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Abandoned, not Finished (or; learning to love Deadline Day)

They say Art is never finished, just abandoned. I'd go along with that (he says, making the lofty inference that what he does is art!).

I say this having just sent Ascendant's Rite, Book 4 of the Moontide Quartet - THE POWERFUL EPIC FANTASY SERIES YOU SHOULD ALL BE READING BY NOW - to my publisher, Jo Fletcher Books in the UK.

Am I happy with the final product?

Cautiously, yes. It's certainly not perfect. I have considered, accepted or rejected critisim from my group of test readers and though I've gone through the painstaking process of revising and revising until my eyes turned square, there are probably still typos and continuity bloopers in there. Some of the dialogue is arguably still at George Lucas levels of clunkiness, and when Jo does her edits, she'll carve whole tracts of it to bits. But it is finished. I can, at this stage, do little more with it. The ending is what I want it to be, the scenes are as good as I'm going to get them in the time available, and decisions I've made over who lives and dies, who gets a happy ending and who a sad one, are all made. It's my story that will go to print after the edit process and I will be proud of it.

That's the thing about deadlines - they impose discipline on you, force you to make decisions and live with them. Without them we can tinker forever.

I've been writing Moontide novels for the last four years - one a year - and fitting my other writing projects around them. Writing to a contractual deadline sharpens the mind, and forces us to find solutions to plot tangles and character contrariness. I still remember what it was like to be writing something for which no contract exists, an experience all writers go through at some point, mostly when starting out. We have an idea which we carry around in our heads for months or even years, until we finally begin writing it down. Then we tinker with it in what can be an endless cycle, trying to reach a point where we think the manuscript is "ready". It's a cycle that can be impossible to break out of.

It took me from 2001 to 2007 to find a publisher for my first novel, The Bone Tiki. Most of that time was spent in a procrastination funk. Mage's Blood (Moontide Book One) had its genesis in 2008, but wasn't submitted to a publisher until 2011. It's not easy to let a story go and send it out to market. We get judged by our failures as well as our successes, and rejection really hurts, no matter who you are. It's scary putting the thing you've agonised over for so long up for others’ critique: especially when you don't have to, so we hold it to ourselves because if it's not finished, it can't be judged.

This is why I love my deadlines. They make me finish, ready or not. I always set deadlines, even for material that isn't yet contracted. They force me to work hard, to improvise and invent; they bring out the best I've got.

And here's a heartening thing: Mage's Blood got rejected by more than a dozen publishers, but Jo Fletcher liked the concept so much she accepted it, even though she then made me revise Book One utterly! The lesson - that the manuscript didn't have to be perfect - it just had to deliver a cool concept and a good story! FINISHING IT WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PERFECTING IT.

So maybe, if you've got a project you've been tinkering with for a while, but you can't seem to get to the standard you want, set a deadline to complete it, then send it out. You may find that doing so is what is needed to get your "imperfect" work to a "finished" state. 


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