Readers know all about time travel – you sit down with a good book, and before you know it, a whole afternoon has passed in the blink of an eye! And through the medium of fiction, you are magically transported to another time, another place, perhaps another world. (Who needs a TARDIS?)
It’s the same for writers, of course. “I’ll just spend a few minutes editing this paragraph,” you say to yourself, and when you next look up, you realise you’ve missed a meal/an important appointment/a whole day. We all know there’s nothing quite like the feeling, when the writing is going really well, of leaving the everyday behind and being totally immersed in your fictional world. [NB: Social media is also an extremely effective way for writers to hurtle through a few hours at great speed!]
There is a flip side for writers: whilst time flies when there’s an approaching deadline, it positively crawls when you’re awaiting a response to a submission, or the outcome of a story competition, or – joy of joys! – publication day. [NB: Or indeed payment…but I hesitate to add that, for fear of sounding mercenary, and not having the right attitude to the true rewards of the creative process!] Writers also experience a distortion in time as often the fruits of their labours are not evident until long after the labour itself. (Sometimes long, long, long after the labour itself.) Recently I’ve had two short stories appear in print, and had another placed in a competition – so to the outside world, all seems busy, busy, busy in my writing world. But in each case, the writing process itself took place many moons ago. Writing is created from not just inspiration but anticipation – thinking ahead to future competitions, and planning in advance for seasonal submissions.
Yesterday was National Writing Day – I’m ashamed to say I didn’t honour the day with any writing-related activities of my own. I…erm….didn’t have the time. Presumably in some parallel universe, it’s National Writing Day right now. Hmmm, if I could just find my TARDIS…
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. 🙂