to see how He’s working in this next one.
Thanks Steve and Andrew. A bright spot in my day. Now a prayer and then to work.
Beautiful, Steve! There are years when interruptions are the norm instead of the exception. Totally feeds my writing, though.
This was what I needed to hear after this week. Thank you.