The Oncoming Train

You know the old joke: the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

That’s how it can feel sometimes when you have a deadline. Having a deadline helps you see the light at the end of the tunnel; at least you know where you’re going and have an ETA for when you’ll get there. But the closer you get to the light, the more it feels like you might get run over.

When you are trying to complete a project, the tunnel is your plan, the tracks are your milestones (keeping you “on track” as it were), and the light on the front of that distant train is your deadline.

The Deadline

Some time ago, I set an arbitrary deadline for completing my first fantasy book Vaetra Unveiled. I came up with the idea for the book in January of 2011, and I thought a year should give me plenty of time to finish it. A year to learn the craft of fiction writing, write an 80,000-word novel, and get it through editing and production. Experienced fiction authors would probably have said I was nuts, and in retrospect, they would have been right.

However, they say you should always set a deadline that pushes you out of your comfort zone. It should be possible to accomplish, but difficult enough to keep you focused on the outcome…or as we say around here, it helps you “panic early.”

I could always skip the idea of a deadline and just let the book get done whenever it gets done. But I have another saying relating to that approach: “No project gets started without a plan, and no project gets completed without a deadline.”

The Plan

Ah, yes. A plan. Having one of those is a good idea too.

This past week I finally sat down with a calendar and tried to figure out exactly how I would reach my deadline. I worked backward from January 31, blocking out time for each phase of the process necessary to release my book.

It was a sobering experience.

I learned I have to write an average of about 6,500 words a week to finish the first draft of my 80,000-word manuscript by July 31st, which is my first milestone. That’s a stretch for me, but it is in the range of possibility.

The Milestones

The milestones after I complete the first draft look something like this:


  • Complete the second draft, which is when I’ll start releasing parts of the manuscript to my beta readers and critique partners (assuming I find some).
  • Complete the third draft, which incorporates the feedback I get on the second draft.


  • Submit the manuscript to a professional editor for a critique or full developmental edit.


  • Complete the fourth (final) draft using the editor’s feedback.


  • Peer reviews, copy editing, metadata, cover design, and assign an ISBN. All can be done concurrently.


  • Cover and interior layout/formatting.
  • Upload to Lightning Source, Kindle Direct Publishing, Pub It!, and probably Smashwords. Order a proof.
  • Review and (hopefully) approve the proof, and then watch for the print book to show up on
  • Throw a release party, and let the marketing begin.

Actually, the marketing will begin concurrently with the other activities starting in October, while I’m waiting for the editor to get back to me. I’m not sure what form it will take yet, but I’m toying with the idea of doing free audio downloads of me reading the book. I saw another author doing that, and it seems like it would be fun.

The Optimism

Another old saying is “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” My plan includes no room for slippage, so a failure anywhere along the way has to be made up in the next segment or I won’t make my deadline. But that’s okay. In the spirit of optimism, I’m going to move forward with the plan and the deadline as they stand.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?


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