Is a deadline the answer to my unfinished novel?

There’s nothing like a deadline to focus one’s mind and get a job done. After 15 years as a journalist and editor, I know how motivating (and terrifying) a deadline can be. But without it, procrastination can take over – and all kinds of other jobs can fill that time between now and delivery day.

What I hadn’t considered was applying a deadline to the novel I’m writing. Robert McCrum’s blog in the Guardian on how deadlines can give life to creative writing highlights the difference between ‘naive’ and ‘sentimental’ poets, as defined by Friedrich Schiller. In simple terms, naive equals spontaneous, and sentimental equals reflective.

McCrum selects a clutch of writers – such as Charles Dickens and George Orwell –  whose work has an energy and urgency that might have been missing had they chosen to slow things down and take their time.

I’m into my fifth year of working on my novel. I’m more of a binge writer than an everyday writer: for a  period of a month or so, I’ll commit to 1000 words a day, without worrying about censoring the prose as it spills out. I’m left with a body of work that needs a lot of editing, but at least it exists. What’s more infuriating is a fallow period where I spend time tweaking what’s there rather than riding on the momentum to get it finished.

I’ve got half my novel left to write. I’m thinking of giving myself a deadline of my next birthday (end of May) to finish the first draft, and then another three months to edit, structure and polish.

There. I’ve gone public with my plan now, so I’d better get on with it. Got a deadline to meet.

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2 thoughts on “Is a deadline the answer to my unfinished novel?

    • Oh no! Are you setting yourself a new deadline? I can’t bear the thought of completing another year (birthday or calendar year) without at least completing my novel that’s been five years in the making.
      How about setting a first-draft deadline three months from today. Even at 500 words a day, you’d be nearly 50,000 words better off!

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