Killer Deadlines

By Elaine Viets

Throughout my writing career, I’ve lived by deadlines. I started as a newspaper reporter and then became a columnist, where I often had four deadlines a week – with no time off. When the holidays rolled around, I had to write my columns ahead of time. That meant six or even eight deadlines a week.
As a mystery writer, I still have deadlines, but the pace seemed easier. Newspapers moved swiftly, like a cold through a kindergarten. Publishing seemed slower than a Manhattan traffic jam.
At first, I wrote two novels a year. Now I’ve cut back to one a year.

No problem with deadlines, right?
Wrong. No matter how much time I have to write a novel, the last week is always jammed up.
This August 31, I turned in my new Angela Richman, death investigator mystery to my London publisher, Severn House. This time, I spent that final stretch writing twelve-hour days, trying to finish. As I read through the book, a straggling subplot had to be cut. Its crabgrass-like tendrils were deep in the book. I dug them out.
Errors popped up – difficult characters deliberately changed their hair color and didn’t tell me. One nasty customer gave himself two different names. Typos appeared out of nowhere.
As I struggled to finish on deadline, I wrestled with my recalcitrant manuscript. I could feel it squirming. It refused to settle neatly in place.
I read and reread it until my eyes were blurry. Finally, I pressed the button and emailed it off to London, hoping all was well. I couldn’t read the book one more time.
Exhausted, I slept for two days.
Then I waited and worried, my head buzzing with questions:
Would my editor like the new book? Would she want a rewrite? What if she rejected it?
Finally, I got a brief note two weeks later – that’s lightning speed for publishing. My editor was reading the manuscript and “enjoying it hugely.”
Whew. I felt so much better. What was I going to do while I waited?
I could write a short story. Clean off my desk. Answer my emails. Plot my next book.
I could do that, but I didn’t. I couldn’t get up the energy.
My editor didn’t like the working title, so I came up with a new one – “The Dead of Night.”
I didn’t do much else. I just need to lie fallow, I told myself. I was so fallow I was turning into a puddle of goo. I moped around my home. I’ll get my energy back soon, I thought.
I got it back this Tuesday. My editor emailed me the copyedited manuscript. It needs some tweaking and a small rewrite. And I have one week to finish. It’s due next Tuesday.
Suddenly I was awake. Galvanized. Ready to work. I quit moping. I had a purpose.
Better yet, I had a deadline.

What about you, writers? Do you need deadlines?

PS: I’m also working under another deadline. Hurricane Nicole is heading this way, and I’m going to drag in the plants on the balcony. Wish us luck.

I’m celebrating! My short story, “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About,” in the anthology, “The Great Filling Station Holdup: crime fiction inspired by the songs of Jimmy Buffet,” edited by Josh Pachter, won Silver at the Royal Palm Literary Award.
Buy the anthology here:

30 thoughts on “Killer Deadlines

  1. Congratulations!

    We’re Hurricaning too. Woke up at 0300, debated going back to sleep but heard a transformer blow so hurried the dogs out and made some coffee just in case. Transformer 2 blew while making coffee (but fortunately didn’t affect us). Branch down in front of Son’s car, but didn’t hit it (yay!).

    Either no one told Nicole we had checked off the hurricane box already or Ian broke up with her and she wants revenge.

    Hang in there!

  2. As an indie, I have to have SIDs: self-imposed deadlines. If I don’t put it on a calendar and plan my word quota accordingly, it’s too easy to find myself slacking off. Then I have to send myself a stern letter, and I never like to get those.

  3. Don’t miss hurricane season. I hear you on needing a break after a deadline marathon. I’m feeling nervous about making my upcoming due date. I remind myself I hit this point in every book.

    • I feel your pain, Terry. And no matter how often I promise myself I won’t go through this with the next book, I do anyway. Hope your family is feeling better.

  4. Elaine, you and my husband are cut from the same cloth. Far from procrastination; it’s a need for the pressure. Without the thrill of it looming in the distance, the spark is gone.
    It makes him a incredibly productive person in all of his many talents, but oohh, I don’t envy either of you!
    Congrats on your Silver (clearly, it makes YOU incredibly productive in your talents, too!)
    And may the weather gods favour you against Nicole’s tantrum!

  5. “Suddenly I was awake. Galvanized. Ready to work. I quit moping. I had a purpose.”

    Elaine, that happens to me, too. The adrenaline rush (combined with a dash of panic) is a great feeling, a little like bungee-jumping.

    Deadlines are a writer’s best friend. They teach discipline, speed, and organization.

    Hope Nicole leaves you unscathed!

  6. Congratulations on the Silver award.

    Like other indies here, I have self imposed deadlines in my writing. I find that in all my projects – writing and everything else – I need to have deadlines to push to get things done. And lists, everyday I make a list of the deadlines for different projects. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t get done. Same with deadlines.

    I hope Nicole takes it easy on you.

  7. I’m an indie who definitely needs deadlines. External ones work best, which means a scheduled date with my editor or a pre-order deadline. I’d like to get more responsive to self-imposed deadlines like Jim, but nothing gets me going like an external one.

    I have one right now. My pre-order for A Shush Before Dying is due at the end of March, 2023. Still a ways off, but as this is my first mystery after eight published fantasy books, there’s been a huge learning curve. Things are lining up now, but there’s still a lot of work to do and I’m beginning to feel that pressure. I suspect long writing days will be happening for me at some point, too.

    Congratulations on winning the Silver Palm award! I hope Nicole goes easy on you and yours. Take care!

  8. Congratulations, Elaine, on the Silver Award and also on your upcoming book.

    I like deadlines. In software development, we had the ability to negotiate the deadline, but once it was set, we had to deliver. There’s nothing like a deadline to focus in on what has to be done.

    As an indie author, I have to impose my own deadlines. But the product is so different from a coded program. If I have to slip a date in order to get a better novel, it pains my programmer’s heart, but I’ll do it.

    Stay safe out there.

  9. Congratulations!!

    I seldom have an external deadline and am not pleased to encounter one. I’d been hoping to acquire a psych PhD coauthor for my monographs, who might help drive that project along a bit faster, but no luck, so far. I write every day, but not always in the best direction.

  10. Deadlines. No thank you. I worked under high pressure deadlines for most of my life. I can’t take the pressure anymore. It cancels my creativity like a raging blizzard hinders visibility. However, I’ve never been a procrastinator, even with things I don’t want to do. I’d rather just do them and get it over with.

    When it comes to writing, I love creating the story, and unless life gets in the way, look forward to my daily session and word count. I do have a soft deadline. I publish at least one book a year and this year I might make two – without a hard deadline.

    However, I’ve heard a great deal about author procrastination, and I understand others do better with a little pressure. Whatever works.

    Glad you came out of the hurricane relatively unscathed.

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