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Writing to Deadline
book cover
In college, I always finished writing papers in the middle of the night the night before they were due.

I'd plop my typewriter down on my futon (I'll pause a moment while you chuckle. At the typewriter. And the futon.) and I'd type like a fiend and drink coffee and type and stretch and revise and crumple and type and type and type. Until, finally, I'd  fall asleep next to a polished pile of papers, ready to roll. 

About all I can say about my method is that it worked. 
It wasn't pretty. 
It wasn't ergonomically sound. 
It wasn't necessarily mature. 
But it worked. 

And now, here I am 20 years later, writing to deadline. 

Yes, I capture phrases out of dreams and pound out plots while I walk and generally try to stay in a muse-induced state as frequently as a mother of two with a marriage and a mortgage can. But I still produce most effectively when someone's expecting something from me. 

If I've got a deadline on a calendar, which I happen to right now, I watch it approach like a storm. 
And I do nothing. For awhile. 
I do not gather water and canned goods. 
I do not ready the root cellar. 
I do not write out my last will and testament, though maybe I ought to.

I do nothing. 
Well, I mean, I answer email and work on taxes and read blogs and take baths.
And the storm gathers speed. While I watch.

And then, at just the right moment, I duck my chin and head for the cellar.
Whether there are canned goods down there or not. 
And I stay there 'til I'm done. And the storm's passed. Which just so happens to be at about the same time.

It's not pretty. Or even necessarily mature. But it works...

What do you do?

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LIZ!!!!!!!1 I'm practically having a heart attack READING your post.

Me? I did everything as early as possible. Did really well on those early tests and papers. Pretty much guaranteed myself an A for the semester. Then I knew I could coast if I wanted to for the remainder of the class projects. Which I didn't b/c I'm entirely too Type A. But. I could have!

Right now I'm coasting on the tail end of my final revision for my latest WIP. I'm going over everything One Last Time (okay, 30 last times) before I send my little ms packing.

OK. Relax. Really... nobody's gonna ask you to behave like me. You carry on in your read throughs and leave me to my insanity.

I think "do nothing" counts as a big something if you are watching a storm gather. The walking, the pounding, the capturing, the thinking.... that's the magic.

Thank you, cloudscome. I'll go with that...

I did my college papers much the same way you did, Liz.
With my current writing, though, I found a deadline to be paralyzing. I think it would be different if I really knew what I was up to when I started, but I was still in a foggy muddle even after the deadline passed. Now I'm working without a deadline and it is much much better for me -- though now that I kind of understand the WIP, a deadline might be a good idea again.

I'm dying to know about that WIP. Foggy muddle and all....

You have described me to a T (or tea), Liz! Even now, at this very moment, when I should be hustling in to school to finish interim reports which go home "the week of April 14" (read, "FRIDAY!"), I am doing a little blog reading. It's hopeless. And it's dangerous. Someday I'll pay for this procrast-ilence, but it hasn't happened yet so I keep pushing the envelope of last minute-ness.

Yours in Touching Deadlines With Our Toes,
Mary Lee

Touching deadlines with our toes. How'd you make it sound so inspired, Mary Lee???

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Relax, Laura. I don't want to be responsible for giving you heartburn. You write early and fast and I'll carry on toward May 1st....

I'm the nerd who starts two months early! But for just one day I'd like to be happily distracted like you -- and not be type-A. It's a curse to be this way sometimes - and to get interrupted while working?? I'm the WORST about that, but I digress.


You guys! I'm so intrigued. None of us are in the middling middle. We're all extremists!!! What's up with that???

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