Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sometimes, Deadlines are nice

I posted this on my own blog, but thought that it was worthy of ADR3NALIN3--enjoy!

Hello, my name is Jamie, and I'm a Procrastinator.

Whew. There, I said it.

Tis true, I am a procrastinator. Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you that I put things off (mowing the lawn, washing the car, doing the dishes) till the last final minute. I've always been this way, as far back as I can remember. 

Growing up, I used to put off homework and chores until I was on the verge of getting in trouble. Which sounds like a crazy thing, I know--letting yourself get in trouble for not doing something you've had plenty of time to do. But, that was me. If I could let it wait, I let it wait.

Now, several years later (yes, I'm old), I find that I still procrastinate. I've also found that I actually like it.

Don't get me wrong. I've since learned that putting off things like the lawn and the car and the dishes makes for much more tedious and time-consuming chores, so I tend to bite the bullet and get right to those (don't we all just love doing the dishes? lol). But for my writing, sometimes being under a deadline actually helps me. Let me explain.

We all have things in our lives that get in our way, right? Whether its family drama, financial issues, TV shows (hey, don't judge me!)...We can't stop life from stepping in front of home plate and blocking our Grand Slam. And if you happen to be a writer, you know exactly how easy the daily ins and outs of our lives can create a debilitating form of Writer's Block. Something as simple as a family member having a run of bad luck can bitch-slap your muse and send her running for cover, leaving you with a blank slate on the creative front. Then you're left sitting in front of a computer (or notebook) frustrated as hell, begging the words to come.

I've found that the one thing that helps me bring out those words, no matter what, is a deadline. When you have a deadline (whether it's a personal one, or one set by an agent/editor/publisher), you realize one thing rather quickly: You don't have a choice but to write. You have to block out those daily stresses--turn off the TV, leave your cell phone in another room (on silent mode!), try not to dwell on that family member's drama--and focus solely on your characters, your plot, the world you've created. You have to let all that other stuff go, at least for now, and get those ideas in your head onto the screen or paper. They're still there, those ideas. They haven't gone anywhere; they're just waiting patiently for you to get to them. A deadline speeds up that process.

Another thing I've found out about myself? I tend to turn out some pretty decent work when a deadline looms over my head.

Don't get me wrong, I turn out some pretty bad stuff, too. But some of it is really good. Whether it's an entire chapter, a scene, or even a single line of dialogue--there are gems hidden in the muck that I am proud to say I wrote. And that's a great feeling.

This realization about myself was a sudden one--sort of. I just figured it all out about two weeks ago, when my deadline for the "final" draft (before going to the final editor, who will undoubtedly be sending it back for yet another round of edits) of BLOOD AWAKENING (book 2 in The Blood Prophecy trilogy) was due. The last week of my deadline, I was under some severe personal stress and just could not focus. I know that if you are a writer, you've experienced this at least once. It's a crushing feeling, knowing that not only are you letting down those waiting on you (an editor, an agent, a publisher, a critique partner), but you're letting yourself down as well. And that crushing feeling only adds to the stress you were already under, compounding your problem. Such a viscous circle!

My final deadline week nearly over, I did the only thing I could--I asked my publisher for more time. It's not something you want to do, but sometimes it's unavoidable.  I'm lucky in that my publisher understands the process of creating, and how fickle and unpredictable it can be. She allowed me time (within reason, of course) to get through my edits and make my ms as great as I could. It was nice knowing that I could take as much time as I needed to push through, but I also knew that if I took, say, an extra month, I would just put it off and put it off until, thirty days later, I'd be in the same boat. 

So I asked for an extra week. That's all, one week. My publisher obliged, and I got my butt to work. 

And that week was just what I needed. 

I suddenly figured out the solutions to some of the bigger problems in my ms. I was able to pull some things out that needed to be cut, and add in things that were missing. I fixed some plot holes, added in some tension, and helped smooth out the overall tone of the story. It was a great week. Not only because I finished my edits, but also because I was able to take a step back from some of the personal issues I was stressing over, which allowed my brain to figure out how to deal with/fix them. That extra week was a fruitful one.

This all means that I have discovered I am one of those people who actually thrive on deadlines. I will put things off till the last minute, then buckle down and super-focus until it's done. 

And I'm okay with this--happy about it, actually.

So I've decided that even though I have deadlines set by my publisher (we've already mapped out when drafts of my next few books are due), I'm going to take it one step further and set my own deadlines. I'm going to do my best to set a deadline for each process of writing a book (outlining, plotting, characterizations, etc.). I'm also going to do my best to stick to them. 

Because now I know that deadlines are what I need.

What about you guys? Do deadlines make you cower with fear? Or do you tend to face them head-on?


Michelle said...

I'm with you, Jamie- terrible procrastinator, works much better with deadlines. Although this year I overcommitted, and the deadlines stacked up to an extent that I had to request extensions for the first time ever! There's another lesson in there somewhere...

Jordan Dane said...

I like working against deadlines too. Juggling a heavy schedule is a challenge that I'm used to from my old energy trader days or even my college years when I volunteered time on top of a full schedule to enhance my resume.

I just got back from a writers conference in Anaheim where three of us spoke on the panel topic of Feeding the Writer's Soul--about focusing on the important things & relieving stress. In our research, I learned a lot & have implemented changes too. I feel more in control. It feels great.

We'll be posting that info on ADR3NALIN3 soon.