D is for Deadline

A few weeks ago, when I was the Featured Speaker at the UNM Writer’s Conference, part of my talk was about how important it is to establish writing habits.  I went out of my way to explain that there isn’t one way to do this.  I then supplied examples from several professional writers (including myself, from back when I was getting started) who manage to produce  a regular flow of novels and short fiction despite holding down full-time jobs.

Deadline?  Finishing Line?

Deadline? Finishing Line?

Afterwards, one of the people who stopped to chat made an interesting comment: “I really enjoyed your talk, and all the examples you gave.  But isn’t it easier for professional writers to write—even if they have jobs?  After all, they have deadlines to meet.”

I thought this was a really interesting comment because, of course, not all professional writers make their deadlines.  Indeed, a couple of writers have become almost as famous for not making deadlines as for what they produce when they finally deliver the manuscripts in question.

Those writers who do meet their deadlines take into account that life is not predictable and try to set deadlines that allow not only for time to write, but for when the unpredictable happens.  One of my favorite examples was from Ian Tregillis, who not only schedules time to write, but also allows time for life’s ups and downs.  Here’s how Ian put it:

“I also anticipate two non-productive months, so that I have time for revision prior to submission, and also to account for the inevitable month where travel, work deadlines, pets, taxes, and household emergencies conspire to make writing impossible for several weeks.  I’ve found that every single book comes with at least one of those months.”

(Ian Tregillis is the author of the critically acclaimed “Milkweed Triology.”  His current new release is The Rising, book two in his “Alchemy Wars” series from Orbit.  When he’s not writing, Ian holds down a light-weight, full-time job as a physicist at Los Alamos National Labs.)

When I started writing full-time, I also allowed for time for things to go wrong.  I have bittersweet memories of talking with John Douglas at Avon who was my editor both for several of my own books and for the two books I completed for Roger Zelazny: Donnerjack and Lord Demon.  We were trying to work out a schedule for my turning in first Donnerjack, then the book that would become Changer.  I remember saying something along the lines of, “And then it’s going to be around the anniversary of Roger’s death, so I’d better allow time for my breaking down.”  John understood.

In fact, the only time I’ve missed a deadline was when my father died, and even then I was only a few weeks late.

My feeling is that externally imposed deadlines may indeed help some people make time to write.  They might even thrive under pressure, like those people who, in high school and college, leave their term papers to the last minute.  (I always wondered how good those papers turned out and what sort of grades they received, but I never could make myself ask.)

Most people think of deadlines as something imposed from the outside.  This is probably part of the appeal of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo).  Not only is there a deadline imposed, but also there is the sense of belonging to a community of other people all striving to meet that goal.

However, I think that the best deadlines are those imposed by writers themselves.  November would not be the month I’d pick to try to write a novel.  By the end of the month, both Thanksgiving and the build-up to the Christmas holiday season are already cutting into my free time then.

Some people resist setting up deadlines because they can’t bear the sense of failure when they don’t meet them.  However, would these people write more if they didn’t have any reason to push forward, despite the myriad distractions imposed by daily life?  Only they know, but – based on my experience both as a writer and as an English professor (and thus subject to myriad excuses as to why the paper was late, despite the student having known the deadline from the first week of class), I doubt it.

Maybe we need to change the term.  Maybe “deadline” – with the implication of complete failure and death if the goal is not met – needs to be changed to something more inspiring.  How about finishing line?

I’d love to know what you think about deadlines.  Have they helped you?  Hurt you?  Inspired you?  Distracted you?

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11 Responses to “D is for Deadline”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Deadlines are useful for getting things done, but if meeting them is too stressful, you pay a big price afterwards trying to recover.

    Personally, I think my uncle’s advice (“take your worst nightmare for how long it will take and double it”) isn’t a bad idea, especially when you’re doing something you’ve never done before. This especially works with grad school, when (at least in biology) there’s this nightmare slog between when the data’s collected and when it finally starts to mean something and your dissertation takes shape. It helps to realize that a lot of people go through the nightmare and out the other side, because it’s pretty intimidating when you’re in the middle.

  2. henrietta abeyta Says:

    COME ON GAIN DETERMINATION SIR. GO THE DISTANCE LIKE HERCULES DOES, LIVE UP TO YOUR POTENTIAL LIKE BLIND SEER SAYS TO. COURAGE IS THE BIGGEST DEAL OF ANYTHING. ADAPTION IS ANOTHER BIG DEAL WHETHER YOU’RE GETTING USED TO A CHANGE OF YOURSELF OR SOMETHING ELSE. I’M WITH MY GRANDMA IN THE FACT THAT UNDERSTANDING ISN’T WHAT MAKES THINGS BETTER, SOLVING THE PROBLEM IS WHAT HELPS THINGS IMPROVE. IT’S JUST WE ALL HAVE A DIFFERENT CONSCIENCE. SO IT’S GOOD TO STAY OPEN MINDED WHILE DOING YOUR BEST TO BE TOLERANT AND TRY TO BE FLEXIBLE TOO.

    JASMINE OLSON SPEAKING.

