I’m sure you’ve all heard the story about the woman who gave up work and then complained that she never got anything done any more – because she didn’t have a lunch hour to fit it into!
This may ring a few bells with many people, but I’m thinking particularly of writers. Sometimes when you are up to your ears in all the other “stuff” of life, the prospect of having oodles of time to spend writing your novel seems like pure luxury. But if you are suddenly in that position, like the woman who gave up work, your whole mindset changes. First, you think: before I start, I have to a) put the washing on, b) buy a new notebook, c) take the dog for a walk, d) make a phone call I’ve been putting off for ages, e) tidy my desk etc etc. I even heard of one writer who had a sudden compulsion to dust her skirting boards before she could possibly start work, though I have to say that has never occurred to me! There is something about the knowledge that you have all day to write your next chapter that makes it seem less urgent, somehow.
On the other hand, deadlines have a horrible habit of creeping up on you, so that before you know what’s happened, you have hardly any time left in which to do the work in hand, whether it’s finishing your first draft, redrafting for the umpteenth time, or submitting the finished manuscript to your editor. (I won’t count correcting proofs or doing the dreaded Tax Return, since those tasks don’t generally require creative thought. At least, in the case of the latter, it shouldn’t!) You’ve been putting it off and putting it off, and then suddenly the date looms and it’s a mad panic at the last minute. Now is no time for dusting skirting boards – now it’s nose down till the deadline. Only then can you sit back and relax (possibly with a glass of wine) in relief at having done the job.
There is nothing like a deadline for concentrating the mind.
I have recently experienced two examples of very short deadlines, brief moments I’d thought were too short to do anything in, which actually proved to make all the difference.
For months I’d been struggling with the third book in my current trilogy. Books 1 and 2 were ready for publication, but Book 3 was really bugging me. I’d been working on it for weeks, but it still wasn’t gelling and I couldn’t work out why.
Then one morning I’d had loads of other (non-writing) jobs to do, so by the time I got to my computer I had one brief hour to spend on it before I had to do something else. Part of me thought “What’s the point of that? I won’t get anything done in an hour!”
But amazingly enough, by the time that hour was up, I could see my way forward. I had jettisoned half the original plot and come up with a much better one which actually made more sense. Result!
The second example was sparked by an email from one of my regular editors, asking me for a new story for early readers – within 5 days! (I know she only wanted a short story with a limited word count, but even so, it had to be a proper story, together with suggestions for the illustrations!) My mind went a total blank, and I couldn’t think of a single idea. So I decided that on the deadline morning I would email my editor and say “Sorry, no story this time.”
However, on the deadline morning I happened to wake up half an hour before my alarm went off. And as I lay there in the dark, thinking, suddenly I had an idea for a plot.
I worked on the story all morning, and by lunchtime it was finished, and I really liked it. So instead of sending my editor an apologetic email I sent her a completed manuscript. I have no idea whether it will eventually be accepted, but at least I now have another story in my "bank". And the point is, it was that unexpected half-hour that gave me the “light bulb moment”. Which is always a good feeling.
So next time I am facing an impossible deadline, instead of thinking of it as an impossible deadline, I must remember to think of it as a small window of opportunity.