(Photo of Dorothy Parker at her typewriter, 1937)
I used to enjoy running--in graduate school I would go to the gym during cold months and get extreme satisfaction by running 6 miles on a treadmill. Did I ever really want to? Of course not—I'm not that kind of person. By "enjoy running" I mean the results, not the action of running for an hour and getting nowhere. It wasn’t pleasant to have people gawk at the unique maroon color my face became after a certain amount of exertion. I never actually liked riding my bicycle in the icy slush to the gym. But I was always proud of myself afterward. Of course, that phase only lasted a few months--until I got a social life, but it was a good exercise in discipline.
Now writing is different. I actually DO enjoy creating a story in my mind, hearing the characters' dialogue in my mind, and rushing to a computer to record my thoughts when a plot twist occurs to the little voice in my head ("oh, he's actually her Grandfather??? And he's gonna leave her a bunch of money if she refuses to enter the Army/Yale/Roller Derby??? Why didn't you tell me that sooner!"). I love the feeling when my fingers are flying off the keyboard and I can't type the scene fast enough.
It was only when I became serious about finishing a manuscript and started setting deadlines that it stopped being fun all the time. Sure, I KNOW that I'll feel good afterward, but it's extremely easy to be undisciplined when there are a million other things to do—like laundry, like grocery shopping, like unloading the dishwasher, like changing diapers and making snacks (pesky kids—always bugging you for attention)—that are necessary. With only a limited amount of free time, it's easy to make the excuse that because my writing time isn't bringing in money, it's expendable. Plus, who doesn’t like making “ants on a log” for kiddies?? Come on, people, it’s good stuff.
Not to mention that fact that if you do get BIC (Butt-In-Chair), the internet awaits, daring you to browse around a little, which leads to browsing more, which could lead to you learning new and exciting things about Lindsay Lohan's latest court dates, but little in terms of your manuscript's development.
Deadlines can be a double-edged sword for the unpublished writer—they make you think of writing as a job which increases your discipline, but, then again, they make you think of writing as a job (and let's face it, a job is called "work" for a reason--it's not always a choice and it's not always fun).
Increasingly, articles are saying that this line of thinking is necessary for unpublished writers--if you don't think of writing as a career, nobody else will ever think of it as your career. It's a hard claim to make for many humble beginners, but taking yourself seriously is a major step in your growth as a writer. Plus, once you do get published, the ability to keep a deadline is extremely important. Might as well get some practice!
Do you keep deadlines for yourself? Whether it's writing 500 words a day, 2,000 a week, or 50,000 in a month (for you crazy folks who crank it out for National Novel Writing Month), the importance of making and keeping a writing schedule is more important than you might think.
While I certainly don't LOVE deadlines, I definitely appreciate them and get satisfaction by keeping them. And I'm grateful that I don't have to ride my bike through icy slush to get to my computer.