One of the biggest challenges in starting out writing is the lack of deadlines. With other daily work calling, and no agent or publisher breathing down your neck, it’s easy to put off finishing that chapter. Sure, you can set a deadline for yourself, like a New Year’s resolution. It might go the way of the dozens of pieces of exercise equipment I see at the dump every spring.
Or, you can find a writing partner. That certainly worked well for Leah and myself. Having a weekly meeting with someone who holds you accountable for writing a few pages is a good path to finishing your book. But Leah can tell you that there were some weeks I turned up empty handed. Our agreement did not include any threats of shaming or scare tactics.
Another option for the lone writer is to participate in some contests offered by literary magazines and publishing houses. I recently entered one. It’s a long shot for sure, competing against hundreds or thousands of entries. However, winning is not the only objective. A real deadline is a powerful motivator. If I didn’t have this one at the end of October, I might not have finished a book proposal. Now I have one completed, regardless of how the contest goes. It was a useful and interesting process.
The first draft of my book was not yet finished as the deadline for the contest approached. I worked on the overview, marketing analysis and promotion sections of my proposal with a mounting sense of defeat. Then, I decided to shift gears and look at it as a tool in the completion of my book. Seeing it take shape, I became eager to finish the rest of the chapters and fill in the structural and plot holes in my story. Looking over the proposal, I felt good about what I had accomplished. My book seemed more polished and well-crafted than I had imagined earlier. Without this exercise, I’m not sure I would have had that view.
Pressing the send button and letting my proposal swish off to the contest editor’s inbox was an unnerving but invigorating moment. That night I dreamed that I attended a ball in a gorgeous gown, chatting with interested onlookers, only to conclude the evening with a horrified look in the mirror: my gown was missing its skirt.
Okay, so it doesn’t get more symbolic than that. I am exposed, and will certainly face rejection and scrutiny. I can handle that. What I wouldn’t be able to handle is what it would feel like to have chosen not to show up for the ball.
Carolyn and Leah
Writing Exercise: Enter a writing contest. The Poets and Writers site (http://www.pw.org/grants) has an extensive competition list with a calendar for deadlines. You can find a good guide for writing your book proposal on Jane Friedman’s site:http://janefriedman.com/2012/11/09/start-here-how-to-write-a-book-proposal/ . Good luck!