What I Learned About Deadlines
It’s been an amazing five days. Suspense writers are some of the most supportive and kind people I know. I’m grateful to be part of this community. Rick Pullen, Cate Holahan, and S.B. Woodson inspired me with their dedication to the craft, perseverance in the face of adversity and generosity of spirit. To cap off this back-to-school week, today is the master class with my wonderful fellow Miss Demeanors. My question for them was: Do you feel anxious when a deadline is looming? If so, do you have any tricks for maintaining sanity? They had great advice, and gave me a fresh perspective. Thank you! Here’s the cheatsheet with full answers below: (1) Welcome deadlines as a sign you’re living the life of a writer.(2) Celebrate small victories along the way.(3) Get some sleep.(4) Meditate.(5) Take a walk, bike ride or a run.(6) Eat what makes you happy.(7) Prioritize writing over everything else. Paula: I started off as a reporter, so I’m used to deadlines. But the time frame for those stories is much shorter, as the stories (and their shelf life) are much shorter. When you’re writing a book, it’s one long sustained deadline punctuated by interim deadlines that can last years. The pressure ebbs and flows somewhat as you meet each of these interim deadlines, but it never goes away until the book is published. The shelf life of a book is far longer than that of a news story, so you have to live with your mistakes for far longer–at least until the first reprint. That’s why it’s important to celebrate every deadline you meet along the way. Rewards–from a glass of wine to a trip to Italy–are how I deal with the stress.
And then it’s on to the next book. Tracee: Hmmm. Sadly I work well under pressure. I say sadly because that prevents me from getting way ahead of the ball and never feeling a deadline again. I think that this harkens back to architecture school where no matter how far along your project is, there is always more to do. One more drawing, more detail on the model. It’s the same for me and writing. When the deadline approaches I feel my mind jump into high gear and want to make vast improvements, which only makes the deadline shorter. Tricks for sanity? Remember it’s normal, it’s the end of a big project and keep Benadryl on hand. My biggest problem is shutting down for a good night’s sleep, which is mandatory and Benadryl is my not-so-secret weapon. Alexia: Yes, always. The panic of a too rapidly approaching deadline is a big motivator for me. I binge on food that would make a frat boy’s diet look healthy, I cancel/ignore most social engagements, I cut back on FB posts (I’d cut them out but FB scolds me when I do), I don’t check the news (if the Apocalypse happens I won’t hear about it until my deadline passes) and I don’t check email. If I didn’t have to go to work, I wouldn’t leave the house. Susan: I like deadlines because I think they kick your brain into high gear, but they do make me anxious. I try to make them manageable by breaking them into small pieces. Finish first 50 pages by this date, next 50 by that date. And so on. But that doesn’t always work. I also do what I can to reduce the other pressures in my life. I subsist on take out. But I keep taking walks. That’s the one thing that keeps me sane. You have to walk away from your desk. Also, take a minute or two to enjoy the deadline–if you have one, it means you’re doing something right! Robin: Deadlines don’t make me anxious. It’s the life I signed up for so I welcome them. That said, a few minutes of meditation can help calm the mind and body to regain energy. If that fails, a walk or a bike ride somewhere away from people can be restorative. I’ll echo what Paula said, too. Rewards for little milestones then a big fat reward for completion are always in order. Then it’s time to get back to work – on the next book, a promotion plan, or both. Michele: I thrive on deadlines. I should wear a tee shirt that says, “Works Well Under Pressure.” All of the professions I have worked in required me to be able to deal with crises, so I may be one of those people who is adrenalin-addicted. Having said that, maybe not so much anymore as I “mature”, although I did wait until the last minute to answer the question of the week. Cate: I like deadlines. I think they help keep us on track. I make up deadlines for myself in addition to the ones that my publisher provides. If you’re still looking for a little inspiration, check out Martha Beck’s blog on writing (even with a crayon) at http://marthabeck.com/2017/03/stop-doubting-start-writing/