Now this will fly in the face of pretty much every self-proclaimed goal-setting guru you’ve ever given a penny of your honestly earned cash to. But when it comes to writing your first novel (and staying even remotely sane in the process), then do yourself a favor and don’t set deadlines.
Let me clarify…
I’m not saying all deadlines should be avoided. If you didn’t have them, you’d probably not do anything, so some deadlines are essential. For instance, commit to writing a certain number of words every day (or for a number of hours/minutes) – good or bad. Doesn’t matter. Just WRITE. By the time you go to sleep at night, you must have written your allotted number of words or for your allotted time. This has to happen every day – 7 days a week – 365 days a year – including Christmas! Why? Because if you don’t, the dark side takes over!
So what deadlines should you not set?
Don’t set any deadlines over which you have no control! You don’t own those deadlines. So any deadline that includes an agent, scout, or publisher is not yours to work to.
Things always take longer than you planned. You might want your first novel to be on the shelves by Christmas, but agents and publishers have their own agendas including telling you that your work isn’t even ready for submission, let alone publication.
To begin with, an agent might take the full three to four months to get back to you with a simple (no explanation attached) “No”.
“Crap,” you think. “My deadline!”
So you tweak it a bit and send it off to another agent with a new (personally imposed) deadline. You missed Christmas so now it’s a summer read. That agent keeps it for three to four months and again, you get a simple (no explanation attached) “No”.
Only two agents have seen your book and almost half the year is gone. So now you’re determined and you send it off to six agents at once. They all make you wait three months and all come back with a “Not for us, thanks”, except one.
Oh, Holy Grail.
This one says: “Almost. Go to Cornerstones Literary Consultancy for help.”
And it’s December – the end of the second year. You wanted to be on the shelves by now but all you’ve done is WAIT for an agent to get back to you. And what do you have to show for your patience? Nothing except a year where you haven’t written a word. Why haven’t you written a word? Because you didn’t want to start book two until you saw how book one was received.
On New Year’s Day you look at your goals for the previous year and feel you’ve wasted a year of your life. The buzz of “Maybe This Time”, “Maybe today I’ll get the call/email/letter from an excited agent who loves my work” has dripped from your body leaving you a sodden, disheartened globule of humanity on the floor.
So. DON’T SET DEADLINES.
Have a rolling writing program that looks a little like this:
ONE: Focus on your first novel and get it as finished as you can.
TWO: Send it to an expert to review (You might love your family and friends, but please don’t give them your novel unless they’re experts in the publishing field. They’re unlikely to tell you that what you’ve worked on for years is shite).
THREE: While it’s away, start a new project over which you have full control (non-fiction for Kindle publication, short stories for competitions). Chances are, your novel will be out for review for anything up to six weeks. Spend that time completing another project. You CAN write a dozen short stories or non-fiction book in six weeks. If you like, outline the next novel too.
FOUR: When book one is back, do the edits and send it off again – then keep working on your mini projects. Send the competition stories out. Publish your non-fiction on Kindle.
FIVE: No matter what response you get from the scouts, agents, or publishers, deal with it, send it out again, and keep working on stuff you can control. Keep writing. Write every day.
The trick? Always have something out there – either on the market or out for review – preferably both!
Doing this will keep your heart and feet in the business of writing instead of wasting months and years of your time hoping and waiting for a call. Keep submitting your work. Keep writing. You’ll get that call because you won’t give up.
Happy writing today!