Chasing the Deadline

by Rob Gregory Browne

Every book I write, there comes a time when I’m getting really close to the end, my deadline is looming, and I suddenly go into a panic thinking, shit, I’m not gonna make it.

Okay, missing your deadline by a few days or even a week is probably not all that bad — probably not really that big of a deal as long as you talk to your editor about it, and actually get the thing in when you say you’re going to.  But I hate like hell missing deadlines.

And I have to admit I’ve missed a couple.  One by a few days, one by a couple weeks, but always with the understanding from my editor that it’s okay.  “We’d rather have a great book than a rushed one.”

But the truth is, I’m not so sure rushed makes a difference.  

I wrote my very first book in about four years.  Granted, I was only writing sporatically during that time. Squeezing in a few pages here and there and sometimes going for weeks without writing a word.  But it took me four years to finally finish it.

With my second book, I was on deadline.  They gave me a year to write it and, believe me, I took that year.  In fact, I had such a horrible, horrible case of second-bookitis that I needed every second I could squeeze out of that year in order to a) regain my confidence; and b) get what was in my head down on paper.

Then around comes book number three.  I’m not sure what happened, but I must have gone to too many conferences that year.  I wound up spending more time goofing off (and working my day job) than I did writing, and it took me about five months to do that particular book.

The next one I wrote took me four months.  Are you seeing a pattern here?

Obviously, I’m getting faster at this game.  But has the work suffered because of it?  How the hell do I know?

I never feel completely satisfied with any of my books, so I’m probably not the guy to ask.  Somehow what I’ve got in my head when I conceive of an idea — the pristine beauty of it — never quite seems to make it to the page.  So, again, I have no idea if slower means better.

But I suspect it doesn’t.  Even though I might feel that a scene was rushed and I could have spent more time on it, the absolute truth is, I could tinker with every single one of my books for years on end, because I’ve got this niggling little trait that I suffer mightily for:  I’m a perfectionist.  At least when it comes to doing anything creative.

Honestly, if I’m photoshopping a damn family portrait, I’ll spend hours adjusting the colors, fixing the levels, softening the skin tones, tweaking the exposure — then I’ll throw it all out and start from scratch.

Now, I never throw anything out when it comes to books, because I rarely write more than I need, but if you give me the time to do it, I will tinker each scene to death, will rearrange the words in a sentence a hundred times, until I’m almost but not quite completely satisfied with it.

So taking a year to write a book is probably not a good idea for me.  Four months seems comfortable, although I certainly would love a couple extra months to procrastinate.  I’m very good at procrastinating.

One of my favorite ways to goof off is to diddle around on the web.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Murderati.  Reddit.  Digg.  Amazon.  Abe’s Books.  

And when I’m chasing a deadline, it just gets worse.  Even though I know I only have a couple weeks to finish a book, I find myself wanting to goof off more and more.   I think this is because those last fifty or so pages are absolutely the most difficult for me.  So avoidance is the game.  And I’m certainly good at avoidance.

Which, when it comes down to it, is what I’m doing now.  Avoiding writing the book that’s due in a couple weeks.  Instead, I’m writing this completely insignificant post and going on a lot longer than I had intended, because I know when I finish I’ll have to go back and write those last pages.

And the funny thing is, I like this book.  I think it’s some of the best work I’ve done.

But look at me.  I’m just rambling on.  What I had intended to do was what my wife suggested (since I’m on deadline) and write a blog about short little life tips, or author tips or some such thing.

Problem is, I don’t have any goddamn life tips, and or any kind of tips at all.

Well, maybe two.  The first courtesy of my lovely wife.  So here goes:

1.  Never wear a red shirt then shop at Target.

2.  When you attend Bouchercon for the first time, don’t go around pronouncing it Boo-shay-con.  At least not out loud.

And that’s it.  I’m spent.  That’s the extent of my genius.  The breadth of my knowledge.

Now, to be merciful to those of you who are still reading, I will stop here. Because I truly am on deadline and I really do have to get back to those pages.

But not until I procrastinate for a few seconds more and ask you to tell us all about your problems with deadlines, your pursuit of perfectionism, how slower is better (get your mind out of the gutter, girls) or best of all, just give us some damn life tips.

Then maybe I can steal a few.  Once I’m finished with this friggin’ book.


