Deadlines — a love/hate relationship

I’m not a last-minute kinda gal. In more than 25 years as a professional writer, I’ve never missed any deadlines. I said that in an interview this afternoon and heard an appreciative “Whoa!” on the other end of the phone. And then there’s this blog: I’m at Day 338 of my writing streak and seriously contemplating taking Day 366 off. Maybe. Check back with me in a month.

deadlines make the writerBut deadlines, yeah, I take them seriously—whether they’re self-imposed or client-driven. That’s why this week has been so stressful for me (and, yikes!, it’s only Wednesday). I’ve already turned out two projects, any one of which would have been a good week’s work, and I have a third deadline coming up fast. I cannot wait until my weekend starts, sometime midafternoon on Saturday.

Writers and deadlines

My first 90-Day Writing Challenge starts on April 1st, and we held our kickoff webinar this afternoon. The intrepid writers who’ve stepped up to this particular plate all happen to be veterans of my 5×15 Writing Challenges. But writing for five days in a row and writing for 90 days in a row—very different animals.

One of the things that’s helped keep my streak alive for lo these many months has been my commitment to post a blog every damn day. Seth Godin calls daily blogging the best business decision he’s ever made; that’s more than enough endorsement for me. I created a self-imposed deadline and I committed to it publicly. I know my writers are fired up about the challenge—even though I gave them an easier option of writing only Monday through Friday for the next 90 days, most of them are determined to go wire-to-wire with daily writing. I suggested they add a deadline with a public commitment to help keep them on track.

So do most writers love deadlines or hate them? The answer appears to be Yes.

“Without deadlines writers tend to NEVER STOP WORKING, therefore I think deadlines are pretty important.”

That’s Chris Baty, the creator of National Novel Writing Month, quoted in an unsigned Writers’ Digest article.

Novelist Rita Mae Brown has a less rosy view of them:

“A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.”

And animosity toward deadlines is by no means a modern invention. Nineteenth century French writer Émile Zola:

“One forges one’s style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines.”

[The Brown and Zola quotes come from this Goodreads roundup.]

Searching two of my favorite books about writing—Stephen King’s On Writing and Steven Pressfield & Shawn Coyne’s The War of Art—I only found the word once in each. King mentions that fear of deadlines may be responsible for most of the bad writing in the world. And Pressfield doesn’t use the word at all; it appears in the Foreword by screenwriter Robert McKee:

“Pressfield, that devil, asked me to write this foreword against a deadline, knowing that no matter how much I stalled, eventually I’d have to knuckle down and do the work.”

And of course, there’s Douglas Adams, perhaps most famous as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
As for me, I’m not fond of deadlines whooshing past my head. I prefer to meet them face-to-face, with a hearty handshake and a cup of tea.
Sixteen hours ’til my next deadline. Guess I’d better get back to work.

Your creativity called. It wants to be taken seriously. Join us.

Steven Pressfield on practice and life

Steven Pressfield knows from practice. His daily writing practice has taken him from broke taxi driver in New York to the cushy oceanside life of a best-selling novelist in California. No doubt he could coast through the rest of his life without writing another word.

Well, he could—if his writing was about making money. But listen to this:

“If somebody says to me, ‘Steve, you’re going to live to be 97.8 years old. Are you going to be writing the last day of your life?’ I’d say yes. And I don’t give a shit if it sells or not.”

Because it’s not about the achievement. It’s about the practice:

“I’m in it, like, someone will say you have a meditation practice. And meditation is about ‘sitting,’ as they say in the Zen world. Right? The practice is about the sitting; it’s not about achieving enlightenment. It’s not about an object. It’s about the doing of something every day.”

These quotes come from his interview with James Altucher, host of one of my favorite podcasts, The James Altucher Show. It took Altucher two years to land Pressfield as a guest; the result—a two-hour, two-part episode—was worth the wait.

Practice: “It’s not a habit”

Steven Pressfield talks with James Altucher about practicePressfield has a lot to say about persistence, rejection, success, golf (he wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance), and writing (he also wrote The War of Art, a book creative types love).

Listen to the whole thing if you can. But what struck me most happened about 25 minutes into the second part of the interview, when he talked about daily practice.

“I have a trainer at the gym and I was saying to him, ‘This is a habit, getting here every day.’ And he said, ‘It’s not a habit. This is your life.’ And at some point, that’s what it becomes. A practice becomes, it’s your life, this is what you do…”

The episode popped up on my playlist just a few days before my Jumpstart 2017 writing challenge began. About four dozen writers and would-be writers had taken a deep breath and committed to write for 15 minutes a day, for five days in a row.

We’re on day 3 as I write this and I’m happy to say our attrition rate is near zero. People are interacting, posting encouraging comments on each others’ work. They’re not just building a practice; they’re forming a community. And here’s some of what they have to say:

“I can’t tell you how helpful this is.”

“I really feel I am finding my voice.”

“Great to get in the habit of creating on a daily basis.”

“…wrote for 18 minutes. What was astounding was being in the middle of noise and chaos yet I felt like it was just about the writing.”

“What a gift.”

I’ve done a lot of good things in 2016, but I have to say creating this challenge may be one of the best. Practice, practice, practice—it’s not about getting to Carnegie Hall. It’s about getting to the core of who you are.