Being Realistic: Of Writing and Scheduling

One of the fun parts about being a writer is challenging yourself and your craft on a regular basis. Along with this goes the responsibility of keeping yourself from overworking (see previous posts about how I’m a BAMF with a back injury) and knowing how to work at a sustainable pace. How many projects have fallen by the wayside because people weren’t honest with themselves about their schedules and their abilities?

I feel fortunate to have had the bulk of my formal training as a writer in drama, where schedules exist and are respected because on opening night (usually scheduled well in advance, unless we’re talking SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK) the curtain’s going up and the audience expects a show.* The ability to work to deadlines and plan long-term goals is vital when you’re writing a play – especially given the long lead times many comissioning theatres and companies work with.

When it comes to short films, schedules need to be worked out – but they can almost always be pushed, provided the parties involved are able to negotiate future shoot dates or changes to the production team.

Which brings us to novels and other forms of prose. In the past, a writer could set a personal deadline, but there were no real stakes when it came to needing to push those deadlines if life intervened. It might mean your query schedule got pushed back a bit, but other aspects of the “production,” so to speak, were so far removed from the process of writing that the two areas hardly had an effect on one another for the beginning novelist.

Not so, nowadays. Sure, the old paths still exist, but self publishing means a writer needs to be aware of all aspects of scheduling, strategy and more.

All of which brings me back to the importance of being realistic with yourself when you embark on a new project. It’s all well and good to plan a series and think you’ll be able to bang out first drafts one after another, but when you leap into trying to create quality work, this approach will exhaust you. And you will need to reconsider your original plan.

And that’s okay.

This is all at the top of my mind right now because of a very important conversation I had with a collaborator over the weekend. We have some grand plans for a series of novels, and made an aggressive-but-probably-doable schedule, but as we crashed into some of the new year’s harsher realities – my back injury, her work commitments – we quickly realized that the schedule we had planned was a little too aggressive to co-exist with our actual lives.

At this point, we could have done one of two things: pressed on, heaping pressure and guilt on ourselves as one deadline after another passed us by, or take a few minutes to talk about what looks realistic to us both now, nearly six months after putting our original plan together. (Okay, technically there’s a third option, but for now we’ll ignore that big red button in the corner.)

Given how excited we both are about the series, and how much we’re looking forward to telling the stories of our characters, their struggles and their world, it was a hard decision…but we stretched our schedule. Knowing that the first of the books we’d hoped to release late this year won’t see the light of day till at least mid-2015 is tough, but nowhere near as tough – and ultimately, I fear, destructive – as it would have been to drive ourselves to exhaustion with a plan we’d made so long ago and without foreknowledge of externally-imposed challenges and commitments.

What’s more, discussing our options not only put us in a place where we could both feel good about timelines and external commitments, it also means we’ll have an even stronger foundation as the project moves forward.

Being realistic about what can and can’t be accomplished in a given period of time is a vital skill for any indie artist, writers included. Process, output and pace may vary from one individual to the next, but as long as the lines of communication stay open and there’s room for flexibility, a major benefit to being an indie writer is this:

There’s always a way to complete a good project.

*TURN OFF THE DARK – I believe – walked away with a record number of previews and an opening date that had been pushed back multiple times.

One response to “Being Realistic: Of Writing and Scheduling

  1. Funny…I was just thinking about theatre vs. writing deadlines yesterday. There is something to be said about having an opening night that is set in stone. However, it is also nice to know that a schedule can be tweaked when life happens. Good post! 🙂


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