36 thoughts on “Chasing the Deadline

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    Addendum to the Target tip: Never wear a red shirt while at Target after you’ve beamed down to an unknown planet. Or at least go with other people also wearing red shirts — your odds are a little better, but not much.

    Unfortunately, at my job, I don’t really have deadlines but it is a growth industry: unemployment insurance. I imagine your job is just as tough but maybe you get to play with less gloomy people like heroes and killers. 🙂

  2. TerriMolina

    Loved the Target advice, although I don’t like Target so no worries there.
    I also don’t have deadlines so no advice about that.
    I too am a very big procrastinator (Solitaire and Spider Solitaire are my biggest distractions.) But my reasons for not completing anything lately stem from fear (failure, success both work for now) so once I get over that maybe I can have real deadlines too. 😉

    Oh and just to let your readers know, there’s a fun interview up with you at The Scruffy Dog Review

  3. Robert Gregory Browne

    PK thanks for the add-on. Cornelia, we’ll both make it. Don’t worry.

    Terri, lack of confidence (fear) is something that plagues all writers throughout their careers. I read a quote by Dean freaking Koontz where he said something about being in despair every time he writes a book, thinking it’s the worst thing he’s ever written.

    Don’t use that as an excuse. Just get on the friggin’ horse and ride. Remember how you promised to have a book to me by — what? — two Christmases ago? Get to work. NO excuses.

  4. TerriMolina

    geez you remember that?? *sigh*
    I’m sorry–doubt got the best of me. I’m hoping to have it done by April 1 (no fooling..heh) so I’ll get it to you by then. No more excuses…except now I can use the excuse of writing for not having time for the gym. haha

  5. Dana King

    Well timed, from my perspective. My current WIP had a long break between drafts while I went back and did some clean-up on an earlier project an agent wanted to see. Now I’m back at it–no deadline–looking at my usual six or seven draft process, with each draft working primarily on one specific aspect of the book. based on past experience, this should take me most of the rest of the year.

    Except I just don’t see it.

    This second draft needs work, and I can see where I need to go back and clean things up in the future, but I don’t see how it’s going to take me as long as it has before, not based on how I’m moving through Draft Two. Part of me is worried I just don’t care as much, given the frustration I’ve felt lately over not yet getting published, and whether getting published is such a great deal right now, given the state of the industry.

    Then again, maybe I’m getting better. Maybe the setting, characters, and subject of this book is right in my wheelhouse and it’s something I can do with a little less heavy lifting than my previous. Maybe I’ve learned what’s important, and what can be left relatively alone.

    Or maybe not.

    Writing is a very frustrating activity.

  6. JMH

    Rob, writing fast actually works better for me. I write all my books in 2-3 months and write 3-4 books a year. Doing it fast allows me to keep everything fresh in my mind, which not only means less time spent refreshing my memory but also allows me to play better off of what already exists.

  7. Eika

    My only deadlines right now are self-imposed, and they’re even harder to keep because no one’s looking over my shoulder. Sure, I have a critique group, but they won’t care too much if my next query letter draft isn’t done in a week (eight drafts and counting. Augh.) I find it’s easier to do something when someone else is looking over my shoulder.

    Life tip? If you have a parakeet, parrot, or other bird that likes to land on heads and shoulders, check all appropriate areas for poop before leaving hte house. My bald father has this funny story…

  8. Louise Ure

    It’s not writing the book that slows me down, it’s the constant revising.

    And I adore your life tips. You could have included just those in today’s blog and shortened your goof off time.

  9. toni mcgee causey

    Life tips:

    Do not go down into the basement armed with lip gloss and a hair clip. This almost never works out well.

    Do not chew gum while screaming on a roller coaster. No one can get to you to do the Heimlich. Also, no one can get to the person behind you to do the Heimlich, should the gum fly out.

    Do not offer to let your children store stuff "for a little while" after they’ve moved out. That stuff breeds in the dark, and trust me, the offspring is not pretty. Nor will it ever leave.

    I got nuthin’ for you on deadlines.

  10. Pete

    I don’t procrastinate–I just think about stuff for a really long time. Deadlines have never been a problem for me. I’ve always viewed them as a suggested time of completion.
    Here’s some stuff I’ve learned over the years,
    -Don’t go see a movie starring Kevin Costner .
    -If you’re invited to a wedding with a buffet–it’s probably not all you can eat.
    -Condiments actually expire.

  11. Allison Davis

    I am goofing off right now as I’m suppose to be replying to an opposition brief…oh, that’s the day job, opps.

