by | Aug 17, 2023 | Jenny Milchman, On writing | 5 comments

By Jenny Milchman

Jaws When Steven Spielberg’s film version of Peter Benchley’s blockbuster Jaws came out, it furthered the reach of the novel, spawned (ha, get it, a fish reference?) a whole school of (I can keep going) sometimes great, sometimes comical derivations that continue to this day (I’m talking to you, Meg II: The Trench), and forever changed the way people relate to bodies of water. I don’t think that’s overstated—do you go for a swim, even in fresh water, and feel a tendril of river reed brush against your leg without flinching? That experience stems at least in part from the poor girl who went for a night splash-fest on Martha’s Vineyard. Even if you never read the book or saw the movie. It’s become part of our collective unconscious.

The connection to this post, beyond my using a bar from John Williams’ brilliant soundtrack in the title for alliterative purposes, is that a) deadlines are scary and b) the art and business of book writing carries the exhilarating potential of creating something that could change worlds and still be influencing media half-a-century on.

writing for the deadline I just turned in the first of a two book deal to my editor. Just—as in a few minutes before penning these words. Well, not pen-penned, I’m at a keyboard, but right now I’m feeling the tether between the ages. Beginning long before Benchley even, to when transformative, life-changing fictions were created with imagination and feathers. Hope is the thing with feathers, wrote Emily Dickinson. Or with quill pens.

I believe stories meet a need that’s almost as universal as breathing. Have you ever experienced the unique panic of going somewhere and realizing you left your book behind? I know we can pull up the same read on our phones now, thanks to Amazon. But somehow not having that page I dogeared to keep my place can still inspire a topsy-turvy, off-balance feel.

Writers complain about deadlines, worry about them, even fear them sometimes. Here’s my little secret.

This was the first deadline I ever had.

Yes, even though I’ve had five books published. They were always written on so-called spec, i.e., completed before going out on so-called sub to either my existing publisher or a crop of new, potential publishers. That is one way books get sold and authors build a career, and it can be mentally and creatively challenging, like standing over thin air and hoping you don’t plummet before jotting The End. Also thrilling in some ways—there’s a freedom to it. I mean, truthfully, ANY way a writer gets to write a book is pretty great, to my mind.

Still and all, I would always say at book events or when talking to other writers that I’d know I made it when an editor slammed her fist on her desk and barked, “Jenny, I need that manuscript yesterday!”

It was largely a joke. Editors and agents and publishers and basically everyone I’ve encountered in the book world, including, especially, other authors and readers, are some of the kindest, warmest people you could hope to meet. They don’t bite.

Still, I have to admit, it felt really, really good to have someone waiting for me to finish a book they had inspired (and paid for) me to write.

MISERY: When an author hits a deadline and decides to kill off his main character, his biggest fan takes major offense Authors can be a bit ritualistic about deadlines—think Paul Sheldon in Stephen King’s genius, genre-busting work Misery. I love books about the industry, and in this one a bestselling novelist is sick of his longtime series character and decides to kill her off. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, his #1 fan is having none of that. Then a snowstorm steps in. This blockbuster novel has an equally blockbuster movie version, this one directed by the brilliant Rob Reiner, with Kathy Bates being the first person to win a Best Actress Oscar for a horror movie. Even the shark in Jaws didn’t manage to pull that off.

Anyhoo, in the novel, the character of Paul Sheldon caps his act of writing The End with a cigarette and a bottle of good champagne. Before he goes on to endure the worst pain of his life, psychic and physical.

Champagne PNG A DEADLINE'S ARRIVAL Still, that glass of bubbly always seemed pretty nice to me.

I never did anything like it when I finished a book, but something about Having a Real, Live Deadline makes me feel like, hey, maybe I deserve a ritual now too?

Please share ideas for what it could be, or ways in which you celebrate a big achievement in your life!

And in the meantime, I’m raising a glass, because here’s to you, Rogue Readers.

So, Rogue Readers, what are your deadline rituals? How do you celebrate big achievements?

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Lisa Black

    When I finish a book I’ll take myself out to lunch. Never mind that I will grab any excuse to take myself out to lunch at least every other week, but it’s a great reason to pick my favorite restaurant, linger over coffee, and order dessert.

  2. Erica Ferencik

    Huge congratulations Jenny!!! Jump and scream!! Champagne!! Make your family spoil you, and
    spoil yourself, in every possible way:)

    • Jenny Milchman

      Lisa, that’s a great idea! Love Lunch Out myself.

      Erica, so great to see you here, hi, and I am going to do just that!

      Karna,I would’ve been clawing the car windows too 🙂 And thank you!

  3. Karna Small Bodman

    Congrats Jenny!!! You asked if I ever went somewhere and forgot to take a book along. Oh yes. I remember having to sit in a car and watch a graduation on Livestream when we couldn’t get seats inside the auditorium. Then the Livestream cut off and I sat there with absolute to read. Jeez! But now I can look forward to your next two thrillers!

  4. Chris Goff

    Whoo hoo, Jenny! Deadlines are my bane. I wrote five books on deadline, then had the pleasure of writing my thriller, Dark Waters, on my own timetable. I really enjoyed having the time to do it, driven only by my passion to tell that story. While it’s nice to have a deadline and an editor anxious for your book, there’s something special about writing on your own timetable, too. Congrats on the book contract.