Tag Archives: Deadlines

Grab Bag

As the title suggests, this is going to be a bit of a grab-bag of thoughts I’ve had while getting back to work on the current WIP. (Which still lacks an actual title. Hmm.) I was going to follow on from writing a bit about the TV adaptation of American Gods last week by writing about the TV Handmaid’s Tale this week, but I’m not the best person to talk about it and I’m not sure that I have anything especially noteworthy to say at this point anyway. Except I guess that if you haven’t been watching it, you should a) brace yourself and b) go watch it, because it’s quite well done.

I am, as summer reluctantly comes to my part of the world, trying to get back at working on my current project somewhat systematically, with the aim (still?) being to have a complete first draft done by the fall. Part of what I’m trying to figure out is how I can make writing a scheduled part of my routine. I do much better with a lot of stuff when I have a plan to always do it at X time on whatever days of the week than when I just try to figure out when it gets done on the fly. This isn’t just the case for writing, it’s how I get myself to the gym and get my running done and a lot of other stuff. If I leave the time for things vague, they live in an eternal ‘later’, never getting actually taken care of. If I have in my mind that I do this (say) every morning starting at 9, then something takes place.

I don’t at all suggest that this is some iron rule for how to Be an Effective Writer, because that would be advice, and mostly I think everyone needs to figure out their own methods and process that works for them anyway. Some people probably do need to write every day, some people work well with specific word targets per week, some people need to Go To A Place and Work There. Despite (although also in some part because of) all the earnestly written declarations on how to Do Authoring, I think there’s no universal formula and you just gotta figure out what leads to you getting words on the page and then unapologetically do that. Of course that’s not an easy thing to figure out, but neither is trying to contort yourself to fit someone else’s process. I think I have a ‘morning writing’ thing going on now and we’ll see how that works.

Part of what caused me some difficulty recently (along with all kinds of Real Life stuff, and then also just being very tired) was the disappearance of a deadline. I’ve mentioned before that I work very well when I have a deadline (I do not miss deadlines) and that part of the adjustment from being a student to being basically employed by me post-education is not having deadlines imposed on me. Again, that eternal ‘not now, but soon’ becomes very attractive. I’m getting better at working without deadlines but if I’m being honest what I also do is seize on things that I can use as a deadline to restore that familiar motivation.

For this WIP, I had decided that I wanted to have it ready to pitch to the agent Guest of Honour that will be coming to this year’s Can*Con SFF conference in Ottawa, which seemed a solid idea. (Brief aside – I am on the programming team for Can*Con, we’ve got some very exciting stuff planned for this October, and you should definitely come if you can. All the details are not ready to release yet, but you can check out a lot about us here.) Unfortunately, I did the required research and found that she doesn’t rep the kind of thing that I’m working on. Which is of course fine, and of course she’s still an amazing Guest of Honour for Can*Con to have, but her usefulness to me as a deadline suddenly dematerialized, and not a lot got written for a while.

I really need to break myself of this deadline habit.

As I’m writing at the moment, I’m also reading, of course, and right now I’m reading the John Le Carré autobiography I mentioned a while back, and re-reading some William Gibson. They are, I guess obviously, very different writers, but to me they are also similar in that I deeply admire the way they craft with words. They’re both (to me) quite demanding writers, in that their writing requires your attention. Both can get a lot out of a little, conveying things of tremendous importance with a perfectly-chosen word or two, so you really can’t miss anything.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a long time, you’ll remember that there was a time when I tried, very hard, to write like William Gibson, and that it didn’t go very well. I don’t do that any more, but I find reading both him and Le Carré inspirational in the sense of reminding me what is possible to do with words when you put them together right, and to try to push myself to achieve something at least somewhat similar. This isn’t to say that other styles of writing can’t also be effective, can’t also be fun to read, and can’t also be artistic. But I guess the arguably subtler or more intricate mode of operation twangs something inside me just that little bit more, and is the style that I would be most content if I could produce something like. I’m not sure that I’m anywhere in that quadrant of the galaxy, but (all my wittering about struggles with the WIP notwithstanding) I am enjoying the effort.

