In Praise of Deadlines

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Deadlines generally get a bad press – at best they are seen as a necessary evil, at worst, a stress-inducing, night-sweat, panic attack horror sent from Beelzebub.

Now, I am a procrastinater of the highest order.  When I have a writing project to be finished (or..ahem….even started…), I can find a hundred and one other tasks which absolutely have to be done before I set down to work.  My mother used to call these writing-avoidance strategies “pencil sharpening”.  Sit down at your writing desk, survey the mess and decide that before you do anything else, you have to re-organise your filing system, clear the decks and…oh, yes….sharpen those pencils.  Even though you write directly onto your laptop…

But give me a deadline and things are different.  I don’t mean a nice dim and distant deadline.  Something in the diary for next month which allows you to plan your word count every day and set your targets.  No, these are far too easily forgotten about.  Where’s the urgency in next month?  I mean a proper DEADLINE.  Like next week, tomorrow…or best yet, for the writers’ group meeting tonight!  Now, that’s a deadline.

What happens?  Well, first there’s the rabbit-in-headlights moment.  Mind goes blank.  Can’t remember how to string a sentence together, let alone think up some characters and a plot.  Then there’s the got-to-write-something half an hour of complete tosh, which you end up deleting.  And then magically, just when you thought that was it – you were going to have to admit defeat, you were going to miss the deadline – that’s when the ta-da moment arrives.  A tiny worm of a story wriggles into your mind.  Maybe just a scene, or a title, or a piece of dialogue.  You jot down the first line.  The words start to fall onto your page faster and faster.  And lo, without even noticing, within an hour, you have the bare bones of something special.  From then, it’s easy, because the story has taken root and is growing without any conscious effort on your part.  The only problem is you can’t type quick enough.

You know those moments – they begat stories which stick in your mind long after you’ve finish the final edits.  They may be few and far between, but maybe that’s just because we need more deadlines to focus the mind.   🙂

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