Welcome! Please sit down, make yourself comfortable, and have a brownie or three...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Deadlines: A Double-Edged Sword

“I hate writing. I love having written.” ~Dorothy Parker
(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Deadlines can be a double-edged sword for the unpublished writer—they make you think of writing as a job which increases your discipline, but, then again, they make you think of writing as a job (and let's face it, a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.


29 comments:

  1. first off- six miles!?!?!? i would DIE!!!! :)

    second- i DO make goals- otherwise i flounder. but my goals are usually pretty flexible.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Deadlines are a must for me - the only way I can get things done!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh man, I posted about something similar today (just how much I don't get done because of my writing habits LOL). I do give myself some deadlines and often, since I co-author, they are just in my mind so that I'm not keeping my partner waiting. I need them though - otherwise I don't crack down and do the best work I can.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have a solution for this - I write while I'm at work (shhhh).

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love the quote. But I agree, I love the writing process. Your examples of the surprise a writer gets as his/her own plot unfolds made me laugh.

    But there's something to be said for writing, "The End".

    ReplyDelete
  6. I just won't do it if I don't have goals. There are too many other things that I can think of that are more "pressing" or more immediate. If I don't have a daily goal, I put it off. However, with the daily goal, the writing becomes one of those "pressing" needs, too.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Good points, Jess! I try to only set myself realistic goals or deadlines, so it depends on whatever else is going on in my life. Maybe that's not the professional way to go about it, but I know that I can crank it out when I have to.

    -Vicki

    ReplyDelete
  8. I always set deadlines and goals for myself (at least writing-wise) to keep myself on track. Deadlines aren't exactly fun but they keep me motivated and help me finish things within a reasonable amount of time.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I set goals once in a while. I need to set them more often because like others, I might get more done!

    Great post.

    ReplyDelete
  10. That's great! Let me know what you think!

    ReplyDelete
  11. You captured my thoughts on the writing process perfectly!!! I love inventing stories in my brain. I can daydream all day long about my story, characters, plot, etc. I've actually lost track of time thinking about my story.

    But writing is hard work!! And telling that story to your readers is REALLY HARD WORK!

    And yes, kids, job, chores, almost always take priority n my life. But then my characters keeping buzzing in my head demanding that their story be told!!! It took me 4 years to write my first novel while holding a full time job, raising kids, etc... But the feeling I got when it was finally completed was AMAZING.

    Incidentally, I'm a runner too (that's what I loved this blog post so much). I ran the marathon a few years back. The long journey I had finishing my novel was a similar experience to running the marathon.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I actually quite like deadlines...but only if they're "Eh, by the end of this year I want to have..." ;)

    Which is what my goals list looks like right now.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I do set up deadlines for myself. It helps me to know if I'm on track and if I can take a break without feeling guilty.
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

    ReplyDelete
  14. I do set deadlines, and I agree, sometimes it does make things less fun, but... I want to finish this WIP. Like you, I know I'll love THAT feeling, so if this one isn't always a dream come true, then that's okay. Nothing really worthwhile comes into existence without work.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This, of course, is fabulous advice. But, deadlines are such a hard thing for a long-time procrastinator... it's something I'm always working on! Great post, Jess. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Generally, I don't "do" deadlines, but I like to be sure to write/revise every day, or I start to feel anxious. ;o) When I get an agent and editor (LOL--notice I didn't say "if") I will begin to have deadlines.

    ReplyDelete
  17. You've captured the deadline dilemma perfectly in this post :) I always set deadlines (at least 1,000 words a day) - just like I always force myself to run.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I am a deadline girl. I do better when I have pressure, like the scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK when Indy grabs his hat just before the wall slams down.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I can't set deadlines. I get too stressed and all of my creativity floats away!

    I can't even count how many times I was in a writing zone (go fingers go) when my kids needed something. It's like crashing into a wall.

    ReplyDelete
  20. You've already seen this on my own blog, Jess, but I thought I'd comment here too.

    As I'm working on my first novel, I'm still in the midst of learning how I do it. I want to finish my first draft soon, so I've set myself a target of 7,000 words a week, which I aim to accomplish by doing 1,500 words per day for five days, ideally in two, half-hour chunks of 750 words. It makes it easy to slot them in on busy days (I often do half an hour during lunch at work) and gives me a couple of days to let my brain cool and percolate on what happens next.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I give myself deadlines, but they are rather creative and flexible ones. If I'm too rigid, my must balks. If I'm too loose, I procrastinate. Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thanks for mentioning that John Cusack movie - I don't think i've ever seen it! And I love that guy :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. I agree with you about having to take yourself seriously before others do. There's this idea out there that everyone has one book in them and that they all want to write a book someday. You have to show people that you're more serious than that. Sounds like that's what you're doing, so good job!

    I think the key to self-imposed deadlines - for me, at least - is to wait until I'm a little way into a book so I know more about where I'm going with it. (I tend to be a slow starter because I'm still feeling my way, and I like to plot first.) After that I try to set a goal that keeps me writing every day but doesn't stress me out TOO much. If I over-write one day, I get a little more free time the next. Works for me. I also think of it as learning more about my style for when I *do* get published. That way I'm not feeling my way through once I finally have an editor-imposed deadline.

    ReplyDelete