Trying a novel: Watching a deadline float by

While I’m not usually the kind of person who does things at the absolute last stay-up-until-4 a.m. minute, I have to admit that I usually work well with deadlines. They give me a goal and an endpoint. They keep me on track. And, for the most part, I usually make them.

Fresco from Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum
Credit: Carole Raddato

So it pains me to admit that I didn’t make this one.

I had a deadline of today — Thursday — to have a reasonable chunk of novel ready for the Starry Coast workshop that I’ll be attending next month. The idea is that each person attending the workshop should have a manuscript (or, at least, a reasonable piece of it) ready so that two of the other attendees can have enough time to read and critique it.

Three weeks ago, I thought: I can do this. I’ll work hard, I’ll push through, and I’ll get at least 50,000 words in a reasonable condition so that I can send it in.

Two weeks ago, I thought: Well, maybe I’ll settle for 30,000 words. In decent shape.

One week ago, I thought: Yeah, right. I’ve got about 30,000 words, but there’s no way I’m going to show this to anybody. Decent shape? Yeah, tell me another one.

The problem is that I — like many writers, I think — am extremely critical of my own work. And while I have approximately what I think of as a beginning of a piece of work, as soon as I started reading it over I saw that it was barely a beginning — certainly not anything I’d want anybody else to read. The characters aren’t well laid out; the dialogue is awkward; the environments aren’t well described or thought out…

This, I thought, is not enough. The people reading this first draft should at least have some idea what the storyline is. I don’t mind hard critiques — I’ve spent my life attending a variety of classes and writers groups — but I visualized instead a puzzled silence. As in, “Um — who are these people and what is going on here, anyway?”

I started editing and rewriting — and realized a couple of days ago that I just wasn’t going to make it. It was just going too slowly. So I found myself typing out a pitiful plea to the two people who are going to critique my work, asking for at least a weekend to do another edit.

They, generous souls that they are, said that there was no problem. So deadline’s passed, and I’m going to try to make the secondary deadline and at least get the first 30,000 words out — in a reasonably coherent form.

And I’m also going to keep hoping that this will all be worth it, and for the first time in my life, I’ll finally be able to finish a single story that is over 5,000 words.

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