I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines.
If you make me wait to finish something until just before a deadline, then I hate them. Sometimes this plays out at my day job, when I need some final information from someone else before I can submit a grant proposal. I accept that others are busy and that this is my reality, but it Drives. Me. Crazy. Me, a control freak? Whatever do you mean?
If you let me plan and organize and beat my deadline by a couple of days, or a week, then I am happy. And, in that case, I love deadlines. Because they make me get things done, let me check a task off a to-do list, give me a feeling of completion and satisfaction. While I was doing the at-home-mom, working-on-my-own-fiction thing, I essentially had no deadlines. Oh, sure, yes, you have 18 years to get your kid Ready to Move Out, but guess how quickly you realize that is very much out of your control? And you want to publish a book SOMEDAY, but someday is not a deadline.
August 31, 2017 is a deadline.
That’s the date when I find out if I get into the writing program I applied for. It’s a mentorship program, and they decide based on your first 20 pages and a couple of other items. If they reach out on August 31 and tell you that you’re accepted, then on September 1st, you send the whole manuscript.
I’d been working on this book for a while, had a couple of complete drafts, and was in the middle of another, and I pretty much knew the bare bones path to the end. But I had been waffling around that middle, spending way too much time on deciding whether my hero was going to do X or Y and whether I was going to bring in this side plot rf that one or neither, things like that.
With the deadline, I stopped waffling. I spent approximately two minutes thinking about any decision, then I made a choice. Doubts, fears, nasty little voices–I pushed them aside. Questions about what should happen in the next scene got answered by what taking one more look at what happened in the last one, and moving on. Sometimes that meant picking up the next scene five minutes after the last, sometimes it meant skipping forward some days. When the You-Call-that-Pacing? demon raised its head, and, oh, it did, I pushed it back down. I basically played Whack-a-Worry and kept writing.
And I met the deadline. I met it the way I like best, three weeks early.
Is the book good? Oh, h*ll, I have no idea. Is it better than the last versions? In terms of telling a story from beginning to end, coherently and in a comprehensible sequence? Yes. In terms of depth and writing and impact. Probably not. Are there holes and missing layers and characters who showed up too little or not at all? Definitely. Is my hero active enough and driving himself forward with a character-driven plot. Not yet.
Did I get more work done and make more progress in the past few months than I had in the past two years?
And that’s the power of a deadline. That is the love part of my love/hate relationship. And the reminder is the first gift (hopefully not the last) that this writing program has given to me.