Deadlines: Lethal Foe or a Writer’s BFF

by Mike MacLean

April has been very good to me.

First and foremost, my daughter Chloe came into the world.  She is the best gift ever (even better than the Millennium Falcon I got for Christmas at age 8).  The moment I set eyes on her, I understood why all those annoying parents go on and on about their precious children.

Much less monumental, yet still exciting, was an email I received a few weeks ago.  A film producer read my work in the Best American Mystery Stories and wondered if I was interested in writing a screenplay.  The film will be low budget, but the producer has been a fixture in the industry for years and the pay is generous.  Without missing a beat, I said yes.

I’m trying not to get too excited.  The contract isn’t finalized, and I’ve had more than one writing project slip through my fingers.  But I have a good feeling this time.  If everything works out, I’ll have a foot in Hollywood’s door.  Well, maybe not a foot, but at least a toe.  A big, fat, hairy Irish American toe.

And do you want to know the best part?  It’s the deadlines.

67842248_09c25d8624_2 What did he say?  Deadlines?  How can deadlines be the best part of a movie deal?

The word itself is damn ominous.  DEADLINE.  As in LINE OF DEATH.  As in, "If you don’t finish by a specific date, you’re a frickin’ dead man."

But to me, in this time of my life, the word is like music.  Hardcore speed metal maybe–but music all the same.

People who catch the writing bug have a responsibility to write.  For most of us rookies, this responsibility is purely internal.  No one is waiting for our novel.  We simply owe it to ourselves to write it.  I’ve heard the internal voice many times.  "I thought you wanted to be a writer?  Then why are you on the sofa watching Seinfeld reruns?  Get your ass to the keyboard and write, damn it!"

Unfortunately, when life becomes hectic and other responsibilities come into play, it’s far too easy to shut this voice out.

But when the responsibility to write is an external one–when money and deadlines are involved–that’s a whole new ballgame.

My family will ALWAYS come first.  But these deadlines are a blessing.  Already, they have forced me to plan ahead, to make time for writing, to focus.  I will write the best screenplay I can possibly write, and I’ll finish it on time.

But the subject of deadlines brings to mind a question.  Do deadlines hamper the imagination?  Do they rush the creative process?

I for one am energized just knowing industry professionals are reading my work.  And I can’t help but presume that this excitement will lead to greater creativity.  But knowing every author is different, I wonder how others feel.

So how about it rati-readers?  Are deadlines friends or foes?

I’ve one last point to make before I go.  If you’ve read my posts in the past, you might have noticed that I NEVER give advice.  We are fortunate here at Murderati to have many talented, published novelists as readers.  Who am I to council them?  But today, I want to give a suggestion to the newbies.

Get a website.

Even if your work has only been published online, get a website.  This production company I mentioned googled my name, found my site, and contacted me via email.  Who knows what would’ve happened if I wasn’t so easy to find.  Would they have gone to great lengths to track me down, or would they have reached out to the next author?

And if you do publish online, include an email address in your bio.  It astounds me when writers fail to do this.  SPAM be damned.  Include your email address and get a website.  You never know who is out there reading your work.

15 thoughts on “Deadlines: Lethal Foe or a Writer’s BFF

  1. Alex Sokoloff

    Congratulations on the offer, Mike, that’s fantastic!

    I strongly recommend that you call the WGA and have them talk you through what you can do to get a contract under the WGA’s low-budget agreement. If the movie is made, it will protect you in all kinds of ways down the line.

    323-782-4501 is the WGA Contracts Dept., and tell them you have questions about the new Low Budget Agreement.

    Deadlines are my friend, definitely, and tend to enhance creativity and productivity because, well, you just HAVE to get it done. But books need so much more work than scripts that I do think a lot gets locked and published before its time. (With scripts, it’s not the deadline that screws things up!)

  2. billie

    Congratulations, Mike! Wonderful news, and I think the timing is perfect – the deadline will push you to carve out the time to write, even as you are being swept away by the charms of beautiful Chloe. 🙂

    The only kind of deadlines I’ve dealt with thus far wrt writing are either self-imposed or ones suggested by agents, and I tend to thrive on them.

    Some of the excitement being the sheer joy of having someone impose writing – it was validating and I loved it.

    For me, a deadline acts as a funnel for all the writing energy that tends to swirl around me all the time – w/o the funnel it can spread out and fizzle. I almost always have my own timelines in mind, and they do keep me on track.