One of the decisions I made in writing this current WIP was to write it just as I wanted to, to just really let myself use exactly the words I wanted to. I was going to thoroughly ignore the questions of ‘is this the right voice?’ and ‘what kind of audience does this appeal to’? I was just going to write something that pleased me, do it as well as I could, and then see what people thought of it. The basic idea is/was kind of crazy anyway, so if it ended up something that appealed to no-one else but me it wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world. Fortunately for me, what I’ve heard back from the Eager Volunteers and my writers’ circle has so far been very kind and very encouraging, which of course makes me more confident to go on doing things this way. Again, I’m not suggesting this is always the right way to do things, but at the moment it’s having good results for me.

Anyway. I’ve got a little over 30,000 words (much of it non-sequential, of course) written, and if I can get down to this over the summer I should be able to finish my story in time for the autumn. Then I will begin a whole new set of challenges, but that’s something to worry about another day. That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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Deadlines

Today I’m going to write about arguably my biggest problem as a writer, even bigger than the Statler and Waldorf thing. It is something that frustrated my PhD supervisor, and frustrates me no end. I live in hope that it may Go Away, but given that it hasn’t yet, I grope around for coping strategies. I imagine every writer has their issues that they struggle with; more than anything, this is mine.

I don’t like to talk about it because it makes me sound like a huge flake, but it has come back in force the last while and maybe writing this will help. Maybe there will be something here that is useful for someone else. So here we go.

The root of the issue is that I am, many experts would agree, one of the all time champion procrastinators. I can put things off virtually forever, especially if there is no hard deadline. And this is where I really frustrate myself, because if you give me a deadline, I do not miss that deadline. I have never handed in an assignment late, as far as I can remember. When someone says, hey, I need this thing by X day, they get it on X day. So I’m perfectly capable of working at a steady pace and working to a schedule and producing work in a limited amount of time. It’s just that without that deadline, whatever parts of my psyche that I engage to do that stay on idle.

So you’ll probably immediately see why this is a problem for writing, especially freelance writing. There is no deadline for me to finish the new project that I’ve started work on in the last while. So, while it shouldn’t be put off, it theoretically can be, essentially forever. I don’t have to work on it today. Tomorrow will be fine.

This was a problem when I reached a certain stage of my PhD, at which there were no more assignments and no more weekly meetings and no more papers to write. It was just ‘go write your thesis’. Initial progress was, to put it mildly, slow. I did even ask my supervisor to give me a deadline for part of it, which she reluctantly did while explaining that it really didn’t work that way any more.

You reach a point where you have to self-motivate, and self discipline. I found it for the dissertation in the end, and got it done, but it was hard. I had to create a bunch of rules for myself (must be working by X time each day, and work at least until X time) to make it happen. Maybe everyone does that. I needed to.

This is not to say that I don’t love to write. I do. Writing is immensely good for my mood and state of mind, and when I get a good piece of it done, I take a kind of satisfaction from it that I get from literally nothing else. The problem is that I am not good at persuading myself to start writing if I’m not in the mood. If I’m tired. If I’m grumpy. If there’s laundry that needs to be done. Again, somewhat frustratingly, even though I know writing will improve my state of mind, I still tend not to do it if I don’t feel myself in ‘the right mood’ to write.

As a result, I haven’t gotten nearly as much done on the new project as I would like. I know what I want to do next, but I keep waiting for the perfect time to get at it, which means not much has happened. Well, a lot of laundry has gotten done. Not all that much writing.

I have read in a couple of places that this is the primary difference between an amateur and a professional. As someone who takes pride in being a professional in my teaching job, gotta say that stings a little. But it’s probably correct. Like most things, though, recognizing that the problem exists is the first step (got that down). Then you try to work on it, which I am.

It’s ok to not solve our problems (whatever they may be) right away. You do your best, you make a conscious effort to change your behaviour in the way that you want or need it to. Every day. Some days, you’ll screw it up and (say) spend the day shooting aliens instead of writing. That’s ok. Recognize that it wasn’t a good idea, give yourself a break for being human, and do better the next day. Day by day, you get there.

I’ve done this successfully with other issues in my life. Still working on it with some others, the procrastination thing prominent among them. I know I have to get a lot better with it if I’m going to be the best writer I can. Working on it every day.

For this project in particular, I’m going to give myself some help with a coping strategy. For the next week, I have some demands at work that are going to keep me pretty busy. However, I’m going to commit to writing 1,000 words in that time anyway, which I should easily be able to get in around the other stuff.  Then, once these work obligations clear up a bit, we’re back on the 1,000 words a day thing, at least until I build some momentum.

Which means I better go write something.

I’ll let you know how it goes next time.

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