On Deadlines

I’m not shy about being a creature of ritual, but it’s really coming home to roost this week.

I’ve been working overtime a lot lately — not as much as some co-workers (my work-life balance is fairly inflexible), but a lot. I came back from vacation into a maelstrom of overtime that is just now letting up (and possibly only temporarily, based on how my next project is looking). The worst part is, with system delays and impromptu meetings and the ensuing long periods where work can’t actually get done, it has thrown my schedule into utter disarray. My coffee break isn’t happening at the right times; my lunch is often off-set from its usual flow; I don’t always go home at the same time; it’s not great. I’ve been made of anxiety for a week now.

Two good things have come of the darkness, though. One: I now know I have mastered my worse anxiety impulses. I have not had the kinds of meltdowns I used to have before I recommitted myself to mindfulness and self-care; there have been periods of neat-freakishness, of stuttering, of grumpiness, but nothing explosive like there used to be. So, while I don’t like testing the strength of steel by running over it with a car, it’s nice to see that the material is resistant. (That metaphor needs some work…)

Two: I know, for sure, that it feels good to be writing on a deadline. I mentioned that, post-New Novel, I found a superhero-related open call that is due mid-September? I’ve been routinely getting 1000+ words down on that every day this week, even skipping one of my two writing days off to keep working on it. I was worried, as the overtime came rolling in at the Day Job, that I would burn myself out both doing that and trying to make a writing deadline, but the truth is, it’s helped. I’m more energetic, more creative, and more focused with a deadline staring me down, and I’m outputting higher-quality material than I might have were I just noodling. Not that there’s anything wrong with noodling — I plan to do some after I’ve submitted to Behind the Mask and before New Novel comes back to me — but after months of editing, to reach into my creativity and pull out some gems, even uncut ones, is a really good feeling.

Besides giving me a highly productive avenue for self-care, this has also taught me a lot about how to judge freelance creative work moving forward. There are times when creating is hard — I have no doubt that “Good Fences” and I will see those dark days soon, possibly during first-round edits — but there is a difference between “hard” and “actually a bad idea.” That’s where things re changing.

See, the concept of “bad idea” can be extremely difficult for me to pin down; an idea can be bad in multiple ways, not always obvious. Sometimes, a project is a bad idea for logistical reasons: the deadline is too soon for the work required, or the material too far outside my area of expertise (to the point where I will be faking my way through the content). Sometimes something about the environment or the conditions rubs me the wrong way: the market/client is squirrelly about pay rates, or the contract is oddly worded, or they have expectations¬† that seem odd in one way or another.¬† And of course, sometimes, the story idea is bad on my end: it hinges on a contrivance, or it’s problematic when examined for subtext, or it is simply something that I am not currently capable of executing with the skill and care required to stick the landing. Seeing the way I am reacting to a tight deadline but a good story concept is helping me do some emotional echolocation. I’ve already had an idea for a story that I looked at and said “OK, so this isn’t a story yet. That’s fine. I can work on this later after I’ve done some research!” Five years ago, I’d have swan-dived into the story, floundered around for a week or so, and then declared myself the Worst Writer Ever and cried myself to sleep. (You may think I exaggerate, but…)

So, bottom line here is, it’s been a rocky August, but for the improvements to myself I’m seeing, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Man, two blog posts in one week? I’m a rock star!

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