Sprinting For The Deadline

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
– Douglas Adams

“C’mon, pencil! Make words!”
– SpongeBob SquarePants

Many of us, when faced with a deadline, tend to push it. For some writers, there’s a certain creativity-enhancing rush to be found in putting a story off until the very last minute. College tends to foster this kind of work habit, and after a couple of semesters you may find yourself regularly vanquishing deadlines with the help of the 24-hour pizza delivery joint and Mountain Dew. Other authors may fully intend to work on deadlines at a steady, civilized pace, but they’ve got families and day jobs and emergencies that blast their high-flown intentions to dust like clay pigeons.

I used to feel bad about pushing deadlines, but I decided that’s a waste of emotional energy. I do have a day job that makes it hard to stick to a steady writing schedule, but when you come right down to it, I know I’m a binge writer at heart. Some people can write a book fifteen minutes at a time, in little bits and bobs, but I do better with multi-hour sessions in which the words (hopefully) pour forth.

Still, when people hear you’re a last-minute writer, they tend to think you’re either hopelessly disorganized or a fear junkie. A friend once said to me, “Oh, you have to scare yourself by waiting until the last minute to get your adrenaline going, right?”

Well, not exactly. My first story deadline, yes, that gave me a cold sweat, because I didn’t know for sure that I could actually get the work done. But that first story was a long time ago; I know I can do it now. So deadlines aren’t usually that scary any more.

So why do I, more often than not, find myself tossing down a few cups of coffee and tapping away at 3 am? It’s because I have a noisy mind: thoughts and memories barge in like obnoxious in-laws, my Inner Child whines for ice cream, and worst of all, my Inner Editor glares over my shoulder, critiquing the placement of every comma and clause. Yes, you know the Inner Editor, don’t you? Some famously alcoholic authors started hitting the sauce in an effort to get theirs to just shut the hell up already.

When I’ve had just enough coffee, and am just a bit sleepy, all the cross-talk in my head fades, and I can settle down and get work done. When things are going extremely well, I’m probably inducing a kind of trance state, and I can be extremely productive. (For me, anyway; my best run to date has been 10,000 words over two and a half days, which pales in comparison to Gary Braunbeck’s writing 40,000 words of Mr. Hands over the course of seven days; his Herculean writing binge happened after a series of unfortunate events and a surprise move-of-deadline. And it was not without consequences, namely that he was utterly exhausted afterward. But it helps to know that it can in fact be done.)

So, my biggest fear is that I’ll develop some kind of condition that prevents me from drinking coffee. Tea, much as I love it, just doesn’t cut it, nor do most fancy energy drinks. Besides, coffee has been found to cut the risk of Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, and those are far worse than any missed deadline.

Respect the deadline, and respect the bean. I’ll have mine hot with one sugar and one cream.

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