Friday, December 7, 2007

Deadlines, Schmedlines

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to Christmas or the New Year. I’m referring to my annual deadline of January 2nd to submit the latest Odelia Grey novel to Midnight Ink. For the past three years, that deadline has loomed as bright as the New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square and has fallen just as heavy and with as much anticipation, not to mention the occasional swig of alcohol.

I’m often asked if my career as a paralegal has prepared me in any way for my career as a writer. The answer is absolutely and in many ways. As a paralegal, I am trained to research, to write effectively, to organize materials and thoughts, to be flexible and to manage time. But the major skill I’ve learned has been to work effectively under pressure and produce the best possible work under almost impossible deadlines. In law, deadlines are both calendared and unexpected. It’s not unusual for a boss to walk into my office and drop something on my desk and say it’s needed in two hours. And it’s not unusual for more than one boss to need a project in the same time frame. You don’t quibble, you just do it, no matter what hoops you have to jump through or sacrifices you have to make.

It’s the same with writing. To not nail a deadline would be unthinkable to me. The only time I’ve not met a writing deadline was two years ago when I found myself in the hospital in mid-December for emergency surgery. My editor graciously granted me a two week deadline, but no more. Even recovering from surgery, I hit the extended deadline.

Several months ago, I was on a panel with an author who talked about missing her deadlines. She didn’t seem concerned about it, but at the same time she whined about how sloppy the editing had been on her book and how it almost didn’t get released on time. Well, duh! What did she expect?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing in the past few years, it’s that, unlike law, it moves like a snail with a hernia. Deadlines aren’t given arbitrarily. The publishing house requires that long lead time to complete everything they need to insure the timely release of a book with all the bells and whistles that go with it, like reviews and publicity.

It’s a fact that I do some of my best writing under looming deadlines. My brain seems to get lazy and lose its edge if it has too much time to think about what I’m doing. Whether it’s writing fiction or legalese, my creativity is definitely sharper when I feel alligators snapping at my ass. It should be downright ecstatic next year when I begin juggling two series and producing two novels a year with deadlines six months apart.

I’m 24 days away from my deadline for Epitaph Envy and still have about 80 pages to write. Piece ‘o cake! I might even have it done early.


Felicia Donovan said...

Sue Ann, if ever I'm with you and those alligators are snapping at your ass, can count on me to...take lots of pictures and blog about it the next day. What are friends for?

Seriously, your comment about the author who shrugged at missing the deadline strikes a nerve. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances that cause this to happen once in a while, but professional authors don't do this. As you so aptly explained, publishers have a tight schedule and have many people who are a part of the production of a manuscript. I've nailed my deadlines and received nice notes for "playing well in the sand." That's what professionals do.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

And if you ever do take those photos, I'm going to use them as my new publicity shots. :)

Deb Baker said...

I'm in the same situation - a January 3rd deadline and not quite finished with the first draft. And I'm damn well going to make it and the book is shaping up to be my best. (I think??!!)

Nina Wright said...

Sue Anne--Nothing like an imminent deadline (or the headlights of an oncoming train) to make me step lively. I swear I couldn't write the same story, let alone write it well, if I didn't have external pressure. Here's to the Crisis Muse!

G.M. Malliet said...

Deb - You have a whole extra day added to your deadline over me and Sue Ann? That is so not fair...

But I am hoping very much to finish up before Dec. 25 and let the good times roll after that.