Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Looming Deadlines

Are you ever surprised to find that you’ve forgotten something about yourself that is so integral to your makeup? It happens to me all the time. I’m convinced that my memory field extends exactly two inches beyond my nose and that’s it.

So, I started the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this month like several hundred thousand other writers. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s an organization and an event that books itself as “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!” and has run every November for the past dozen years or so. The idea is to just dump your story on the page, no editing. Easy peasy for me, because that’s how I write anyway. It takes 1,667 words a day to get to the goal of 50,000 by the end of the month. Let me just say – I love this thing.

I have done at least 1,667 words a day since November 1, except one day when I fell down to 1,347. I wasn’t feeling well that day, but I still stuck it out at my laptop as long as I could stand it. Why? Because I have always done better with a deadline, the tighter the better.

And this is the secret ingredient I’ve been missing for the past several months, when as an unemployed person, with plenty of time on my hands, I should have been cranking out novels. All the time in the world, is not a good thing for me. I need, even desire, the looming deadline.

When I was the editor of a community newspaper, and frankly the lead reporter (or even only one at times) I would wait nearly every week until the day before I had to put the paper together to begin writing the articles. That meant an average of 8 articles plus an editorial in one day. I’d crank them out one at a time; send them out to the receptionist or another reporter for proofing, while I moved on to the next. More often than not, I’d still be writing at 2 a.m. and leaving the articles behind for the staff to review in the morning. 

I loved that grind. I set myself up for it every time. Occasionally, I would have a couple of stories ready before that last day, but not often. The pressure actually made me write better. I learned that I average 1,000 per hour, so I’d plan out how many words I wanted to produce and how many hours that would take. I wrote an award-winning editorial under that pressure and some of my best investigative pieces as well. 

So, of course, I’m back in the game after six lost months. Thank you, NaNoWriMo! It feels good and I’m trying to figure out a way to create that same deadline for myself and some sort of reporting system. Maybe a Facebook page, where other writers can post their daily word counts, too. I don’t know yet, but I do know that this deadline thing is to my mind like caffeine is to my body – energizing. I must have it!

What’s your take on looming deadlines?


  1. I don't do well with deadlines. That is, I can write a 1000 word short story with a deadline on Friday, start Monday, and be ready by Friday, but when it comes to longer work, I prefer to write every day and have it finished when it's finished.
    If looming deadlines work for you, set your own deadlines and whip yourself up any way you can to meet them.
    Whatever works.
    Good luck with your NaNo story. I look forward to reading it.
    Louise Sorensen
    louise3anne twitter

  2. Congrats, Kathy,

    I love NaNo for the writing without thinking. It lets the characters make the story. This is the first year is several years that I didn't enter. My mind was not in the right place, but I do miss it. It also raises money for youth writing classes and many other things. Great job. I'm proud of you!