DeadlineswebPosted on the file cabinet next to my desk is a refrigerator magnet someone bought me with a quote from Douglas Adams that reads: “I love deadlines. I love the wooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

I only wish that sentiment was mine. The fact is, I hate deadlines. Though I understand the benefits, they weigh upon my soul. The thought of NaNoWriMo fills me with dread. I wish the best of luck to all of you who are working so hard this month. I see the benefits, but I will probably never participate. For me, deadlines are the stuff of nightmares. Growing up, I was the kind of girl who couldn’t enjoy a bit of fun until all my homework was finished. That’s not to say that I always did my homework before going out, just that I could never really let go if I knew I had assignments waiting. I still have dreams that I had to relinquish my high school diploma because they found out I had not turned in a social studies paper in tenth grade.  I know, some sort of therapy might help, but, most of the time, my obsessive nature works for me. Especially when it comes to deadlines.

Until recently, I have never missed a deadline, self-imposed or publisher mandated. That doesn’t mean I get things done early. I will hold a manuscript until the last minute, rereading and polishing until it is torn from my hands. I made the two-year deadline to my last book by only forty minutes.

But, on August 31st, I missed a deadline. There, I’ve admitted it. I didn’t hear the wooshing sound it made as it flew by because I was too busy listening to the scolding voices in my head telling me my career was over, that I’d never see publication again. Still, in those final hours of August, I could not hit the send button. The book just wasn’t ready.

Subconsciously, I believe that most of us writers know when our work isn’t ready. It’s a nagging feeling that something is wrong. We may believe it’s something else: our families, the state of the world. Usually it’s the state of the art that’s the problem. So why do we send a manuscript in too early and risk rejection? Are we so anxious to be read that we risk our future careers on the misguided notion that someone will be able to see through the flaws and discover the hidden genius in a project? Whether we’re working on a self-imposed deadline (those can actually be worse), or something the publisher requires, we know when we shouldn’t be sending something into the world. So why do we do it?

I think a big part of the problem is pressure. Not necessarily from a publisher, but from ourselves. We need to prove that what we have been spending so much time doing is really worthwhile. We’ve neglected, friends, family, and sometimes our day jobs, and we need to show results.

In my case, the pressure to meet the deadline was the same pressure that ultimately kept me from turning in the book. It was an offhanded remark, made by someone I trust, who just wasn’t thinking. “This third book has to be a blockbuster. That’s what they’re looking for. If not, your career’s probably over.”

Really?  No pressure.

I didn’t answer this right away. It wasn’t a question. It was an opinion. And as soon as I heard those words, the imp of the perverse in me wanted to tear the manuscript to pieces and set it on fire, just to get things over with quickly. Instead, my reply was “not helping.”

Things got a little dicey after my deadline came and went. In fact, I finally ended up showing my editor the manuscript along with a two-page outline detailing what I wanted to do to complete it. Instead of saying anything discouraging, she affirmed my vision by responding with: “Go for it. Take the time you need. We think this is going to be a terrific book.”  I exhaled for the first time in almost a month.

How do you feel about deadlines, self imposed or mandated? Have you ever missed one? Do you think you send things out too early, or are you the kind of writer who holds onto them for too long?

I do believe a manuscript can be overwritten. I think it happens often. If you never let go, you can write the life right out of something and end up with a work you don’t even recognize. But that certainly wasn’t the case with my recent book. That’s a post for another day. Meanwhile, I am thrilled to have been granted a new deadline. This time the manuscript absolutely, positively will be ready.


About Brunonia Barry

Brunonia Barry studied literature and creative writing at Green Mountain college in Vermont and at the University of New Hampshire, and was one of the founding members of the Portland Stage Company. She's the first American Writer to win the Woman’s International Fiction Festival’s Baccante Award. Her first novel, The Lace Reader, a New York Times and international bestseller, was translated into more than 30 languages. Her second novel, The Map of True Places released in May, 2010.