In beginning to write creative fiction, one of the hardest things for me to come to terms with is not having an externally set deadline.
Ever since I started full time employment, my working days have been punctuated by deadlines. When I worked for the Department of Employment my proficiency was based on mantras of ’empty your in-tray before you go home’; ‘clear the rejections before close-of-play’; ‘finish the proposal by the deadline’.
When I ran away to the Canary Islands and began travel writing, my days were centred around the next looming deadline and the next closing date for pitches.
Like an obedient Pavlovian dog on hearing the metronome, deadlines were what drove me to work and regulated my output.
Whenever I didn’t have a deadline I would become listless and fretful, disrupting Jack’s concentration which led to minor squabbles. In short, I was lost without a deadline.
Then 2010 happened and as the year progressed all my deadlines were met and then left behind. A blank canvas loomed with not a best before date in sight.
For much of the year I worked on a memoir which had been sitting in the wings for a couple of years, waiting for just such an opportunity to come along. Writing, editing, submitting to agents and publishers, and commissioning a book cover all kept me occupied.
But once my manuscript had been accepted for publication, apart from intermittent tasks such as going through the first proof, creating the back cover blurb and setting up this new author website, I have found myself in lockdown with spare time and nothing to do with it.
When it comes to work, I am not a patient woman, always wanting to make progress, to see results.
Then, screaming through the time void came the words “start your next book” – so I did. Now I’m having to unlearn my conditioned response to the stimulus of an imposed deadline and I have to keep reminding myself that I’m master of my own time and that’s okay.
In researching the background to my historical fiction, I encounter multiple stumbling blocks to my plot and characters. Some blocks can easily be side-stepped by a simple change to the plot or by the introduction of a new character but sometimes I feel like I’m going to have to scrap the whole project and start again.
And that’s the thing I’m struggling to get to grips with. If I have to completely change my protagonist and the shape of the plot, I can. There’s nothing to stop me making wholesale changes.
I’m not on a deadline, my time is my own.
I am learning to take it slowly, just keep researching and drafting, hoping that illumination will present itself. It’s both liberating and a bit scary.