The Importance of Deadlines
by Elizabeth Blake
Procrastination. What an awful, dreadful, shame-inspiring word.
Yet we all procrastinate. Me especially. It’s all I’ve accomplished lately. And I’ve got a gamut of excuses.
I work the night shift. I’m awake when everyone else is asleep. I struggle to sleep through the sunshine and buzz of everyone’s lively daytime life. Assuming I’m lucky enough to fall sleep in the first place. Sometimes I wake up repeatedly and struggle to scrape together a collective four hours of rest.
When I do rise, the rest of the city is laying down to sleep. Closing time? I’m drinking my morning cup of coffee. My “night cap” comes when everyone else is reaching for their first cup of joe.
Recently, a computer fiasco devoured an entire book, and I struggled to rewrite it. Now I can’t edit because all I can think about are the words I might have missed and that one scene that doesn’t feel right, but I simply can’t snatch the right words from the ether.
So I read instead of editing. I watch Archer reruns instead of writing. I stare at my slumbering dog while debating whether or not to get her up for a stroll at witching hour.
I worked an extra shift this week, and after 70 hours of that chaos, I haven’t felt the spark for writing. I distract myself by spending time and money on cover art for books I clearly won’t get around to writing any time soon.
The worst part? I’m not accountable to anyone. A writer’s life tends to be solitary by nature, and my sleep schedule isolates me further. I’ve gone days without seeing another human being. Which is funny because I live in an overpopulated city. Certainly, no one is going to make me sit down and do my work. (Not that they should: this is solely my responsibility).
Add a recent health scare, and I’m utterly useless.
I was sitting in the cardiologist’s office, paper gown and all, reading their mind-soothing public service announcements. One popped up on the screen, and I swear it had been tailored for me. It declared that people who indulge in habitual procrastination suffer more heart problems. I started laughing, somewhat hysterically, perhaps, but it was hard to argue, given the evidence.
Deadlines are incredibly important, because pressure is crucial. Without urgency, it’s hard to remain dedicated. Without time constraints, it’s difficult to be productive. Without an imposing guillotine of that dreaded finish line, there’s no struggle of forward momentum. It’s kind of like saying there’s no life without death, but I’m trying not to take that fatalist turn.
After losing my book, I didn’t reset a deadline. I never drew that line in the sand, and so I haven’t been pushing myself. Self-indulgent pity parties provide a great distraction, but they sure as heck don’t get words on a page.
Self-discipline isn’t a random gift bestowed upon the chosen few by literary muses. It comes from doing the work everyday, even when you don’t want to, even when you don’t think you can. Two great dangers beset every writer: one is the loss of creativity (also known as fear) and the other is the disruption of good habits (lack of dedication). Deadlines are a self-imposed tool to combat both.
So here goes: I will edit every day until this book is done. Even if I only get two hours of sleep. Even if I can’t see straight or I’m feeling dizzy or I just don’t wanna. I will shuffle toward that not-so-distant finish line and go to proof by August 19th.
If you haven’t given yourself a deadline, you should. Absolutely. Otherwise one project will leech off your creative energy for months, without developing into its full potential. And think of all the other books you’re going to write in the future, standing in line for their turn, waiting for you to close this chapter and open another…
Elizabeth Blake is a complex woman. She’ll tell you that she’s not that complicated, that her demands are simple: Coffee, good books, freedom, world domination… Elizabeth Blake is a sorceress of stories, a lover of letters. If you want to get to know her, visit The Mind & Heart of Elizabeth Blake, pick up her books, follow her on social media, buy her a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.