In December I print up a one month/one page calendar for the upcoming year. Any time I see a call for submission from a literary journal that I think might be an especially good fit for a story I’m working on, or one that is ‘resting’ in a file, I enter it in the calendar.
I’m a slow writer. It takes me months and sometimes even years to finish a story. I know I’m not going to make most of these deadlines, so why do I bother to keep a record?
Because each time I’m sure that I’m going to finish the story and send it in – the story feels so right for the journal, that I can’t bear the thought of not finishing it.
But when I get to work, something happens… All the fault lines and weaknesses, which I’ve been unable to see for weeks and months in the writing of the story, suddenly seem glaringly obvious. The deadline jolts me into seeing the story differently, into reading more critically. It gives me the eye of an editor. I’ll discover connections I hadn’t noticed before, and new, less obvious, more interesting, perspectives to my characters or plot lines. I’ll cut, cut more, add, shift things around. I press on, still convinced I’m going to make the deadline.
Sometimes I make a deadline, but more often I miss them, like I missed the ones last week (two for Thursday, one for Friday). I didn’t send the story in because I’d discovered something new in it that I really want to develop. Missing the deadline is not so important. The main thing is that I’ve moved my story into the next phase.
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise as they go by.” (Douglas Adams in “The Salmon of Doubt”)