  3. B.E. Sanderson

    Congratulations! That’s awesome news.

    Deadlines are okay with me. It’s just been so long since I had any other than my own, it would probably take me a while to get back into the swing of things.

    And to anyone who’s worried about posting an email addy online, get a gmail or hotmail account. No muss, no fuss – and they filter spam. =oD

  4. Naomi

    As a former journalist, I say deadlines are our friends. It focuses our creative process and forces us to let go, too. Letting go is important.

    Alex–thanks for the info about the WGA’s special program. Useful info. That’s why it’s so great that Murderati bloggers work in different mediums and genres. Much to be learned from each other.

  5. Mark Terry

    As a fulltime freelance writer, editor and novelist, I pretty much love deadlines. They’re my friends. They indicate I’m a professional. They focus my attention and my work. They provide incentive. They lead–ain’t it wonderful?–to paychecks.

    Interestingly (or perhaps not), as the editor of a technical journal, I find that an awful lot of contributors treat deadlines as guidelines. It’s maddening. I always build in cushions because there’s ALWAYS someone who misses the deadlines. ALWAYS. And one thing an editor figures out fast is that you can work with shit, but you can’t work with thin air.

  6. pari

    Mike,This has been a fabulous April for you, hasn’t it? Wow. Congrats on the offer. What a wonderful thing.

    Deadlines? I love ’em. I write articles for a great freebie magazine for the Alb.-Santa Fe-Taos area of NM. Those deadlines keep me on track — because, as you say, life gets hectic.

    Sometimes, I wish my fiction had the same external requirements. But my novels are on my own time — until they’re in production and I have those kinds of deadlines — and I cut myself waaaaay tooo much slack as a result.

    BTW — thanks for that advice today. I’m putting together an all-day workshop for next Sat. The topic has to do with getting published. Your story is going right in the front as a example of how to improve one’s chances of breaking in.

  7. Louise Ure

    Hi Mike,

    Clearly, for you, April is not the cruelest month. What great news on several counts!

    We all know about those three little words that women long to hear. Everybody says they are “I love you.” I disagree. For me, they are “I dare you.”

    And in the same vein, the three little words that this woman longs to SAY are “I”m on deadline.” Ah, the implicit cachet in that phrase! It says, someone bought my work and they’re teetering on the edge of their chair waiting to read it!Be still, my heart!

    Unfortunately, my next book doesn’t have to be turned in until May 2008. Arrgghh! What kind of deadline is that? That’s over the horizon, too far in the misty anything-could-happen future for me to get my teeth into it.

    I think I’m going to have to impose my own deadline — something like August ’07 — just to get my butt in gear.

  8. Mike MacLean

    It seems we have a consensus on the deadline thing. Thanks everyone for the advice and the insights.


    No way am I an expert, but I’d tell your group to get published anywhere they can. I’ve had quite a few opportunities arise simply because someone stumbled upon one of my stories online. Of course, they didn’t always work out, but you have to play the odds.

    I’m right there with you about cutting myself too much slack when I don’t pressure from an outside source. Life just gets in the way sometimes.


    How do you impose your own deadlines? When the world is knocking at your office door, how do you stay disciplined to finish and finish early?

  9. louiseure

    They’re all self-deception tricks, Mike.

    * If I’m writing, I can’t leave the chair until I’ve done 2000 words.

    * If I’m editing, the goal is twenty pages a day.

    Of course, there’s no penalty for failure. But I’ve built an elaborate reward structure for success. Mostly involving liquor and massages.

  10. billie

    Liquor and massages – ha!!

    Louise, my husband and children have gone camping for a long weekend, and I hit the ABC store for Bombay Sapphire yesterday and the massage therapist is coming tomorrow!

    I hit page 50 of the ms I’m revising and that’s enough to warrant both. 🙂

  11. Alex Sokoloff

    Okay, completely OT and stupid question, because it doesn’t really matter at this point but I realize I have no idea of the standard practice and enquiring minds want to know.

    With a novel manuscript, do you type THE END at the end?

    Or is that just with scripts?

    I guess it’s a lovely thing that I’m even at a point of asking.

  12. simon


    Congrats on the screenplay offer!!

    I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. The make me work quikcer and smarter, which gives me time to write more–which is a good thing…



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