Last week I put forth the idea that the difference between real writers and aspiring writers is deadlines. So what is a deadline, anyway?
As someone who used to work for a weekly newspaper, these were hard-and-fast submission dates and times for a piece to be turned in. If your article was not in the editor’s inbox by 5 PM on Friday, sharp, there would be some serious hell to pay. Sometimes, if you were putting the finishing touches on a sentence or two, you could email and say “Just five more minutes!” and she’d instantly reply “JUST SEND IT!”
The thing was, you had a set number of words to write, and a time and date they were due. The paper itself had a hole just large enough for those words to fit in, and if you failed to supply the words, there was a very large white space that now had to be filled by someone else.
Maybe someone who could take your place on a permanent basis?
So deadlines, to me, were no joke. I might not always turn in my best work, but in the face of a ticking clock, I found that my fingers flew across the keyboard and thoughts flowed freely. There’s nothing like a countdown to get your ass in gear.
Try it right now. Set a timer for 15 minutes and see what you come up with. DING!
Given a deadline, most of us will procrastinate for long periods of time before finally setting down to work at the last possible minute. (Or maybe 60 minutes.) I’ve found this to be true for myself, as well as for setting deadlines for submissions to Buttontapper Press. Give ’em a week, people will produce. Give ’em 6 months… eh, not so much.
Deadlines are simply goals in time and space. They are a big red endpoint you fill in on your calendar, to help you block out an appropriate amount of time to reach that goal.
They are essential for writing large things like novels.
I’m not saying you must give up on your creative doodling and freestyle wandering on your keyboard or in private notebooks. That is all part of the creative process, too. But if you want to produce a book, you must put in regular work for regular intervals until you have a manuscript.
Then, there’s editing. But that’s another deadline altogether.
I like deadlines. Not, usually, when I am worrying about whether or not I will meet one, but I like having that structure to guide my writing. It is the one thing that a writer cannot do without, once you really strip down all the how-to’s and the you-should’s and the optimal-comfort-zones. No deadline, no book.
And if you like the sound of deadlines whooshing past, like Douglas Adams, you are still on the right track, because at least you know they whooshed past as you were writing like the wind, catching the tail of your latest, greatest idea and wrestling it onto the page.
What are your deadlines, and how do you tame your inclination for procrastination?