Stopping the clock

I set myself a deadline once I decided to write a novel over the summer: I wanted to be finished by the end of summer. This meant that when school started back up for me at the end of August, I would be done writing my manuscript.

I know what a lot of you are thinking, a summer to complete an entire novel? Just a few months to write an entire manuscript? That’s crazy and, more importantly, impossible!

Well,  you’d be mostly correct, but it took me some time to come to this realization. At first, this deadline worked well for me. It encouraged me to stay focused. Every day, I would get home and work on my novel. I would write for dozens of hours a week. But, eventually, my progress started to slow down. Some days and some weeks, I barely wrote anything for my novel. As the weeks ticked by, I was getting closer and closer to my personal deadline, and I didn’t know if it would be possible to finish what I was hoping to accomplish.

Well here’s what I eventually learned: That deadline was both crazy and impossible. But it was also a really good idea.

It was mildly insane to expect to finish a novel in that amount of time. But stay with me here, because setting that deadline was also one of the best things I could have done for myself.

See, having that end goal in mind forced me to keep working. It made me want to write all the time. For a while that was easy, because I had so many ideas just begging to get out of my brain. Even when it wasn’t easy to keep writing, my deadline made me want to keep working. I needed that push.

But I also needed to find out that my deadline was impossible. As I got to the last couple weeks of summer, I began to see that I wasn’t going to finish my novel in time. Or what I actually realized – I was not going to finish a quality novel by the end of the summer. I could have probably put more words on the pages to complete the story, but it would not have been interesting…it wouldn’t have really been complete. I would have been completely exhausted if I had tried.

I needed more time to let the story develop. I feel confident that my current draft is far greater than it would have been if I had forced myself to complete the story a month ago. The most valuable thing for me was learning to stop the mental timer in my head, and take the time I needed.

Now I’m not saying that it’s impossible to write a novel in a few months, because I believe anything is possible. And really, the great majority of my novel was written in those summer months. And I’m not saying there will always be time to change original goals, because sometimes there are deadlines that are non-negotiable. But, one thing I’ve learned is that sometimes writing needs time to develop before it can be it’s best, and it’s okay – healthy even – to be patient in that process.


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