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Writing Deadlines… And When Life Gets In The Way, by Helene Young

This month I had planned to write a blog about the joys of  National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Each of my published novels has commenced life as a 50,000 words in November project. For four of those books, that meant I’d written the first half of the novel and then only needed to complete the second half by the time December came around.  It’s been a proven way for me to kick off a book.

With Safe Harbour, out next year, I only managed to achieve 10,000 words, but they were the crucial opening chapters so I’d at least met my characters and learnt a great deal about the community they lived in. This year I had managed a mere 8,765 words before edits for Safe Harbour arrived in my inbox. As a professional writer, I had no option but to put aside the new story, pick up the previous one and start work on polishing it.

Initially, I struggled with the edits because, in the fickle way of a writer, I’d moved on from those previous characters. I was immersed in my new world with new friends and wanted to stay there, continuing to enjoy and explore. The reality of being a published author is you have deadlines and commitments. NaNoWriMo was relegated to the back burner.

As someone who also works full time in aviation, finding time to write can be extremely difficult, but life aboard the good ship Roo Bin Esque is ordered and my husband does a great deal of the day to day stuff – shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc. – so I was confident I’d make my deadline.

Then… family illness reared its ugly head again, along with a particularly busy week in the day job. I also knew I had a trip at the end of November to be part of a friend’s wedding on Montague Island. The stresses started piling up and I felt as though I was peering down a long tunnel without even a glimmer of the end in sight. That worry meant I was waking up at night ticking off the things I still needed to do, fretting that I wouldn’t make it.

I started to resent being out of bed at 4 am in order to squeeze in a couple of hours editing before I left for work. I had to work hard to keep a smile on my face as I drove from one side of Brisbane to the other to check on my unwell, elderly mother. In five books I’ve never extended a deadline of any sort, so I was determined that I wouldn’t need to do that this time. I was driving myself into the ground trying to achieve the impossible.

A good friend reminded me of something I’d said to her several years ago when she was struggling to finish a book. “Don’t worry, the story will still be there tomorrow.” I have no idea who said that to me in the first place but I’d lost sight of that reality. It was a light bulb moment for me. I asked my editor politely for another couple of days and was granted four, and more if required. The stress blew away over night and I slept the sleep of the dead. The edits even seemed to be easier without the added pressure.

Consequently, I’m sitting on Montague Island listening to the birds chattering out on the cliffs with the sunrise streaming into the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. My friends’ celebrations were beautiful and I have a whole swag of new experiences to colour new stories.

If life gets in the way of your writing, don’t beat yourself up. Life’s too short for that. I promise you the words and the story will still be there tomorrow.


Helene Young’s author website:

Helene Young’s bio page


Wings of FearShattered SkyBurning LiesHalf Moon Bay     Stillwater CreekThe Fragment of Dreams

Writing Novels in Australia

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Excellent advice, Helene. You ahve had your hands full. Good on Capt G.

    December 1, 2013
  2. kerriepaterson #

    Great advice, Helene. I hope some of the pressure has eased for you now.

    December 1, 2013
  3. I’m a deadline gal myself, I never miss one and pride myself on always sliding to the plate in time. But, as you demonstrate, Helene, sometimes it really isn’t worth the stress. And if you have a flexible and understanding publisher, then why not ask for an extension?

    In situations like this I’m reminded of having my two babies. Baby A took thirty hours in a home birthing unit, Baby B took five hours on a labour ward. At the end of each birth I got a baby. No medal, no glory, no cheering fans, just the same result.

    If there’s a hard way and an easy way, sometimes the easy is best, particularly if your love of writing is under threat

    December 2, 2013
  4. Thanks, Jenn, I couldn’t manage my busy life with out the incomparable Capt G 🙂

    December 2, 2013
  5. Thanks, Kerrie, I’m slowly easing back and the editing is now complete for this round!!

    December 2, 2013
  6. Great analogy, Phillipa.

    Sending the email asking for a couple of days grace was really hard. I don’t wish to do it again any time soon, but it is reassuring to know that these things are surmountable. The edits are done and dusted for now and I have champagne in hand while I take part in an on-line committee meeting. I’m sad that it will be the last time I contribute to that particular organisation in my current role but last month has shown I need to step back a little…

    December 2, 2013

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