Today’s June 30. Which means that tomorrow is one of my two manuscript deadlines in 2009. It also means I’ll most likely have to pull an all-nighter to get my edits and revisions finished so that the manuscript, which I didn’t finish until late last week, is in a condition that I—who freelances for this same publishing house—am not embarrassed for my editor to see.
When the month of June started, I’d written about 43,000 words on a manuscript that by contract is supposed to be as close to 100,000 words as I can make it. Yep—one month before deadline, I still had more than half the book to write. But that’s okay, I told myself; I’ve always worked better under pressure. If I wrote between 2,500 and 3,000 words every day—about three or four hours’ work—I could have the manuscript finished by June 20, and still have ten days for edits and revisions. I got all of my freelance work finished and turned in so that there would be nothing competing for my time. I’d be able to focus.
Except, as always happens, distractions kept popping up. . .especially the distraction of having two books releasing on July 1. Suddenly, it was Father’s Day; and I was still sitting on only about 80,000 words with fewer than ten days to get the last 20,000 written. How had I managed to get myself into this situation?
After turning in the manuscript for Menu For Romance on December 1 and taking off the month to enjoy the holidays, I started the year 2009 with a plan. I’d write 1,000 words every day; and by April 15, I would have completed the first draft of A Case for Love; then, I’d have two and a half months to get it out to my beta readers, get their feedback, and work on revisions—and get it turned in early. Plus, I’d be able to start my next manuscript, Ransome’s Crossing, in April and have eight months to get it written, read by beta readers, and revised before its December 1 deadline.
But with seven months to get A Case for Love written, making myself sit down and write those thousand words every day didn’t seem all that pressing—plus I had lots of other stuff to focus on, between freelance work and marketing my first release, Stand-In Groom, as well as preparatory work for the releases of Menu and Ransome’s Honor. Then there was the trip to Michigan with fellow Barbour authors MaryLu Tyndall, Mary Connealy, and Christine Lynxwiler for a week at the end of March. And somehow, the month of April had come and gone, and I wasn’t anywhere near finished with the manuscript. Then there was the seventeen-day trip I took to Louisiana and Arkansas for book signings, family visits, and weddings, which ate up most of May.
And that's how I got to June 1 with 42% of a manuscript and only a month left to complete it—and a deep-seated professionalism and determination which forbade me from even considering asking for a deadline extension. It was MY fault I hadn’t gotten the manuscript finished; therefore, it was MY responsibility to do whatever it took to get the manuscript finished by the contractual deadline.
Now, with another deadline looming on December 1 (for Ransome’s Crossing, the second book of The Ransome Trilogy with Harvest House), I have a decision to make. I can do the same thing I’ve done with my last two manuscripts: procrastinate until I only have a few weeks left and then stress myself out for a month or more to get it finished and then worry about the quality of the manuscript I’ve submitted; or I can call upon that “deep-seated professionalism and determination” to write at least 1,500 words per day and finish the first draft with enough time left to double-check my research, let my beta readers get their feedback to me, and have plenty of time for revisions before turning it in.
In other words, am I going to live by my deadline and make it with plenty of time to spare and have confidence in the quality of the manuscript I'm submitting; or am I going to procrastinate and then have to kill myself just to get the first draft finished by deadline?
Before I was a published author, I would set deadlines for myself—and regularly miss them. After all, it was just some arbitrary date I’d set, and nothing was going to happen if I missed it. No—but it created a really bad pattern of procrastination; and it’s only been since I’ve signed multiple book contracts that I’ve learned an important lesson: If I’d made myself stick to my daily word count goals, and if I’d made it a priority to practice meeting my self-set deadlines, I would have created in myself the habit of getting manuscripts finished in a timely manner and not a habit of waiting until the last minute and “dying by deadline.”
Do you set goals and deadlines for yourself? Do you stick to them? What can you do in the second half of 2009 to start practicing the skill of writing well ahead of deadline so that when you do finally sign those book contracts, meeting deadline is just another tool in your writer’s toolbox?
Kaye Dacus is the author of the Brides of Bonneterre series for Barbour Publishing and The Ransome Trilogy for Harvest House Publishers. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and is a former Vice President and long-time member of American Christian Fiction Writers. A Louisiana native, she now calls Nashville, Tennessee, home. She is currently celebrating the release of her two latest titles: Menu for Romance and Ransome’s Honor. To learn more about Kaye and her books, visit her online at kayedacus.com.