The pitfalls of deadlines

Having a deadline is a great incentive to get things done, particularly at work. But for people like me, for whom procrastination is an art form, they can be dangerous too. I work so well to a deadline that not only do I leave things until the day they’re due, but sometimes until the final hours, or even minutes. I recently wrote about 80 per cent of a speech in 20 minutes after vacillating over it for an entire day.

I do some of my best work under extreme pressure, but it tends to give me a few grey hairs here and there too. But the real problem for me is setting personal deadlines when I don’t have others relying on me to get it done. My first novel took me around three years to finish, and other than submit it to a couple of competitions and a couple of publishers, it’s still sitting on my computer going nowhere. I’m contemplating whether to continue submitting it to publishers or find an agent (apparently just as difficult as finding a publisher), and not actually doing either.

And now I’m on the second draft of my second novel, and I’m dragging my feet. As I’ve mentioned previously, I wrote the first draft in two months and had really hoped I’d be able to keep the momentum going. And while it’s not going too badly, it’s not too great either.

An added problem is that I do have a deadline for this one. I’m intending to submit it to the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program competition, for which the prize is an intensive retreat with editors from a publishing house. They want strong commercial fiction, and my story is right up that alley. All I have to submit for the first round is the first 50 pages and a synopsis by mid July. Easy, you might say.

It would have been easy had I gone back to those first 50 pages a fortnight or so ago. But it seemed that I had all the time in the world, so in the meantime I’ve been pushing on with the story, fixing up my plot lines at a snail’s pace. I don’t have a synopsis, other than a working synopsis that I haven’t updated since before I started on the first draft. And synopses are incredibly difficult to write (especially when you still haven’t quite worked out how you’re going to tie up all those improbable subplots).

The other issue is that, should I be so lucky as to be long-listed for the program – and I have to be optimistic, right? – I’ll be expected to submit a full copy of the manuscript in mid August. And I’m only halfway through that.

So what do I focus on first? Do I try to hammer through the whole draft in the next 2-3 weeks to make sure I’ve got the story right in case I am long-listed? Or do I concentrate on honing those first 50 pages to utter perfection to make sure I have the best possible chance of getting through to the next round?

As difficult as the process is, I know if I’m lucky enough to win a spot on this retreat, I’ve got a real chance of developing a strong, marketable manuscript. If I can get it right, it has the potential to not only be published, but become a series.

The real burning question here is, why am I wasting time writing a blog post when I should be working on either of the above options?

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