Friday, June 3, 2011

The Slacker Makes Deadline

What a timely topic, writing pressure. Ten minutes ago, I clicked SEND on my fourth anthology for Cleis Press. My deadline was yesterday (June 1), so I was a day late. Even though I love how the book turned out, I am still royally pissed at myself for missing my deadline. I never miss deadlines. Well almost never, obviously. So now I will obsess over that one day delay that means the difference (to me) between being a professional writer/editor and a lazy slacker.

Then there's this column. I should have started it days ago, a week ago even. But here I am, two hours before midnight, writing the words I've had in my head since I saw the topic. (Well, not these words. I had actually intended to write my post much sooner.) Slacker, my brain hisses. Why are you so lazy?

The pressure I feel as a writer/editor is purely self-driven. I suppose if I was chronic about missing deadlines, the pressure would come from editors and publishers. (I desperately hope there isn't an editor out there who would truly nag me for being one day past deadline, but I can't take that chance.) Of course, much of my writing is on spec, so if I'm late enough the deadline slips by and no one cares-- but me.

While it's very, very rare for me to miss an expected deadline, I have missed many, many self-inflicted deadlines. Contests, anthologies, conferences, promotional opportunities-- I have missed them all many times. It requires a tremendous amount of discipline to be a freelancer, but I still don't have as much discipline as I should-- or as much as I would like. (Slacker, slacker, slacker!)

It's hard not to compare myself to my peers. Especially those who are more productive than me. (Which seems to be all of them, some days.) Author X has written three novels in the past year, Author Y submitted four stories, six poems, two essays and ran a marathon this week and Author Z just signed a ten-book contract.

Or so it feels, sometimes.

Meanwhile, there are times (like before I clicked SEND a few minutes ago), when I feel like I have over-extended myself. Signed on for too many projects, signed too many contracts, taken on too much responsibility, said "Yes!" to too many people for too many things. I look longingly at the open files on my computer-- stories that aren't contracted, novel ideas that have languished for years, essays that will probably never see publication because I'm not a "nonfiction" writer. And then I still say yes to the next interview opportunity that will suck up an hour of my time answering questions about my favorite authors and what music I listen to while writing. Or yes to the reading event almost five hours from my house that will require at least an overnight stay and cost me both money and time. Or yes to a deadline that conflicts with another deadline.

Should I say no? I don't think so. I want to believe every opportunity I say yes to is beneficial to my writing and editing career. Interviews are actually kind of fun and reading events can be mini-vacations to recharge my creative energy and agreeing to publishing deadlines means I have a contract in hand-- which is always a good thing. Or at least, I like to think all of these opportunities are good for me. Because I don't want to start resenting these things that take time away from my primary job of writing and editing. I want them to benefit me and fulfill me, not drain me. But still, it's hard sometimes to know what will be good for my career and what will just drive me crazy. I'm still learning. (And I have a hard time saying no.)

The highs and lows of this career are as often dictated by luck as talent. Right place, right time. Knowing so-and-so's critique partner whose editor is acquiring just the type of book you write. Running an ad, holding a giveaway, giving an interview, writing a guest blog post-- any one of those can put a writer's name in front of the right editor. But doing all those things-- juggling all those balls-- takes away from the actual writing. And so I feel the pressure intensely to balance it all; to write, to edit, to promote, to sell, sell, sell-- not just my stories or my books, but myself.

It's not a skill I've yet mastered, this pimping of myself. In fact, it's a skill I have struggled with for years, doing a sort of uncomfortable push-and-pull between the creative side of me that wants to live in the ivory tower and just focus on writing and editing and the practical, business-minded side of me (a side I do have, even if I resist and resent it) that says if I want to keep writing and editing, I'd better make sure people know just how fucking fabulous I am. Eek. Now that's conceited, isn't it?

Pressure. I thrive under pressure, usually. I work best under deadlines. Which reminds me of something a screenwriting professor shared with my class one night: "I had a student who told me he wrote best under the pressure of a deadline," Bob told us. "I assured him, 'I've read your work. Trust me, no you don't.'"

Ha. Am I the only writer squirming uncomfortably?

I will continue to struggle with meeting my self-imposed deadlines even while I vow never to miss another contracted deadline. In fact, due to my impending baby-birthing, I intend to submit my next anthology well before the September 1 deadline. I sort of have to, as my due date is September 4 and I believe this baby will be born at the end of August. I will loathe the sense of pressure weighting me down when I look at the clock ticking toward a new day while the words stall on the page-- just as I will continue to push the limits of deadlines and enjoy the rush of satisfaction I get from pushing the SEND button (or PUBLISH POST button) just in time.

Like... NOW!

13 comments:

  1. I only have one committment, and it feels huge. I can only imagine what delivering an anthology feels like.

    Maybe you'll get that one day late off for good behavior.

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  2. Congrats on the pregnancy! If you think you're busy now..., if you feel guilty about putting projects on the back burner now... just wait. When you have a kid, especially a new kid, things do not go as planned.

