The Shadow Workshop [5]: Joy of deadlines

Part of the 2015 Clarion West Write-a-thon series! Sponsor me, sponsor another writer, or learn more about the Write-a-thon

Returning to my notebook observations after the first Shadow Workshop:

I sometimes put barriers up that are wholly artificial. Like, “I have to finish this thing before I work on this other thing.”

If you’re like me, you’re constantly juggling a lot of different projects all at the same time, and have a to-do list that never seems to end. Right now, sitting here, at the end of Clarion West Week 5, there are at least a dozen different things I ought to be doing, for various intensities of “ought.”

I don’t always mind that, not really. I joke that I like to stay busy because it keeps the existential angst at bay, but actually, yeah, kinda. It’s not entirely a joke. When I was a kid, reading was my go-to minute-by-minute purpose. Nowadays it tends to be something I fit into the margins of my day — bus rides and other wait states.

Everything gets double-parked. I watch videos while cleaning up the house, listen to podcasts and music while walking or doing the more boring type of computer work, plot stories in yoga class. But I still doubt myself. Is this the exact thing I should be doing right at this moment? Is there something better or more important or more useful that I could be doing instead?

That’s why I like deadlines.

A deadline is a non-artificial barrier — finish this deadline thing before working on these other non-deadline things. A deadline gives me focus. I don’t flail around wondering what the best and most important thing to be doing right at this moment would be. Instead, I know what my priorities are — the things that help me meet the deadline. I have a clearly defined course of action with a clearly defined endpoint. Deadlines can be a little stressful, but usually they’re the right kind of stress for me. And if I meet the deadline, victory!

A week ago, I stumbled across the Mothership Zeta call for “fun” stories, realized I had a story that I thought would fit, and resolved to revise and submit before the end of their deadline, which was yesterday. And I made it! Victory!

This victory was facilitated by my Write-a-thon goal to revise and submit a few short works, since I had spent the previous four weeks devoting some time to hunting through my (shockingly poorly organized) computer files trying to identify the latest versions of finished works. (Seriously, past self, what on earth were you thinking?) It meant I knew what I had.

Still, I ended up pushing the deadline more than I anticipated — I thought I would spend a few hours revising the story and send it off later the same day. Instead it took me all week and I got the submission in with only 3 hours left to go, minutes before heading off to another obligation. Part of that is because I couldn’t find the somewhat revised version that I could swear I remembered having worked on, and instead was editing based on a first draft. (Past self, why is your writing so… in need of fixing?) But that’s one of the things about deadlines. It forces a confrontation between what I imagine I can do, and what I can actually do in the time allotted.

It’s possible to spend infinity amount of time revising a story, or zero amount of time revising a story. Somewhere in there, hypothetically, is the “perfect” amount of time revising a story. But unless you have written a perfect story, how will you know you have spent the perfect amount of time revising it?

A deadline answers that question for you.

The actual Clarion West workshop had weekly deadlines for “a story, any story.” But most publications have deadlines too, often for a more specific kind of story — a certain length, a certain sub-genre, containing certain elements.

Both are useful.

It may not always seem that way — but deadlines are good.