How many of us have laughed, sometimes a little bitterly, at the little sign saying, “Deadlines: I love the sound they make as they go zooming past?” Or “If it wasn’t for the last minute, I’d never get anything done.”

Yes. We writers feel that a lot, either because of contract deadlines, tax deadlines, or self-imposed sales and publications deadlines. The threat of a hard time limit can be wonderfully inspiring, or it can turn a brain to mush. I tend to fall into the latter category, or used to. The words, “You have five minutes to finish your paper,” caused all cerebral function to cease. I might as well hand in what I had, or print it and turn it in, because the connection between hand/hands and brain had just been severed.

I’m a little better now. Now I just whimper and keep writing. This is in part because I learned that I had to be able to keep an idea in mind and resume writing when I had a chance, otherwise nothing got done. Fiction or non-fiction, dropping the train of thought was not an option. And it was hard to learn. But deadlines are deadlines. There’s nothing like “If you don’t finish by X date and have a signed publication contract, you have to pay back [large amount of money] plus three percent interest” to concentrate one’s mind. It was good training for fiction.

So, what do you do when you want lemonade and Life hits you with two eggplants wrapped around a large cinder-block wall? Running around in a small circle, waving one’s hands in the air and screaming is sometimes a good short-term answer, but not a long-term solution.

  1. Build wiggle room into your project if you can. This isn’t always possible when you are writing to a contract with a deadline, or revising to contract.
  2. Set a time (minutes or hours) per day to write. It can be a solid chunk (ideal) or grabbed over the course of the day. This is best for when you are at a stage that tolerates short bursts of concentration.
  3. Acknowledge that life has clobbered you, at least for the short-term. You are not SuperWriter. Family, faith, bad life rolls, they can take priority and often should. Don’t beat yourself up for not writing when you are recovering from a car wreck, or other accident, or major life shift (good or not so good). Things happen. Heck, Christopher Nuttall is recovering from the big C and he’s still managing to produce something, even if it is not at his usual pace. We all have times when we just can’t juggle another flaming chainsaw. Four at a time is the limit.
  4. Get you priorities set. Right now, it is Day Job, family, music, writing. My family knows that one of my Day Job commitments will peak in a week, and that the concerts would soak up all free time for a week. So I made myself focus on Day Job, then family, music, and then write when I could. It eased some of the stress.
  5. Make use of what you do get. An ounce of self-discipline will sustain a lot of writing. Even a few hundred words a day, on a few different projects, will lead to a place where you can finish, edit, and launch several things in relatively quick succession.
  6. Write down ideas, scene bits, and other short nibbles. You will have them on hand, and you may find that several can be worked into something. Let your subconscious (or Muse) stew for a while and you may come back stronger than before.
  7. Get rest. Things happen, and your mind and body need space to rest and recover, recharge and heal. Sleep. Eat as well as you can. Take a few minutes and go somewhere quiet, look at flowers and trees, or just find a place on the ‘Net with beautiful nature pictures and rest your mind.
  8. You are not SuperWriter. Life will happen, so take a deep breath, deal with the big things, and then the small things.
  9. And always, always, back up your work. Don’t let a hard drive failure on your writing computer take out ten years and more of work. On-site and off-site backup, using someplace that won’t claim your work. *glowers at a certain large free data storage place*

11 thoughts on “Already?!?

    1. Hang in there. (Easy for me to say, right? I send the kids home at the end of the day, and you get them back 😉 )

  1. *looks up at the whizzing deadlines flying by*

    Yeah. I know, on the one hand, that a lot of the failure to write has been health-related, but on the other paw, I find myself wondering how much is that I have the Day Job, and thus my ability to eat isn’t on the line for getting anything out… so I haven’t set any hard deadlines since the last was interrupted by severe breathing issues. If I’m not accountable… well, it was always hardest to get started on the darned project, not to do it, as many a late night in the computer lab trying to corral scattered research and near-gibberish notes into a coherent report can attest.

    Heck, our life is currently in disarray because something we weren’t expecting to be bureaucratically approved until next May is happening…Monday. So playing catch-up to take advantage of that has seriously disrupted even Peter’s writing for the week. Ah, well. We’ll get everything sorted, done, and back to putting words on page!

  2. There is something to be said for deadlines. Once, I tried to write a scientific paper to submit to a journal. We spent more than six months on that thing from the end of the research to the point where we sent it in. There was always something that could be improved, and really, why shouldn’t we take an extra week or two if it would improve the chances of acceptance? I always preferred conferences where the paper was either ready or not by the deadline: no stringing it along for just a bit longer.

    I can imagine that a similar dynamic could hold in indie: sometimes you really need to hold to your self-imposed deadline, lest another week turn into another month turn into another year turn into never.

  3. Deadlines are difficult when the workscope keeps growing. I continually imagine new characters ,each with a new story arc, theme, antagonist,etc. At this rate, this’ll be a series that’ll make LOTR look like a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version. Can you spell saga? Howza ’bout epic? I knew ya could.

  4. Public off-site backup storage is an option once you read the small print. Having your own private off-site (or even both on and off site backup) may be a better option if you have a friend willing to let you put a drive at their place.

    A plug and play solution like this one is under $150 and well supported:
    WD Blue 3D NAND 250GB PC SSD – SATA III 6 Gb/s, M.2 2280 – WDS250G2B0B

    Not having off-site backup is crazy, fire, water, power glitch or even a break-in and you are in trouble.

    1. I make backups of everything that is actively being changed onto a pair of backup USB sticks, along with a full set of software tools so that I can recreate everything (or enough so that I can continue working while I rebuild). And they’re in my pocket from when I get dressed in the morning until I go to sleep at night, so that when I leave the house, I could rebuild from my pocket sticks (there are two, in case a stick fails).

      And large fast sticks are cheap enough now that they’re relatively affordable, and small enough to always have them with you.

      For example, one of my sticks is SanDisk SDCZ880-256G-G46 Extreme PRO 256GB USB 3.1 Solid State Flash Drive. With 256G, I can keep pretty much everything on it, and it moves data at about 400MB/sec, so even large files can get backed up quickly. And it’s $79 from Amazon — and well worth the security.

  5. I learned I can’t go a day without writing without severe danger of never getting back. That’s when I had a rule that I always had to make up days that I missed with more wordage, but I couldn’t do it in advance.

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