Or, Where's a Deadline When You Need One?
Confession: Every book I've written has been finished after I got a request from an editor or an agent. It wasn't a hard-and-fast calendar deadline – but someone was waiting for it, and it wouldn't look good if I took too long.
But what if there's no one out there waiting for your work? Or they don't need that work Right Now?
In addition to my fiction, I've branched out into the world of freelance journalism. I've produced somewhere around 200 articles in the past year and a half – because someone was waiting for them. And still, I fight the demon of procrastination.
I'll start promptly this morning, I say. After I have this cup of coffee with my husband. After I check my e-mail one more time (and this Yahoo headline about Crystal Bowersox). After I have another quick bite to eat, so I can focus. After I write this blog entry. (Yep, you caught me.)
I'll be EARLY on this deadline because if I am, I can have a free day tomorrow to goof off with no deadline hanging over my head.
Doesn't work. That deadline has to be hovering over me like the black shadow of the sword of Damocles before I really buckle down for hours of straight-ahead, non-distracted work.
I know several writers who are now blessed with contracts from publishers, and most of them admit to the same problem. After finishing their latest novel at a hard sprint, they vow to pace themselves better next time. If I start early, they tell themselves, I'll only have to write "X" number of pages a week. But even when they start early, the pace doesn't really pick up until that deadly sword is hanging low. Could be in the last month before that deadline ... could be the last two weeks.
I think the problem is, we writers are Creative Types. And I think the same part of our brains that makes us Creative Types also, perversely, makes us resist Creating until we're darn good and ready.
I've discovered, time and time again, that self-imposed deadlines aren't enough to make me more productive. They fall under that softer, smushier label called "goals." Goals make me feel guilty, make me aware I'm falling short, but so far, the ugly little buggers have never made me turn out a book according to schedule.
What I need, of course, is self-discipline. I looked up "self-discipline" on Dictionary.com (because I'm too lazy to get up and pull my dictionary off the shelf). It's defined as "discipline and training of oneself, usually for improvement." Doesn't tell me much I didn't know – but I find it interesting that the site says the word didn't originate until around 1830-1840.
"Discipline," on the other hand, appears to be a much older concept, dating back to 1175–1225. Two of the nine definitions sounded appropriate to me. One was "behavior and order maintained by training and control."
The other definition: "an instrument of punishment, esp. a whip or scourge, used in the practice of self-mortification or as an instrument of chastisement …"
With that thought in mind, I think I'll get to work.