Journey to Publication – Deadlines and Insecurity

Here’s something that wasn’t in my life before a publishing contract – writing deadlines. For the last few years I’ve happily worked away at The Poison Tree Path Chronicles without having anybody peering over my shoulder. If I wanted to write, I wrote. If I didn’t…I didn’t.

All that changed when I signed a contract with Enclave Publishing. The manuscript for “Chains of Gwydorr” had to be delivered by July; the second, “Heirs of Tirragyl”, by October. Heirs particurarly needed a lot of work as it was only at first draft stage and it was too long.

So I reluctantly put aside work on Book 3, that creative, fresh writing I so love doing, and began the process of re-writing and editing.

Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light we Cannot See writes:

“Isn’t (a writer) knitting together scraps of dreams? She hunts down the most vivid details and links them in sequences that will let a reader see, smell, and hear a world that seems complete in itself; she builds a stage set and painstakingly hides all the struts and wires and nail holes, then stands back and hopes whoever might come to see it will believe. A writer manufactures a dream. And each draft should present a version of that dream that is more precisely rendered and more consistently sustained than the last. Every morning I remind myself to give unreservedly, to pore over everything, to test each sentence for fractures in the dream.”

I love those beautiful, inspiring words. They persauded me—just long enough, at least—that editing is not only important, but also somewhat romantic. I appreciated that particular dream for as long as it lasted (all the way to October’s deadline).

Insecurity is another—surprising—aspect of my new journey. Every writer will know the feeling of doubt in what you have written. Showing your writing to somebody for the first time flares up that feeling tenfold. Then one starts to approach publishers and agents and a bevy of rejections fan the flames of insecurity to new heights. Well, here’s the thing. I honestly thought that would stop once I signed a contract. A publisher believes in me and my writing. They are investing in me. All is good. Right?

Wrong. Suddenly there is so much more at stake and a nagging feeling of ‘imposterdom’ (yes, I made up that word) creeps in. A voice begins in my head: The publisher has made a terrible mistake. I don’t deserve to be here. My book is not as…(fill in the blank)…as the other authors Enclave publishes.

The one thing that gives me hope is that it’s the same voice that—on other days—is preparing an acceptance speech for the Pulitzer prize. From this I know that she’s obviously deluded and I can’t trust her judgement at all.

The other thing that helps is realising this is not an uncommon experience. Anne Lamott writes:

“I believed before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem. This did not happen for me. The months before a book comes out of the chute are, for most writers, right up there with the worst life has to offer, pretty much like the first twenty minutes of ‘Apocalypse Now’. The waiting and the fantasies, both happy and grim, wear you down.”

It’s only in writing that I find my balance again. Not Doerr’s testing ‘each sentence for fractures in the dream’ kind of writing, but rather the kind that draws me back into the world I’ve created and the characters that populate it. It’s there that I rediscover the joy and freedom I used to have before contracts and deadlines.

Read the first part of my publication account:  Journey to Publication – Bringing down the walls



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  1. Ai, Joan, jy beskryf baie mooi – eintlik poëties – hoe moeilik die skryfproses is. Ek kon my definitief assosieer met hierdie pynlike proses. Toe ek my Ph.D-tesis geskryf het, wou ek regtig net vertel wat ek met my studente doen. Maar sjoe. Die herskryf en herskryf het my uiteindelik heeltemal koud gelaat en verveeld laat voel met wat ek gedink het inspirerend was. En dis dalk deel van die vakuum ná so ‘n skryfreis.
    Sterkte. Dit is sekerlik iets wonderliks wat hier gebore word, amper soos ‘n kind wat in die baarmoeder stukkie vir stukkie groei.
    Miskien moet iemand ‘n mens net help om van die romantiek van skryf ontslae te raak.

    • Dankie Estelle. Ek dink mense het ‘n baie ‘romantiese’ idee van die skryf proses. En dit is mos regte werk!

  2. This is useful knowledge to store for future reference. Yes, I certainly thought that all this insecurity has to go once a real publisher has accepted one’s work.
    And deadlines. Never thought of that. I just resisted the urge yesterday to sign up for a course that takes you through writing and publishing a novel in 365 days on the grounds that I don’t have the time to put aside every single day, weekends included. Maybe I don’t want to write a novel enough. Maybe I should wait until I am retired. But if you have deadlines to meet you have to make time and some things will inevitably have to give way. May God strengthen you in tired and insecure times.

    • Hi Jenny. I think the thing that worked best for me was setting ‘flexible deadlines’ for myself. So I would aim to write at least 750 word, three times a week. It’s remarkable how much writing that is over time. xxx

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