Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wednesday’s Writing: What’s Your Deadline Style?

woman typingOne of the problems with earning a living as a writer is that you can't just quit everything and sit down the write the book of your heart. There are other writing commitments to be fulfilled, and while you may sneak a few pages of them here and there to pad out your NanoWriMo novel scores, the fact is that, as a professional writer, you have to meet deadlines.

Ironically, my first book, Judgement By Fire, took about ten years to be finished, all because of deadlines for other writing! Fortunately, I learned to write faster and focus better, and the second suspense novel, Winters & Somers, flew off the printer in about eight months. Other novels have germinated and gestated in their own time - Marrying Money just wrote itself, Resort to Murder flowed gently but steadily, The No Sex Clause paused only when I had to stop to laugh at the romantic comedy, Another Man's Son changed character with each new draft...

You do know where the word deadline comes from, eh? During the American Civil War, when it wasn't possible to set up properly fenced prisoner-of-war camps, a line was drawn in the dirt, and prisoners were warned that if they stepped over that line, they'd be considered to be trying to escape and would be shot. And they were. Hence, deadline.

There are days when, struggling to the end of a project, I can deadliner blogimagine one of my publishers or writing service clients, perched up in a tower with a gun aimed at my heart, muttering "You'd better get over that deadline, girlie, or I shoot!” Enough to bring a writer out in a cold sweat!

The funny thing is that I worked as a staff journalist on a daily newspaper covering the crime beat and features work for years. Deadlines were always tight, and family and friends understood that a story was breaking and I couldn't stop to chat, or cook dinner, or whatever. If it took working until 4 am to get the story out (and we started work at 8 am) then that's what we did. Even pulling all-nighters around events like elections.

But when I went freelance, my deadline style changed. Suddenly, I was putting off doing work to the last minute. I'd sign a contract and then happily work on other things until the diary told me I'd better get this story done - or else! It seemed I needed the pressure of an imminent deadline to actually buckle down and work. I tried to blame other people, because when you work from a home office it can be hard to convince people that you're really working when they feel like dropping by for a visit, or suggest an outing.

But the real problem lay with me. I realized after a time that there was no-one, like a fire-breathing editor, actually setting deadlines for me. It seemed I could only function under pressure!

I've learned to live with that, and still get a rush from that last-minute, up-to-the-wire adrenalin rush of deadline pressure.

What's your deadline style? Leave a comment about how you handle deadlines!

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