    How to get your ass in the seat and write.

    1. I did it in nanowrimo because they gave me a graph that grew with words and I wanted mine to be higher, or at least as high, as others. I need something like that to measure my editing. Working with another writer for friendly competition — am trying that now.

    2. The promise of ice cream afterward.

    3. Sometimes I drink (good) sake when I write (wine doesn’t work) but that only lasts about two hours and I’m "done"

    4. I look in the mirror, see that I’m aging, and sit down and write before I die (this works the best so far).

    5. Write really early in the morning before I wake up — can only do one thing at a time

    6. Music helps — we’ve talked about this, but I play the same music each time I write so I don’t really hear it but it works like Pavlov’s dogs…the sound of Bill Evans drives me to my computer and I start writing.

    Best I can do, back to the day job. Good thoughts and you all are funny. Go Saints.

  12. berenmind

    Allison’s #4 It’s like that classic David Sipress cartoon …writer sitting at desk…Grim Reaper appears….writer: "Thank goodness you’re here–I can’t accomplish anything unless I have a deadline."

    Tips? Always leave tips for your waiter if the service was excellent.

    Never fry bacon in the nude.

    Life? A cereal that leaves your mouth with an aftertaste of ‘wet book’.

  13. berenmind

    It is sort of poignant to me to know that writing becomes a ‘job’ for writers. I realize, of course, that is what a writer would aspire to, being published, quitting the day job, making a living at something they love. So sad that being a successful author comes attached with the stress and deadlines inherent in any job.

    Rob said it took him almost four years to write his first book. Cornelia has said that it took her that long, as well. Now it is a book a year, AT LEAST, if not more. The deadlines are worrying. The guilt is building. Is it still fun for yall? To hear writers talk about their deadlines…well… seems that the magic sort of slowly disappears after that first novel……..

    (As a reader I DO appreciate your diligent publishers’ efforts to keep bringin’ me the product, however!!)

    Jewish mother advice: "Go! You might meet somebody!"

    Never take a beer to a job interview.

    I can’t really give good tips on life as I don’t really have one. So I adhere to the belief that my "sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others".

    I have a favorite life question, though: "Why can’t they make the whole plane out of the same substance that little indestructible black box is?"

  14. Tom

    Many years of studying and speaking French; I’m gonna have trouble if I ever get to Bowcherkonn.

    Tip; always take a knife to a gunfight. Eventually you run out of ammo.

  15. BCB

    My mind wasn’t in the gutter until you said to stay out of it…

    I don’t think there’s anything I do at the day job that DOESN’T have a deadline and I’ve never missed one. But I don’t have any writing deadlines and am starting to suspect that’s part of the problem. I think one of the biggest mistakes new writers (like me) make is being in too much of a hurry and not taking time to learn and practice before they submit. So I tell myself I’m being smart and taking the time. Of course, I’m also very good at procrastinating. Probably I need a deadline.

    On another note, I have been informed (not by anyone associated with this blog) that my comment to Louise on the prior post was rude and offensive. I hope Louise knows me well enough by now to know that she’s one of My Favourite People I’ve Never Met and would never deliberately say something rude or offensive to her. But just in case, I sincerely apologize to Louise (and anyone else I may have upset) if I was rude or offensive. I really did think it was an excellent interview (which takes more skill than you might think) and that Louise is too good at it and could no doubt coax information from me I’d rather keep to myself. Ahem. Not that I seem to need any help with that.

    Damn life tip: If you have a dry sarcastic sense of humour that you can’t manage to stifle while in polite company, be prepared to apologize to every third person you encounter.

    Also, check with Toni before telling your daughter that of course her boyfriend can store his kayak in the basement. Which he did. Last night.

  16. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Rob

    Great post. When it comes to deadlines, I’m with Douglas Adams, who said he LOVED deadlines. He particularly loved the whooshing noise they made as they went rushing past …

    And apparently Michael Ondaatje is of the opinion that a writer shouldn’t be required to produce more than one book a decade. All I can say is, he must be getting paid rather more for that one book than I am ;-]

    As for tips, how about:

    In an emergency situation, you’re better off drinking blood – preferably animal rather than human because of HIV and hepatits risk – than the water in a hot tub.

  17. Allison Brennan

    I have no life lessons. I think I need to start over again and learn something.

    re: time to write. It takes me longer to write a book now than it did when I started. I don’t know why.

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