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.