  3. Paul Dellinger Says:

    I agree about the usefulness of self-imposed deadlines, even if there is an external deadline. Just set yours earlier than the external one.

  4. henrietta abeyta Says:

    SELF- IMPOSED DEADLINE?? with being disabled I only understand a path’s deadline…. WHAT KIND OF A MOMENT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT DEAR JANE?

    JASMINE OLSON DISABLED BUT ABLE TO LEARN MORE, 26 ON APRIL 30TH TRYING TO GET A BETTER PICTURE OF WHAT THE POINT ABOUT THE TWO KINDS OF DEADLINES YOU’VE RECENTLY MENTIONED IS. WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES???

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      It’s like this…

      A self-imposed deadline is one you make for yourself. For example, I will finish this job by Monday.

      An externally imposed deadline is one someone else gives you. For example: You must have your homework done by Monday.

      Does that help?

  5. David Dunham Says:

    I used to have a comprehensive, fool-proof strategy for meeting deadlines…but the dog ate it.

  6. henrietta abeyta Says:

    SO a path’s deadline, a self-imposed deadline, and an external deadline the key of these three types of deadlines is you’re feeling ready to go farther and you follow through. It’s they don’t arrive in the same way and they come at different times for different reasons. BUT THEY ALL DO WITH DECISIONS.

    DOES THIS SOUND LIKE A CLOSE EXPLANATION JANE?

    JASMINE OLSON

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      That sounds like a very good explanation, Jasmine.

      I’ll add to it that if someone isn’t feeling “ready to go farther” and “follow through” then that person needs to consider why he or she is on the path.

      Learning that could be as glorious as completing the project.

  7. henrietta abeyta Says:

    YES REASONING ABOUT MY OWN PATH BECAME MUCH EASIER WITH THE MESSAGES I’VE FOUND AFTER MY THREE YEARS IN THE LIFE PROGRAM 19 YR. OLD TO 22 YR. OLD. IT WASN’T UNTIL I WAS 23 DID I START TO GAIN SKILLS TO REALIZE THE PATH I TOOK DURING CHILDHOOD WAS ACTUALLY SENSIBLE DESPITE THE EXTREMELY HIGH HOPE TEACHERS HAVE EVEN IF YOU’RE LUCKILY FUNCTIONAL THOUGH I HAVE AUTISM AND EPILEPSY PLUS MY EYE PROBLEM THAT CLASSMATES LAUGHED AT (EYES THAT JIGGLE IF STRESSED, HOWEVER IT’S NEVER MEANT TO HAPPEN PLUS I WAS BORN BLIND FIRST)

    IN THE NEED OF self-acceptance and self-encouragements I sure believe it’s the wolves who help me hold these 2 essential needs endlessly I always felt nervous in school, but after the LIFE PROGRAM the fiction wolves have been teaching me enough to finally hold faith and self-respect endlessly too.

    Being nervous so daily at school wasn’t at all because I didn’t believe in friends, no! part one was I was first home schooled with how much school teachers misunderstood my disabilities as well as my behavior. It’s my Grandma HENRIETTA who taught me how to disagree calmly. I have so much patience to reach any goal that the teachers thought I looked careless but no fear was what I had to control around higher functioning classes in the halls. I never knew if I would be treated in rough ways or laughed at instantly with how much special ed people are misunderstood by hundreds of other people.

    I DON’T DO IT ANYMORE WITH THE GOOD THINGS I’VE LEARNED FROM THE WOLVES WHICH IS NICE, I REALLY DON’T LIKE TO SCARE ANYONE AT ALL, BUT DURING CHILDHOOD I WAS NERVOUS AND CONFUSED ENOUGH TO POUT AT SCHOOL WHILE WALKING IN THE LONG HALLS. TODAY I CAN FINALLY REPRESS MY NEGATIVE EMOTIONS.

    I’M the opposite of what my 3 disabilities make me look like I want peace, it’s a big surprise to me the multiple ways the people who know me well mention my rare friendliness.

    LOYAL, PLEASANT, AIDE GOOD AT CONCENTRATING, EXPERT, RARE UNEXPECTED COMFORT, once in a while with things like organization of office stuff some say IF YOU FEEL LIKE NO ONE ELSE HAS THE SKILLS WELL THIS ONE CAN HELP YOU, I’m gentle enough even when I stand close quietly watching a classmate who has worse disabilities a teacher may say WOW HE/SHE FOLLOWED YOU BUT DIDN’T WANT TO LISTEN TO ME, YOU UNDERSTAND ME IN WAYS OTHERS DON’T.

    LEADERSHIP ISN’T WHAT MAKES ME SMILE, THE UNNOTICED POSSIBILITY OF IMPROVEMENT IS WHAT BRINGS ME GLADNESS DURING HARD WORK.

    As long as I’m with a safe person I LIVE AND LET LIVE!!

    JASMINE OLSON RATHER THAN LIVING IN THE PAST, JUST EXPLAING A POSITIVE CHANGE THAT DID MORE WITH LEARNING, THAN REACHING THE FINISH LINE, MOSTLY EXPRESSING HER AGREEMENT WITH JANE LINDSKOLD’S ADDITION TO HER EXPLANATION OF DEADLINES.

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