I am very much a deadline-driven sort of person. Whenever I set out to write something, I always have a definite date by which I must be finished with it. I don't know why that is, except that open-ended projects--for me--always seem permitted to go unfinished forever. Which is very likely a more healthy way of looking at artistic pursuits, but my Virgo nature won't let me be healthy like that. Damn you, Virgo nature.
A year and a half ago I finished draft five (or maybe it was draft six) of a novel and set about finding an agent. I didn't have a timeline for that search but I assumed it would take a couple of months at least. Luckily for me it was a very short search and at that point, I figured I'd have the novel sold by the end of the year. That's last year--2009--I'm talking about. During those happy initial days of my relationship with my agent, I assumed that I'd be a published novelist before I was 50, and that somehow became my goal. I'm just shy of 48 as I type this.
What became clear in 2009 during the two rounds of rewrites to the novel that I did at my agent's request was that I had a good premise and good characters and a good fictional voice for the novel, but I had also written the book wrong. There is a structural problem with the last third of the book that I couldn't fix by revising what I had written, and in January of this year I told my agent that I couldn't rewrite the book anymore. I was done with it. It was a failed novel. I declared my intention of writing a different book and if, after that, I had any bright ideas about the book my agent and I had been working on, I'd see about fixing it. My agent said he'd be happy to read the new book when I was ready to show it to him, but gosh he wished I knew how to fix the first book. Yeah, I said, that would be cool, but whatevs.
This dramatic scene blew my hopes of being a published author by the age of 50. I don't have a MS in my agent's hands now, the different book I wrote has a lot of potential but needs some rewriting, and it looks pretty grim for me meeting my self-imposed deadline. Yes, I did in fact have a bright idea about how to fix the first book and I had that idea half an hour after telling my agent that the book was impossible to write and yes, I am now rewriting that book entirely from scratch and I'm a bit over halfway through a new draft of it and it So Totally Rocks, but it will be October at the earliest before I have a rough draft and then there'll be a couple revisions and it will likely be next year before my agent sees the damned thing. Which leaves 20 months, if my agent reads the MS in January and thinks he can submit it to publishers as-is, to go from unknown unsigned debut author to publication. That's a very short timetable. So I am coming to grips with the idea that I will not, alas, be a published novelist by the time I'm 50.
Yet still I write. I think about the WIP and give over most of my lunch breaks and evening commutes to the new draft, and I work on it in the evenings and I think about it when I go running and I make copious conflicting notes about it and I plow forward because that's what we do. I have a first draft of the next novel already written, and I know what the two books after that will be (plus, maybe, a cosy detective mystery novella this winter if I'm not still working on the current MS) and there is plenty of good writing ahead of me. My goal is to write those five books I've just mentioned, and hopefully I'll have ideas for other books to write after I've done those, and I'll keep writing novels and the occasional short story until the day I die. I want to be in the middle of a groundbreaking and amazing literary novel of baffling and mysterious beauty when I drop over dead. That's my goal, anyway.
When I was a kid (by which the old man means "when I was in my 20s") I was in rock bands. It's cool to be in a rock band, and I think everyone should do it. Too much of my time was wasted as I sat reading SPIN or Rolling Stone and imagining the interviews I'd give when my band became famous. I was not writing then, at least not fiction. Anyway, one day I realized that not only was I not a very good songwriter, I was also not really passionate about being a rock musician or playing electric guitar (though it's still supercool to play electric guitar and scream into a microphone, kids). What I am passionate about, as you likely know by now, is writing.
My point, if I have one, is that even though I began pretty late in life (first novel begun when I was about 30, second novel written when I was 45, third and fourth started when I am 47), being a published novelist is still an attainable goal. I love writing. I adore fiction. I read books about the theory and history of novels, and interviews with authors, and I am a total book geek. I write because I am fascinated to read what I've written, and I am a big fan of my own writing and I also have certain evolving but strong opinions about what should go on in a piece of literary fiction. So to be a novelist is a worthy and workable goal.
My timetables, on the other hand, are absurd and not under my control. I think I'm giving up on the idea of deadlines (until an editor at Knopf gives me one, that is) and learning to sit back and see how things go. The pressure of my 50th birthday, which looms threateningly out there on the horizon, is still something I feel constantly while I work on this MS, but I am trying mightily to ignore it.
What I'd like to know today is this: How many of you have come to writing as a serious business later in life? Do you have goals, and are they related more to the writing or to the calender?