Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 10 April 2013


The first blog I ever wrote wasn’t for my own site at all, it was for the husband’s. I wrote it in December of 2010, and it was called A Matter of Life and Deadlines. It was a bit of a hit at the time, and I reproduced it on this blog, later. You can read it, here, if you’re minded to.

I’ve been tweeting lately about being up against a deadline, myself, and it even caused me to invite people to suggest subjects for this blog, to try to cut down the amount of time I spent preparing my blog every day while I was finishing the current novel.

It worked, by the way. I have written my blogs more quickly this week, simply because I didn’t have to come up with a subject first, so thanks to those of you who took part, even if some of your questions did raise some pretty personal issues.

Anyway, it got me thinking about what I’m like when I’m up against deadlines.

Turns out I’m not like other people... Surprise surprise!

It dawns on me that other people start thinking about a deadline towards the end of a job. They work through their jobs, writing away the hours, adding one chapter to another, building a book, and then, when the time comes, they suddenly think, “Oh Lordy (or whatever expletive they choose) I’ve only got a fortnight (or whatever timeframe they choose) to finish this book!” And they do whatever they do at that point. They might panic, or pick up the pace, or become passive aggressive about the dishwasher, or whatever it is.

I don’t think I do that. I think I’m a bit more shit or bust than that. I think the deadline is right there in my forebrain from the moment I sit down and open a new file on day one of starting a new project.

What’s more, I don’t think it matters whether it’s a commissioned novel or one of my own.

I think the first issue is that I never believe that I can finish a book. It doesn’t matter how many I finish, I never actually believe that I can finish the one I haven’t yet started. When I start it I don’t know that I can finish it. In fact, I never know that I can finish it... Not until I actually put that final full-stop to that final sentence.

(Crikey, I do hope that none of my publishers are reading this, because that sounds like professional suicide, right there!)

Then there’s the plan... the plot... the themes... the characters... I don’t have those, either. I don’t have any of that stuff in advance. I have an idea for what I’m doing and a bit of a broad theme, and that’s it. So, apart from when a chapter breakdown is specified (and let’s not pretend I manage to stick very closely to those), all I’ve got is the stuff in my head, and my memory isn’t what it could be, so the stuff in my head really won’t stay there for long, so I’d better get it down in a file on the computer quick... Damned quick. 

(Please God, don’t let my publishers be reading this! It’s a lie... I can stick to a chapter breakdown, and I do... I promise! The blog is just more interesting this way. I write fiction for crying out loud!)

When all you’ve got is the stuff in your head, and you don’t know how long it’s going to be there... And, yesterday, I lost the stuff in my head because the window cleaner knocked on the door to be paid... When that’s all you’ve got, you tend to want to write it down.

So, from beginning a novel, to finishing, I’m in a flat panic, typing. I can type almost as fast as I can talk. If all I had to do was type, I could write an average sized novel in sixteen typing hours.

Wow! I slightly wish I hadn’t worked that out. That makes me a colossal slacker when it comes to thinking time! I thought I was a fast thinker, and it turns out that my thinking speed is glacially slow. I’m going to go and do that sum again...

...Turns out the maths was right!

When I’m writing, I do nothing but write. I write up to twelve or fourteen hours a day, and I write up to seven days a week. It is like being on a permanent deadline. I am on a mission. I do get up to make a drink or throw some washing in the machine. I might even push the hoover round. Nothing much gets done, though. It’s a damned good job that the husband is clean and neat, and a damned good cook.

Thinking about it, I'm not quite sure how the husband puts up with me when I'm writing, except that he's always working, too, and except that he understands what it's like to be 'in the zone'. I'm rather glad he's a writer, because I suspect I'd be screwed if he wasn't, either that or I'd have given up all hope of ever being a writer myself.

I don’t know whether I wish it was other, but I do find myself reaching for an analogy, and I don’t know if I can find one. I wonder if I’m some sort of sprinter. I need to take one big breath, make a hard dash, and collapse at the finish line. Then I need to do other things to train for the racing, so I get in the gym and lift weights. Other writers are like marathon runners. I met a very lovely and extremely accomplished writer recently, who writes about 250 words a day. 

I bet he won’t be thinking about the deadline on day one of his next project.


  1. I think there are two factors that do not perfectly overlap: intensity and completion.

    I write much more slowly than you (my current mode is probably ~1000 words/day) spread out over more than one project, so have a lower intensity.

    However I also mark out my final deadline on day one then feel incomplete until the work is done, even if I am ahead of a hypothetical schedule, so I have a high need to complete.

    I cope by setting smaller deadlines (finish a chapter, &c.) but still feel an inner critic reminding me I have not finished it all yet.

  2. I'm in my 4th year at med school and I start thinking about the end of year exams as soon as the new year starts. This probably leads to the odd occasion of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

    I have write a lot. Problem is, I either work really hard or do absolutely nothing. There is no in between with me. Well, there is, but all that entails is listening to Radio 4 comedy on the BBC iPlayer with a hang over and hoody up on a Sunday afternoon whilst trying and failing to do something productive.

    However, when I do work everything else goes out the window. It has been said that how hard I'm working can be determined by my appearance. Clean shaven, smelling fresh and wearing some smart threads means I'm doing bugger all. Scruffy looking, slightly stubbled and wearing the same hoody for the past 6 days that has various chronologically spaced food stains means I have just finished all my notes on all the main congenital conditions for the main body systems. "BOOM!" as I say. Or "Pwarrrrrr" as my good friend Caz says, whilst crinkling her nose.

    On reflection on getting stuff written, I find its starting thats the hardest.

    P.S. Congratulations on your anniversary. As a famous couple do you have a couple name? Such as 'Nican' or 'Danola'?

    Tom in Norwich

    1. It's only really the husband who's famous, so no couple name, although we are on Twitter as @VincentAbnett. Dan and Nik has sufficed for the past 30+ years, I'm sure it'll do for a while longer. there you go... Dannika... What do we think? Too feminine?

    2. Dannika is slavic for Morning Star so has overtones of rebellion and spiritual evolution. So not too feminine - to the extent that whether something is feminine matters anyway.

    3. How very splendid!

      No, you're right. At least one of us is female, and the other one is very much in touch with his feminine side. We have no gender issues, I have no idea why I said that. Shame on me.