by Leonard Bishop
All unpublished writers, at some time, commit themselves to a foolish decision that ruins their publishing potential. They bring themselves to the threshold of “the deadline.” They decide, “I’ll give myself two years to write a novel. If I don’t complete it in that time, and have it published, I’ll quit writing.” The decision is impractical. The deadline is unreasonable. Such deadlines create unbearable pressure.
Being a writer is a wageless employment. His relationship with “time productivity” is not the same as that of the and employed non-writer. While a writer may work the same amount of hours, he does not create a uniform product, with prescribed regularity. The writer rarely knows the amount or the quality of what he will create in a work day.
Nor are there any discernible signs that reveal when a writer should quit or continue. One day he writes with a talent so lyrical and sweeping that it seems to pour from the end of a rainbow. And the next day’s writing reads like it’s seeped from the inside of a yawn. Some days he adores his work with such passion he creates an altar to its existence. Other days his work leaves him with the taste of predigested spider webs. A writer lives on the see-saw of imponderables.
Nor can a writer rely upon the stability of publishers. Regardless of the quality of the writer’s novel, its publication depends upon current publishing trends. Well-written novels, completed at the wrong time, are unpublishable novels. The tastes and evaluations of publishers are as erratic as epileptic rats jiggling on hot griddle.
The “sex-romance” novel is in and the “super-spy” novel is out. Last year the “generational” novel did not sell as well as the “historical” or “panorama” novel. The first person novel has been over-published and the character novel is coming back. The introspective novel is obsolete. The big-city, corporate-intrigue novels are in demand. And what if you make your deadline and your novel is not of the fashionable ilk? Has it all come to an end for you? “Oh well, at least I tried.”
A deadline is a drastic imposition on your creative resources. It is a self-installed limitation. It does not allow for all the unpublishable writing that must be done before acquiring a personal structure of craft values. Prose experiments, character probes, runs of dialogue that will be condensed, speculative scenes, secondary conflicts within dominant conflicts, deliberate plot line diversions, etc. A deadline does not serve as a prod, but as a Nemesis.
There is an inherent discouragement existent in this self-imposed deadline. It is like assigning yourself to a diet to lose 50 pounds. With an accompanying resolve to maintain a slender figure all your life. Discouragement happens when you realize that for all your life you will deprive yourself of many loved foods.
You do not think of the diet as a “one-day-at-a-time” sacrifice of specific foods. You imagine your entire life without these foods. The realization drives you into eating those ruinous foods, now.
When the writer, like the dieter sees all at once, all that he will have to do and experience before meeting the deadline, it is a frightening expectation. He gives up–he just gives up.
The adage “Writers keep learning how to write,” is a lasting wisdom. The craft of writing is not complicated. It is only when the human complexity of the writer is coupled to the simplistic beauty of the craft that writing becomes difficult. Writing is a living experience, an evolving profession. When the growing writer makes demands on the static structures of the craft, he begins developing his content, his vision, his style.
This requires more time than the deadline allows.
A deadline is not lenient, or elastic. It does not provide time for a week-long cold, an abscessed tooth, or other physical disorders that require minor or major surgery. There are family obligations and distractions that must be considered.
A “make-it-or-quit” deadline can become a cruel stupidity. Your second novel may be the novel that startles society and brings you the wealth and fame you desire. But how can you write the second novel if you did not meet the deadline for your first novel? Establishing a deadline for the finishing of a novel is like putting a dried girdle on a constantly swelling elephant.
The clincher to all this comes with the fact that the writer is not experienced enough, in writing, to know how long his first novel will take. The only time a deadline serves as a prod, a necessary pressure, is when you are being paid to finish on time.
The hope to be a famous novelist is like a tiny voice buried in your core. You always want to be one, even if you do not work for its fulfillment. The belief that “I could’ve made it,” becomes an echo clattering about the caverns of your soul. Just before they lower you into the grave, you pop the coffin lid and shriek to the mourners, “If I hadn’t come up with that “make-it-or-quit” deadline I could’ve made it–real world blasting big!”
©2013 Estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published February 2, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)