Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Career Preparation: Deadlines

This week, we conclude our talk about career preparation with a brief chat about a scary word: deadlines.

As an unpublished author, I think it's easy to get a rosy, unrealistic picture of what published life is like. We think, "if I just get published, everything will fall into place."

When you're unpublished, you can take as long as you want to write your book. You can work on it here or there or not at all. If it takes five years to complete, that's okay. However, when you get published, you might get a contract for more than one book. Wonderful!

Except...what if it took you two years to write book one, and your contract states you have one year to turn in book two?

No problem. I'll be motivated since I have a deadline.

Sounds good, but will you? Really? You'll be dealing with another set of deadlines at the same time: revisions of book one. You also might be scrambling to get a website published. And nothing in your life will have changed. Most people can't afford to quit their day job when they publish a book. Most stay-at-home mothers still have the same amount of responsibilities (and the same amount of children, maybe even more!).

I'm not writing this to scare anyone; in fact some of my friends are going through this very process now and handling it beautifully. I am not going through this, but I pretend I am to stay motivated. I'm weird like that.

I'd like to offer a few practical tips to set and meet deadlines. For all you writers of single title books in any genre, aim to complete your novel in one year. This includes revisions. For all of you writers of shorter books, like category novels, aim for a minimum of two books a year.

Editors often give authors a year to complete a single title book. Some publishers give less time. If you get in the practice of finishing a book in a year now, it will probably get easier to complete a book in a shorter period as you progress.

Category books are another animal. Since these are published monthly, editors are always hungry for more books from authors they trust. Get in the habit of finishing two books a year, and you might be surprised to learn you can squeeze out three--or more.

In order to complete books on a deadline, you're going to have to get out a calendar and plan.

Do you know how many words you can write in a day? A week? A month?

Don't guess. Keep a daily log and track your progress. Estimate how long it will take you to write the first draft. Mark your calendar with your target first draft completion date. Then estimate how long it will take you to revise. If you revise as you go, skip the first draft estimate and go straight to when you think you'll finish the book.

Get out your calculator. If you're writing a 95,000 word book, write the word count you should be at for each month. Example: if you start the book in January and estimate it will take six months, you'll need to write 15,900 words a month. Mark 15.9K at the end of January, 31.8K at the end of February, and so on until the end of May reads 95K. You can follow the same process with revising.

Do you write every weekday? Weekends only? Three days a week? If you need to complete 15.9K words a month and you write every weekday, you should have roughly twenty days of writing. Divide the 15.9K into 20 to get 795 words a day. If you only write on weekends, you'll only have around eight days a month. You'll need to write 1988 words each of these days to stay on track.

I can't wait until each and every one of us have deadlines from our editors. Won't that be amazing? In the meantime, challenge yourself to meet your own deadlines.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving!! I will not be posting on Friday this week. For all you shopping this Black Friday--be safe and get some great deals! For everyone else, enjoy your weekend!


  1. *shuddering* This post is so scary for me because I've been being really, really bad. Blech. I need to be more disciplined if I want to be ready for publication.
    Good post, Jill! Writers forget that being published makes things harder, not easier.

  2. Awesome post, Jill! I've already calculated my next book. I'm upping my daily word count and am basing it on when I want to have the book finished. I'm sure I'll have to set it aside for another round of edits, or at least decrease my word count during that time. But you're exactly right. If we get into the habit of taking our writing seriously before contract, then it's easier to deal with deadlines after! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, my friend!!

  3. I never thought of calculating my book. That is a great idea. I will do pronto :)

  4. Good "food" for thought this holiday week ;)

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  5. Good morning!

    Jessica: I think we're all pretty good at adapting to our circumstances. When you get the call, you'll be ready for deadlines, don't worry!

    Jody: You're doing such an awesome job of staying on track. I'm really proud of you and inspired by you.

    Tabitha: If you set monthly or weekly goals, make sure you check in periodically to make sure you're on track. I did this with my last book and it spurred me to get in gear.

    Joanne: Can you think of anything but pumpkin pie? I can't! I don't know what I was thinking, posting about deadlines and such. I should have posted about cleaning and cooking :)!!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  6. Great post, Jill. I have become more disciplined, but have been pondering giving myself daily word count goals. It scares me to do that. I don't want to let me down. I know if something happens, I wont meet those goals for that particular day.

    But I can't wait until we all have the editor given deadlines either. It WILL happen. And when it does I want to be prepared. I don't want to be screaming and hiding my head under the pillow.

    Happy Thanksgiving. :)

  7. Robyn: You'll be screaming in a good way, "I have a deadline--woo-hoo!!" I'm a big one for aiming low when you start giving yourself deadlines. Make them manageable and give yourself every chance to succeed.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  8. LALALALALA I'm not listening!!!

    Sigh. Writing's been tough lately.

  9. This idea is something I try to keep in mind, because it's true. While I feel like I shouldn't rush myself now because I am free of those deadlines, I understand you have to set yourself up with routine and discipline, etc., that will continue on in the future.

    Great post! And Happy Thanksgiving, Jill!

