Writing with deadlines

Boloblog: Did the completion of your novel occur within a set of deadlines or do deadlines not matter in the way you work as a creative writer? In your opinion, are deadlines important to an author? Ignatius: Oh, yes, deadlines are important to writing just as the right amount of sleep is vital to the body. I don't think I could have finished my novel in the way that I did had I not set a goal for myself to finish it within a given time frame. I think it's important to have a goal in writing, an end in sight, whether it's writing fiction or otherwise, just as we do in our jobs. Nothing can ever get accomplished in life if we don't place goalposts along the way. Most of us do this subconsciously and get away with it somehow (laughs). Truth is, journalists know well how to meet deadlines, and not being one, I realize that I needed something to remind me of what it is I wished to achieve on a daily basis and, hence, throughout the whole process of the novel. For this story I insisted that, once I started, I would write at least four pages on the minimum each day. Now this may not sound like much, but it is. Sometimes it would take me two hours or so to do this and other times it would take me six or more, depending on what I knew or had to seek out. For me, fiction in its process is invisible like air. As a writer I know the kernel of the story persists in an indefinite way, bleeding and breathing through the pores of my awareness, but I still have to invite the right words, plot, character, and structure into my system. Some parts are clearer than others. And some days are more difficult than others, because I have no idea what's around the corner until I get there and reach for it. This is how I face each day when I write. But one thing I know: I want to finish the work within a few months, not years. I get bored easily and lose my momentum if I cannot finish what I've started. I tend to lose focus and my place in the work. Keeping a reasonable deadline for the first draft is important to me, because it compels me to take a look at the big picture while not losing sight of the details. Boloblog: So were you able to meet your own deadlines with this novel? Ignatius: I'd hoped to finish the first draft by the end of the year, having started in the middle of August. But the end of 2009 brought new distractions. I traveled to India for my niece's wedding around Christmas, and then went to visit my mother and brother in Kerala, in January of 2010. I didn't write during this time and even wondered if I would be able to take up the work in the same way that I'd left it before departing the US. In the end I wound up taking a few more weeks than I'd originally hoped and got to complete the manuscript in the middle of February. So, if I were a journalist given a writing assignment, I would have flunked the test and distressed my editors (laughs). But I was relieved to get to the end in the way that I wanted. Boloblog: That's a tight deadline to write a good novel in, isn't it? Ignatius: Yes, I would think so. Four months is putting too much pressure, but if I hadn't done that I might have dragged the process through the winter or even beyond it, and I couldn't live with that. I usually get into low spirits in the winter, so having such a tight deadline kept my mind off the freezing temperatures and snow. I still had to go out and shovel though (laughs). Still, given the right environment and situation or the right challenge, a writer can complete a novel in a month. But that's just not for me. Boloblog: Why is that you think? Why wouldn't you want that tight a deadline for yourself? Ignatius: I have the unconscious habit of rewriting as I write, not at the same time but the next day, when I resume from the last few lines of the day before. So it prolongs everything I do. I'll go and read everything I've written and do this as a way to be drawn right into the story once more and tweak and tweak, so that I'm happy with what I've written. Then the rest of what's to come can flow naturally without my having to beat it out of me. I hate doing that. There's no fun in being the olive in an olive press (more laughs). Don't get me wrong, I love olive oil, but...you know what I'm getting at. Well, anyway, writing fiction is all of these things. There is no one magic rule or method; it can be easy at times but, for the most part, it's hard, hard work. If it was easy; if that were so, I wouldn't do it. There's something to be said about finding yourself behind the wheel in a freeway fog that hangs low to the asphalt--there's uncertainty but also the impending thrill of going through it and discovering what's ahead of you.

Editor’s Eye, asleep now.

So, I've put my novel manuscript down and decided to wait a couple of weeks before I began editing it. The problem is that I've waited so long. A month has gone by and I've done no edits nor have I written anything to keep up my writing skill. I'm sensing a slight trauma coming on and the fear that I'm giving myself permission to turn away from the written page from day to day. What's wrong with me? Perhaps, my writing muse is hibernating for the winter, or so I'd like to believe. But I know that I'm only fooling myself. I've got to get back to writing and to editing a long literary novel that begs for my editor's eye. To all aspiring writers of the long novel form (and also for non-fiction): I think it's alright to wait a couple of weeks before you return to editing the work you've just finished. Just don't do what I've done here and wait so long that you get the essence of the work completely out of your mind and body. Maybe that's a good thing; maybe it's alright if you see your own writing again with the freshest eye, like that of a new reader unaccustomed to your words, voice and style. As for me, I prefer to always maintain an emotional link to the work after the initial manuscript is finished, even if I've decided to stay away for a little while. Seize the day! ~Ignatius Valentine Aloysius