Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Down to the Wire

No one likes deadlines. There’s a good reason they’re not called lifelines, happylines, or even funlines. We face them the same way one would a firing squad, with regretful resignation and a strong conviction that there just wasn’t enough time before the end to do all we wanted to do.

I got a paperweight from a friend years ago that’s still on my desk and the inspiration for this piece as I was facing a forgotten deadline for my next blog and looking for a good idea -- it’s aluminum with a red face that reads “The ultimate inspiration is the deadline”. So true. There’s nothing like a gun to the head to produce fast and steady stream of answers, no matter how valid they may be once the gun is gone.

I’m in one of those rare all too brief periods of life when my bills are paid and I have a little time while looking for my next freelance job to write to my heart’s content. I finished a novella I was working on for one of my two writing groups, and managed to finally write the prologue to the third Testaments novel, a section I had so wrong and had struggled with for weeks to find the right voice. I went out to brunch at a favorite writing spot and finally just started writing, and bang -- suddenly it was there. Just when I was feeling like I was wasting valuable writing time by cleaning, procrastinating until I was dry, it starts to flow again.

I’ve spent the summer trying to get my space organized so I could immerse myself in writing the rest of the novel (oh yes, there’s much more than the prologue on paper -- I was going back to get my bearings as it begins) and looking for the next paycheck, without waking up one day in a thigh deep mess as I reach the end of the next leg of the mad inner journey that is writing a novel. The storage boxes are down to what can fit in the closet, my floors are actually visible, and by the end of the week even tabletops will be clear. I will be where I wanted to be when I started what I had hoped would be a week long process. It took two months, but it's done, my home is civilized, my mind is in launch position, and I am building back up to the daily writing schedule that got the first two novels done.

The first thing I will do as I sit down to write? I will set some deadlines -- the number of words or pages I feel I need to do daily, when I want the first draft of the novel done, and how long I intend to take rewriting and editing. It's painfully simple -- figure out how many pages you want to finish, and divide it by the number of days you give yourself to write it.

I want PAST LIFE: A Vampire Testament done by the end of the year -- not an unreasonable goal with what I have done so far. But I need to break the next three months down so I know what marks I am hitting and when. No dawdling and cramming it all in the night before the deadline, as I did in college! This schedule is mine and one I can make comfortable enough to stick with to get the book done.

Time is slippery. It gets sucked away by other people, by things to do that are more fun, or even work, sleeping and eating -- all the stuff that keeps the body alive. Then there’s cleaning house if you live alone, laundry so you look good and don’t smell when guests come to call, or for those rare days you drag yourself away from the keyboard. You have to manage time - a boring and dull prospect, but essential in any artist’s life.

Treat yourself like a sulky or lazy child -- reward good behavior, discipline the bad. If you get five to ten pages done in a day, you are gold, baby, and deserve a night out to play. If you’ve barely scraped out one or two -- consider staying at it until you get through your daily minimum, even if you end up rewriting it all the next day.

Writing is like exercise in that the longer you avoid it, the harder it is to get back to where you want to be. I started an exercise class a month ago, then a freelance job “in house” -- which ironically means you are leaving yours -- kept me away from the class for the last three weeks. As I get ready to plunge back in again, to burn off the calories of the sweet treats I let myself have for writing, I know it will be like I'm starting from scratch. As with writing, I will be do my best to be patient with myself for a few weeks while my body gets used to the punishment again, knowing the rewards at the other end.

I am hoping that in a month or two I'll be feeling more at ease at the gym and the keyboard, and letting the pain I occasionally feel at both tell me I am growing, not being punished. The best part of all of this is that not only have I laid out what I have to do for the rest of the year as I leave my last day on this job -- I've met this week’s blog deadline.

Suddenly the gun is gone from my head, and I feel free to go back to that pesky prologue...then a sweet sticky reward that will send me back to the gym.


Charles Gramlich said...

I do work all right under deadlines but by far my best work is done when the only deadlines I have are my own

Terence Taylor said...

Ah, but you make your own...that's what I mean. If I just write with no goal, I drift and bounce from piece to piece -- if I set a deadline for myself, I focus myself. It sounds like you set deadlines too, just none of us like other people's for us! ;)

KeVin K. said...

I tried to post Artemesia Gentilschi's take on Judi & Holo to illustrate my relationship with deadlines, but I could not figure out how to insert an image in a comment.

Unlike you guys, self-imposed deadlines have little effect on me.
Income contingent on hitting a deadline puts my muse in hyperdrive.
Mercenary to the bone, that's me.

Liane Spicer said...

Some smarty-pants said that a task will expand to fit the time allotted to it. If I don't set deadlines my writing tasks assume they've got all the time in the world to get done while I get on with everything non-writing.

Interestingly, when I do set goals and try to meet them, I regularly exceed them. Vive the deadline.

Shauna Roberts said...

I'm like Liane. I need both some kind of deadline (external or self-imposed) AND a set of priorities. I'm so easily distracted by other things that need to get done that I continually must remind myself that writing is priority 1.