As I am currently unrepresented by an agent and editor-less, I have to establish my own deadlines. Here’s why this is a challenge:
I started my career in news, which consisted of constant deadlines from like, 50 sources. By the time I left news for good a few years ago, I seriously had not ever considered a career where I didn’t have persistent, nagging deadlines chomping at my heels.
Higher ed has plenty of deadlines, but they’re not like news deadlines on the professional side of things, especially since I don’t teach. I can be given an assignment with a deadline, for example, of 6 months off. We have plenty of work, but 90% of the time it’s up to me to stay focused and motivated.
This is also true about my writing. I don’t have anyone to answer to. I’m certain that there’s a literary agent out there who will see my manuscript and find it to be the exact thing he or she wants to represent and sell. But ultimately, if I never finish my works in progress and send them off, nobody’s going to miss anything. I won’t be fired from a job I don’t have. I won’t break a contract I haven’t signed. The mystery agent of my future would go on to sell other books.
So my deadlines must be self-imposed and enforced. There are a few ways to do that.
To achieve session target goals, software like Write or Die and/or target setting functionality in my writing program Scrivener help!
To actually squeeze in writing sessions in my busy day, I use time-blocking and productivity apps. For me, the best self journal helps me frame my day and I use a habit tracker app called “productivity.”
To hit big goals, I sign up for classes and/or writing events. This is the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) of my writing world.
For example, I have an AMAZING and insightful critique group. They start meeting starting in mid-February, and they offer big picture plot criticism, not line edits, for full or partial (but fully outlined) manuscripts. Obviously I’ll need at least a partially written manuscript to participate in that, and since good feedback is so valuable and so hard to find, I don’t want to miss it.
Another BHAG I set for myself this year is in the form of a writer’s conference at the end of August. Not only does that represent a financial commitment, but I also signed up for their pitch practice and sessions. That means I’ll actually be in front of agents with the opportunity to look them in the eye and sell them my fantastic story.
Sure, I COULD sell them on a partial and/or a concept. It’s not unheard of, although it is unlikely. For my best chance of success, based on my research and obsessive Twitter following it’s better to have a complete, polished manuscript. If an agent asks to see your work, you send it. They’re not going to wait a month or two while you write like an insane person.
I could also just chalk the whole thing up to a learning experience and either skip the pitches, or just practice pitching. I’d rather not miss the opportunity, though.
How do you stay motivated and disciplined with your writing?
P.S. I realize that eight months is an incredibly quick pace from concept to query. Don’t worry, I am giving myself permission to be human about this and not have the work completely done or ready, although I certainly would like to. Life happens! I lovingly accept that!