One of the challenges of an art-committed life is that to produce quality art, you must meet deadlines. Sometimes those deadlines are self-imposed, with no fatal consequences befalling you if they are not met. I find myself wrestling with that challenge right now, as I look ahead to the finish line with my work-in-progress, a travel memoir about my cross-country U.S. road trip interviewing creatives.
I’m going to share with you the road map–pun intended–I’ve developed for completing my WIP. Doing so feels indulgent, but I was reminded yet again last week that Artist’s Road readers want my personal struggle included here, just as they told me in December.
- Fill in the holes in my first draft by April 13th. I wrote here previously about completing the first rough draft of my WIP. In doing so I reached the final scene of the book. But the work had morphed significantly during the 18 months or so of writing it, such that scenes I hadn’t written now needed to be filled in. I’m writing those scenes now. That date is not arbitrary; it is the deadline for my penultimate packet in my low-residency MFA program. If I can meet that deadline, I’ll have my last opportunity for one-on-one packet work with a stellar faculty member wide open for whatever I feel motivated to share with him.
- Complete the second draft by June 27th. That date also is not arbitrary. It is the beginning of my final MFA residency; I’m on pace to graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts on July 6th. By “second draft” I mean that I will have gone through all of the chapters–which will have been written and re-written over a two-year period–and ensured that the key story narratives play out as they are now mapped. That means moving scenes, flashbacks and reveals forward and backward, and weaving them in appropriately. When that is done, the WIP is essentially “done.”
- Hand over a final manuscript to my agent by September 2nd. Wait, you ask. Why the two-month gap between the book being “done” and the book being done? Well, I want to take my time polishing this work to a gem. One of my role models, Joan Didion, says she reviews her manuscripts before submitting them and forces every single word to justify itself. I like that; it reminds me of my days in magazine journalism (Didion also has that background), where the fact-checker would work through a paper copy of your article, leaving tiny check marks over every single word. (You fact-check “and” and “the”? I would think to myself, but never say aloud, because there is no upside in annoying your fact-checker.) This date also is not arbitrary. It is Labor Day. Many publishers are all but shut down in the summer, in particular August, so the idea is my agent will begin reaching out when the editors are back at their desks.
So none of those dates are arbitrary. Nor are they unreasonable. I can look ahead and see, even with the many other obligations I have in my life, that I can carve out the time to accomplish those tasks. But while the deadlines may make sense, they are purely self-imposed. There will be no consequences whatsoever if I fail to make any of them. Well, there will be consequences, but they will not be externally sourced. They will be internal, my own disappointment in myself.
I write this post in part to hold myself accountable; to contribute to the exabytes of data flooding the interwebs a declaration of goals. As these dates come to pass–April 13, June 27, September 2–I will report back my progress.
Do you find that you must impose artificial deadlines on your own creative projects? Do you find you are good about honoring those deadlines? What techniques have you developed to hold yourself accountable?