  10. Jill, good ideas here. I have three WIPs I'm juggling and am pretty self-disciplined. I give myself goals that are more craft oriented than production oriented.
    I like the idea of making a calendar. Thanks!

  11. That will be amazing! And while I am excited about that day, right now I'm thankful for the lack of an official deadline.

  12. I adore deadlines! Not that I have writing ones, LOL. But when I worked, deadlines helped me stay focused. It's like a great big nudge to keep forward momentum.

    Great tips on keeping the writing chunks manageable :D

  13. Great post! I'm starting to put deadlines on myself. It's a fun challenge now...since it's now an actual deadline.

    But like you said, I hope the day comes when they're real for all of us!

    Have a graet Thanksgiving!

  14. We're all about deadlines. So far we've made all of them too. I can't imagine writing without them, they really keep us motivated. Happy Thanksgiving, Jill!

  15. I give myself deadlines and it works but have found I need to be realistic with them and be prepared to write how I want to write:)
    Enjoy your holiday!

  16. CKHB: Ha! Put your fingers in your ears too! :) I'm sorry writing's been tough. I go through that too, sometimes. Hope it gets better.

    Janna: Where we are in life can have a major impact on setting deadlines. When my children were babies, I didn't even attempt deadlines, but now that I'm in a different phase, it makes sense. Do what feels right for you.

    Paul: Wow--three projects? Impressive. I like the idea of craft deadlines. I'm focusing on more variety in my sentence structure and in incorporating more description in my books.

    Kristen T: Takes the pressure off, doesn't it? I'll admit, with the holidays coming, I'm thankful for only having personal deadlines!

    Georgiana: You sound pretty motivated and excited! I love it!

    Katie: Exciting! I know you'll do great with your deadlines!

    Lisa and Laura: You're prepared for the upcoming months--it must be a really great feeling to know you're ready and the world is ready for your books. Congrats!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  17. Hi Jill -

    I recently finished the first draft of my second manuscript. I decided to put myself on deadline. My word count goal was 90,000 words with the aim of finishing in 9-12 weeks.

    I used an EXCEL spreadsheet to track my progress. It gave me a visual and helped motivate me. I loved seeing those numbers rise, and finished in less than 9 weeks.

    Susan :)

  18. Wow, wonderful post! This is a great idea! You've given me much to think of. Enjoy your Thanksgiving with your loved ones!

  19. Great post today. You've summed things up nicely. It can be daunting when you realize there's editing, marketing, writing, networking, etc.

    Setting deadlines for myself is crucial. One reason I love NaNo.

  20. I was just thinking this the other day- really. Love the comprehensive way you sketched things out.

    I will add this to the file I have on revisions that you gave a few weeks back. Always helpful tools here Jill, thanks.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  21. Terri: I hear you--we have to do what works for us, not try to fit ourselves in some ill-fitting mold!

    Susan J: Awesome!! Way to go! I use an Excel spreadsheet to log my word count, too, and I love it!

    Ellie: Glad to help--and you have a fab Thanksgiving too!

    Erica: Daunting is the word of choice! You handle it all so well. Thanks for being such a great role model!

    Jeanette: Take a deep breath! (And have a wonderful holiday!)

    Tamika: Thanks--and you have a relaxing weekend with your family!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  22. Good evening Jill!
    I am so happy I've discovered your blog because I am learning so many things I haven't read about anywhere. Deadlines are a tough one for me. I used to get things done way before they were due, yet lately I procrastinate and procrastinate some more.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you! Hope you have a lovely time with your family and friends.

  23. I generally can do a book in a year. I can't believe someone has to do a current book and revisions and some other book, too. That's a lot of writing.

  24. Jill, I had a one year deadline with my second book Timekeeper and missed it by two years. The publisher Fisher King Press was upset but they didn't bully me around because I worked every day on the follow up book. I had written a thriller five years before and I gave them that and they published it to keep my readers happy. If nothing goes wrong Timekeeper II will be out September 2010. Thanks for a neat blog post. Best, John

  25. Angie: Sometimes I think a certain level of success is needed to keep us motivated. I wrote my first four books at lightening speed, but once doubts about getting published slammed me, it was much harder to sit and write. Sticking to a schedule keeps me writing whether I'm motivated or not.

    Nancy: Yes, it is! But it's also thrilling because your book will be on store shelves!

    John Atkinson: Welcome! It's interesting to hear your story. It sounds as if you found a terrific solution to your dilemma and that your publisher is great to work with. Congratulations on finishing book 2--I'll keep my eye out in September!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  26. Jill
    great post, and OH SO TRUE. I've had pretty tight deadlines for the last year. I love it because it keeps me busy, but the last few weeks of a deadline can get grumpy around our house. :-) Something to think about as you take off into writing world. Give yourself time! When the editor is asking; "When can you have this done?" think clearly about your schedule and what is going on in life, or the unexpected that might come up.
    I always jump in and say; "I can have it done in two months."
    I haven't missed a deadline, but there are some that are pretty close to the wire.


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