    I too know what you mean however. I could spend over 12 hours or more online, a day just in promotional aspects of writing. In an effort to organize myself, I try to do things ahead of time. So, I may write a couple of blogs and save them as drafts so that I can just hit publish if I'm short on time. Then I'll go schedule tweets so I don't have to think about it and can buy myself time. The real time sink for me is finding bloggers/reviewers that fit my niche. Romance is a popular niche but not everyone reviews erotica. Not everyone reads ebooks, or m/m. Its the networking that is tedious, consuming but I have to admit...its fun. I've read blogs that I wouldn't have gone in search of. I've met people online that I was totally surprised at their creativity. I've found associations purely by accident or because it was listed on someone's blog. I truly appreciate the blogger community these days. They are an invaluable resource.

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  3. Oh Kathleen, if I really thought about what I'm doing I'd probably lose my mind. This was my fourth anthology and I still have those moments of panic wondering if I even know what I'm doing. And then I just jump in and go for it. I actually enjoy the process of compiling the books, it's all the second-guessing that drives me crazy.

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  4. Erin, Thanks so much for your perspective! I know there's the option to schedule blog posts ahead, but I don't think I knew (or I'd forgotten) that you could also do it with Tweets. Interesting!

    And I have a little boy who will be 18 months old tomorrow (!!), so I've definitely had to adjust my writing/editing goals over the past year and a half. I imagine having two under 2 will be another kind of adjustment but the saving grace with my 18 month old was that he's such a great sleeper and that gives me a lot of time to work. I'm hoping the same will be true with his little brother!

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  5. Do I write my "best" under a deadline? Well, it's often the only way I write at all... I know everyone knows it, but I can't resist posting the Douglas Adams quote again: "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

    I write a monthly--or almost monthly--column for a blog that actually pays quite well. I can pick my topic, pick my day, and I really like the site. But... but... so the editor asked me what it would take to get my column out of me. I asked if she could pick a deadline for me and then email me a few days in advance of it. We do that, and it works. ;)

    I'm an editor too, so I get to pressure authors on the other side. At least I know what they're going through!

    It could be laziness, or poor work habits. But I think some of it just comes with the freelancer's territory. You don't dare say no to anything, or you'll wind up with uncomfortable dry spots, so instead you wind up agreeing to too much. And still get it all done. Mostly on time.

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  6. I don't know how to do pressure well, at all. And yet, I don't seem to be able to write unless I'm under it. Whatever about writing well. It's a cycle of underachievement, maybe. I plan well, start well, then just ... stop. For many varied, always similar reasons. And suddenly it's deadline time, and I miss it. I agree about not writing well under a deadline, but I can't make myself do it unless I absolutely have to. And then I flirt with using that as an excuse not to (and for it not being very good), and to give up on it. Yes, I'm pathetic.

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  7. Couldn't agree more with so many things you've said! I put up a list of all anthos I want to sub to and their deadlines, and I shouldn't really. So much pressure to sub to them all! So much pressure to hit deadlines.

    Great post, Kristina!

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  8. So true! I can't imagine being a freelance writer with 2 children under 2. I hope we don't lose you here! It sounds as if your next baby will be born under Virgo - an excellent, quiet & thoughtful sign. (My b'day is Aug. 25.) :)
    Please keep us posted.

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  9. Once again I find myself relating to much of what you wrote, Kris! I am right there with you on deadlines—I deplore missing externally-set ones and rarely have (though, as you yourself know, it has happened...). At the same time, I have been known as well to experience the Douglas Adams quote (lol Sharazade) when it's come to my own deadlines or ones where, like you said, no one will know/care but me if I miss it. Ugh.

    At the same time, like Shar said, I appreciate deadlines very much because they help me organize, schedule, and ultimately, produce. Not having a deadline and aiming to do something has tended to feel metaphorically comparable to not having ground beneath me to stand on! So I have appreciated the feeling (pressure even) of orientation deadlines have provided me.

    I also relate to feeling seriously like a slacker by of missing a deadline—even if it's only by a few minutes—though when I read the title of this post, I laughed at the idea of perceiving you as a slacker. The idea seems preposterous to me. ;)

    Congratulations on the completion of your fourth anthology!

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  10. Kristina,

    Slacker? I've never read anything so wildly inappropriate in my life!

    At the same time, I completely identify with your push/pull with taking on commitments, and the horrible guilt and self-accusation that accompany even the slightest failure to deliver as promised.

    One day is nothing, though. Congratulations on pulling it off once again. I look forward to seeing the final book!

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  11. You all are so kind. It's nice to see others can commiserate with the slacker mentality-- though I'd hardly consider any of you slackers!!

    Don't worry, Jean, I'm not going anywhere! I love contributing to OGG and I plan to stay around for a long time. :-)

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  12. Prioritisation, meditation and red wine.

    : )

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  13. Indeed, Nikki. Except in my case it would be white wine if I wasn't pregnant. :-)

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