In Defense of Deadlines

Creative Commons photo.

Thank goodness for deadlines. Yeah, I said it! I’ll say it again: Thank goodness for deadlines! The deadlines are the punchline to a great many jokes from baggy-eyed college students and people of my ilk (journalists), who are like, why did we take a profession that continues our deadline torment? But I love them!

If I didn’t have hard deadlines — that is, an external pressure to meet a specific time-frame to accomplish something, as opposed to a soft and loose deadline from that external source (although even a soft and loose deadline from an external source eventually morphs into a hard deadline, right?), or worse, a deadline created internally that I can break at will — I’m not sure if I would ever be as productive as I am. Certainly, I wouldn’t be as professionally productive.

Obviously, I’m writing this blog post without any external pressure. This is my blog. There’s nobody higher up than me demanding I produce X number of posts a day. That’s my own internal motivation, and it works often, although, case in point, I had the idea for this blog post at least three weeks ago and procrastinated on writing it. If only I had a deadline! But to be fair myself, I am obviously productive to some extent without deadlines, but there’s an extra oomph inherent to a deadline (also, I didn’t realize there’s a rock band named Oomph! and it’s messing up my ability to find a nice sound effect/GIF to accompany my thought).

As I’ve written on here before, my process, if you want to call it that, at the newspaper is like dipping my head in kerosene and daring someone to light me up. It’s madness, and I’m sure someone far more sane than I am would have a better process. In fact, I know the person before me had such a process. They would put together the newspaper on Tuesday, of course. Then put together the free paper on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were reserved for reporting and/or writing. Monday was tidying everything up. THERE WAS LIKELY NO ACTUAL WRITING HAPPENING ON TUESDAY! Unless some last minute story happened that merited getting into the paper that week instead of holding off another week.

I, on the other hand, do attend meetings and report on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but if you ever see me writing on one of those days, take a photo because it’s rare. Maybe it happens if something big breaks and I want to throw it up on the website ahead of print day, and maybe, maybe I’m actually not procrastinating and write one story ahead of time, but it almost never happens. Instead, I wait until Monday.

AND EVEN THEN!

Sometimes, I get into a weird anxious state where I just can’t focus for the life of me, and don’t write at all on Mondays. In other words, picture this. I often will go into Tuesday — to reiterate, this is the day that I must have at least three to six stories reported, written and edited by the end of the day, along with putting the entire newspaper together, and editing other people’s stories — with nothing written.

And if you were my boss and saw my clock-ins, now you know why my Tuesdays are 15-18 hours long, where I clock in around 3 to 4 a.m., write for a couple of hours, clock out to get ready, come into work by around 8 a.m. to start tinkering with the paper itself, edit my own stories, continue tinkering with the paper over the next 12 hours, including editing my reporter and sports editor’s stories, and clock out around 9 to 10 p.m. I actually used to be worse about this, believe it or not. I used to reserve writing time until almost noon, if need be, maybe even later, and then come in to “tinker” with the newspaper. Practically speaking, though, depending on what the story is and how long it would take (for example, a government meeting is only one story, but might take hours to do if the meeting was two and a half hours long because I have to watch it all), I can’t always do all the writing on Tuesday, which is why Monday becomes such an anxious brain melt because I know I have to write something.

But the point is, my mind has gotten into such a groove that Tuesday is the deadline, pressure point day, and I’m attuned to it. I bask in it. I …

It’s the wind tunnel that forces productivity out of my brain. It was the same way with my weekly column for the college newspaper. It was due every Sunday, but I would wait until Sunday and spend literally all day, if I had to, researching and writing it.

That’s why I wish I could come up with a way to make those internal, soft deadlines hard deadlines. But it’s hard to pretend that they are, well, hard. It’s hard to keep yourself accountable. Just ask my July self how his diet and exercise regiment is going (narrator: not well).

To use a cliche, that’s where that’s where the peanut butter meets the jelly, right (I didn’t want to use “rubber meets the road”)? The one key ingredient, as I understand it, to writing a book or doing anything of equal size and scope, whatever your endeavor may be, is discipline. Talent and imagination are great, but they’re nothing if they’re sitting in your brain suffocating under P-O-T-E-N-T-I-AL. Discipline bring those to bear. And yet, I don’t have the discipline to pretend soft deadlines are hard deadlines, and instead I P-R-O-C-R-A-S-T-I-N-A-T-E (and also, I’m perpetually drowning in self-doubt and insecurities, but hey, I’m not trying to open up my cranium all the way on this post!).

I sometimes wonder if I could have written a book by now if there was some sort of external pressure on me to do it instead of having to pretend there was. That seems like wishful thinking, though. Heck, the majority of my flash fiction and creative non-fiction that happens is because of deadlines. One of my favorite literary magazines is The Molotov Cocktail, and I regularly submit to them, but that’s only because they do contests where there are, yep, deadlines! Or the weekly Flash! Friday contest I participate in, which has a deadline of end of day Friday to complete. That’s why any of the other flash fiction/CNF writing I do is rare because it has nothing to do with deadlines.

And to turn melancholy at the end here, the great irony of all of this is that there is an external deadline exerting pressure on me every single day. It’s called death. We’re all going to die someday. We don’t know when or how. We only know that it is. And that means our window is ever shrinking. The deadline is looming.

Yet.

Makes you rethink spending hours watching YouTube cooking channels, huh? (Just kidding, I love those and will most assuredly watch one today.)

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