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Deadlines

January 15, 2010

As I feared, the self-imposed deadline for completing a short story and sending it off to a publisher for consideration has come and passed.  In the aftermath of that missed deadline, I feel it appropriate to muse on the entire experiment, and consider what my next steps are.

In actuality, the entire affair was the idea of my wonderful wife.  The fall semester was proving particularly challenging for me(I got my first plain-vanilla “pass” grade this semester, instead of a “high pass” or better; it was more reflective of the professor’s largely arbitrary grading mechanism than of my performance, though). I’d taken both a May and August “ACE“, so I’d been in school almost non-stop since January.  And it had been ages since I’d written anything substantial.  Writing was important to me, personally, but I just didn’t  seem to have time for it.

I was already anticipating taking a break from class between Fall and Spring, and my wife suggested, “why not take one of the stories you’ve already written and, over the break, polish it up, revise it, and send it in to a publisher?”  It sounded like a great idea, so I took up the challenge.  This gave me a sort of deadline, right from the beginning: by the start of the Spring Semester.

I thought I had the perfect story for the revision and editing treatment.  It had a clever premise, and would be the most salable, I reasoned, once polished up.  But, as I discovered (and blogged about) what I had written, even if based on a clever premise, was woefully and unexpectedly bad.

My wife tells me, then, that I shouldn’t feel bad about missing my deadline.  When she had suggested the idea, it had primarily been for a quick edit and revision and then printing and mailing the thing.  What I did instead was rewrite the thing practically from scratch.  I created a more detailed backstory for a cast of characters twice as large as the original (which had only three named characters).  I added new depth to the plot, adding in conflict right from the beginning, and more fully delivering on the promise of the premise.  And, I didn’t quite make it all the way through to the end, but that was a lot more work than a quick revision.

In the end, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I’m now certain that this story is the on the road to being the best I can possibly write it – making it the first story I’ve written that I really believe has a decent shot at getting picked up by a publisher.  Once I send it in, it’s out of my hands (until I hear back), but I’m committed to sending this story off.

So, I’ll just have to set a new deadline.  Deadlines are great, because they motivate us to put in the effort to meet the deadline – even if we set them ourselves.  But, to work, we have to honestly commit to them, and they have to be both realistically achievable but challenging.  The Spring-semester deadline met those criteria (if the work had only been a revision as opposed to a total rewrite).  Now, I need to come up with a new one that does the same.

But as I alluded on Wednesday, I anticipate that I’m in for a very challenging and demanding semester.  And, of course, there’s the baby to consider, for which I have no personal precedent to truly grasp how that will change the demands on my time.  That change will likely occur sometime at the beginning of May.

With those two challenges in mind, I believe that June 15 as the new, arbitrarily invented deadline is sufficiently challenging, but still achievable.  So, unless and until new information changes my current perspective, that’s what I’m going with.  It will allow me to dip my toe in the new semester, feel out where the gaps in free time occur, and learn how to make use of them while pursuing my rewriting and editing goals.  It will afford me the opportunity to find willing participants in my grand scheme to read and review the finished draft, and hopefully time to incorporate their assessment of the stories weaknesses into my finished work before mailing it off. 

I’ve already selected the market to which I want to offer the story to, first, because it is a market I’m familiar with (and whose tastes seem to include this type of story), so once the writing work is done, I’ll be ready to go.

Next stop: a new semester and a finished story.  Happy writing!

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