July 17th, 2007

Timelines

I had a timeline for this summer—a deadline timeline. I swore I would complete a submission packet for my MG fantasy novel—and submit it—before the end of the summer.

 

And I’m going to. But I would like to here publicly declare that autumn officially begins Sept. 23, 2007, at 5:51 am, which leaves me till at least 5:50 am Sept. 23 to pop my first submission into the mailbox downtown. Not that I plan to wait till the last minute—I’m just saying.

 

I read a blog recently by a writer who had set herself a publication timeline, which is nearing its end (in two years. Just like Sally was going to be 40… someday… in “When Harry Met Sally”). And it occurred to me that some deadlines aren't really fair.

 

All you can plan on is doing what you do; finishing the manuscript; polishing it up; sending it out. You can’t give the publishing world a deadline and say, “I shall be published by this date, or else I shall relinquish my writing dreams.”

 

And anyway, writing is one of those fields where you have to be a little crazy, I think, a little detached from the real world and hard deadlines.

 

This I was thinking yesterday when I got an unexpected call from a guy I’d met more than 10 years ago, when I landed a much-coveted (by me, probably not by anyone else) news assistant/ temp reporter position at the popular daily out here. (He wanted the inside scoop on an issue he thought I was covering, but I had nothing useful to offer. Ah, well.) It was my goal to land a full-time writing job, and this position seemed like a logical first step. I was interviewed by this guy, who was very pleasant (and that was important, because I was terrified, since my only other job interviews had all taken place at the Mall). Everyone spoke warmly of him. But he was not my direct supervisor.

 

But my direct supervisor was pleasant enough. And he was patient with me—so, so patient when I had to ask where who sat (one of my jobs was supposed to be distributing mail and faxes, which was hard when none of the desks had nameplates and no one, I swear, no one but me was ever there), and when I freaked out because my source wouldn’t answer my questions, and when I had to work late because a City Council meeting I was supposed to be covering unexpectedly blew up enough to merit a story in the daily, rather than the affiliated weekly for which I was actually writing during this gig.

 

Oh, it was a misery. The room was dark and dank. My desk was next to the window, and it was sweltering. Someone had turned the ringer on the phone down, so I could never tell when someone was calling me back, and no one taught me how to use the voicemail system. I was waiting at the door for the security guard to open up at 8 AM, and I ate lunch at my desk so I could, in good conscience, whip out of there at 4 PM. I did piles of work at home, gritting my teeth in resentment all the while. And I cried a lot. (More than usual! Which was saying something at the time.)

 

I just couldn’t figure out how I could be so miserable doing what I wanted.

 

My patient mother calmly suggested that maybe I didn’t really want to work for a big paper. That maybe, since I had cried so, so much less when I was freelancing, that maybe, just maybe, I should give that a real shot. And I figured hey--I can't be any less happy, really. So why not take a chance?

 

So I had to meet with my supervisor and tell him that I was grateful for the opportunity, but after my two weeks were up, I did not actually want a permanent position as a news assistant.

 

He flipped out a little. (God knows why. Like I said, I couldn’t even deliver the faxes to the right desks.) He assured me that a reporting position would open up very, very soon, and that it would be mine. (It’s true, reporting positions are always opening there. That may indicate something. Not sure what.) And then he demanded to know what I would do instead. So I told him. And he laughed.

 

Up till that point I had been feeling a little guilty—after all, I’d been handed this great opportunity (after chasing it for some months), and I was disappointing this guy by not sticking around. But any welling tears dried up when he laughed.

 

When I left the office, I set myself a timeline, and every six months I revised it. “If I’m not writing for such-and-such publication within the year, I’ll go to grad school,” I told myself. And then I landed the gig.

 

“If I’m not earning at least so many dollars a month, I’m going to grad school,” I told myself next. But I met that goal.

 

“If I’m not freelancing full-time within the next 12 months, grad school it is,” I told myself. But then I did it. (And I refrained from sending any updates to that creep who laughed at me.)

 

But those timelines could just as easily have been blasted away. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how often I pitched, it’s entirely possible that the publishing world could have not cooperated, and I would have ended up a Ph.D. teaching frosh lit somewhere. But all that hard work, combined with a lot of luck, good timing, and a smidge of networking, let me meet my self-imposed deadlines.

 

I can only hope the universe will be as fully cooperative when I send out my proposal package! (And probably then I’ll drop a few lines to that former supervisor o’ mine. Just to share the good news.)



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