OK, I confess, this month I am not posting a well-thought-out piece of wisdom on the writer’s craft. Instead I’m flailing around the night before my post is due, trying to string together something meaningful. I thought of asking Harry to write this for me, as he’s provided a WU post before on the vexed topic of deadlines, and how the life of a writer’s dog becomes less comfortable the closer they get. But for reasons given below, Harry isn’t up to the job right now.
My manuscript, a historical fantasy/mystery, is due for submission in January. It’s progressing well but I have a sizeable percentage of it still to write, and I’m not speedy. Usually I have time to finish the novel, set it aside for a while, then polish further and submit before the deadline. This time around, there’s a lot left to write and just over a month remaining.
Yes, I’m an experienced pro. And I’ll get it done. But I’m not happy about my poor time management on this particular novel. I need to learn from the experience and make sure I don’t let it happen again. Some things I can avoid next time; some, sadly, I will need to build into future plans.
Side projects: When I’m asked to contribute a piece to an anthology, or to present a workshop or attend a writers’ event, I find it hard to say no. This year I wrote a short story for an anthology about strong women in history; it was a project I was thrilled and excited to be part of. My story about Hildegard of Bingen was only 5000 words, but it took a long time to craft – distilling Hildegard’s extraordinary life into so few words was a challenge, and I wrote several versions before I felt I’d got it right. I also presented some talks and workshops, though I managed to say no to a couple, knowing how much preparation I generally need to do.
Learning: next year, say no more often. Only take on the projects you can’t bear to let pass by.
Work-related travel and appearances: I attended the Historical Novelists’ Conference in London earlier in the year, and I’ve just returned from a crazy ten days away, during which I was a guest at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo, two days in Adelaide one weekend, three days in Brisbane the following weekend. The picture shows me signing stock for the expo bookseller. Supanova is a wonderful, fun event celebrating all things science fiction and fantasy, and I always enjoy it. It’s loud, bright, busy and generally full-on. The authors chat to fans and sign books all day, except when speaking on discussion panels. Very little writing got done. Travel also gobbled up time. Australia is a big country: Brisbane to Perth, where I live, is a five hour flight. I head off to Sydney on Friday for a signing and a book launch.
Learning: Use technology better so you can edit on the plane without elbowing your neighbours. Don’t schedule major travel for the last two months before your deadline. Choose your events with care. Supanova is excellent as it provides lots of interaction with readers. Those readers are an author’s lifeblood. Don’t lose sight of them.
Family: In between those two Supanova weekends I visited the part of my family that lives in an off-the-grid alternative community. That meant I got to meet my new granddaughter, just two weeks old. This was as different from Supanova as it could possibly be. I squeezed in a bit of writing. Not a lot. Other family commitments are ongoing, and that is as it should be. Family overrules all other considerations.
Dogs: I am a foster carer for an animal rescue group, and as well as the dogs that spend time with me while awaiting adoption, I have some permanent residents, several of whom have health issues. This year both my precious Harry and old lady Amy have developed serious medical conditions that require ongoing intensive management. My little tribe is an absolute delight, even though its members sometimes break my heart. It’s looking as if the year ahead will be especially challenging.
Learning: No additional dogs, for now at least. Write as fast as you can to keep up with the vet bills! Harry says, don’t forget walkies. Cuddles. Treats. Naps.
The main lesson learned is that I need to get started on the next novel pretty much straight after I finish the current one, and perhaps work to a daily or weekly word count from the first, rather than only when things get pressured. From the comfortable perspective of, say, March, it’s all too easy to view next January’s deadline as too far away to worry about. Then, as soon as you relax, three or four months have slipped by, some personal crisis comes up, and you’re in real trouble. I plan to keep reminding myself of this wisdom. Meanwhile, I plan not only to get the ms finished on time, but also to do it well.
What’s your approach to time management as a writer? What strategies do you put in place to meet deadlines? How do you balance the need to finish against the personal cost?
Photo credit: author’s 0wn