Mysterious Doings: DEADline = DREADline

You know the feeling when you’re just getting to the top of the roller coaster? Your stomach is tight, you inhale slightly, your limbs start to tingle in anticipation as you climb the hill and then you crest it and go screaming toward the bottom. I don’t know about you, but for an instant during that descent I always think I’m going to die. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been on that ride, I’ve no doubt that this time the car will go off the track and fly into the parking lot where it will pulverize a few cars and probably kill a family of seven who just scored on a great parking spot. I can remind myself how many times I’ve survived, but I’ll still have that moment of full-on panic where I remember that I don’t have a will and no one in my household knows how to change the vacuum bags but me.

My recent writing deadlines have been kind of like that. I’m putting out two books a year which is awesome and terrifying all at the same time. The series is doing well, which is what I’ve always dreamed of, but that increases the pressure to keep the books unique, to not recycle storylines and to not do anything that will delay the timeline my publisher works hard to maintain. The last six weeks before each deadline has become that elongated moment of certain death. Things like “Why did I think I would survive this one? And “Last time I did this was the last time it was going to work” steam roll my confidence and a neon sign that flashes “failing” over and over again takes permanent residence in my head. Logically, I can look at the situation and say that I have pulled this off before, that everything will be okay. That each of the prior deadlines have eventually pulled over those thing-a-ma-bobs that slow down the car and I was able to breathe again and say, “That was kind of fun.”

Logically, its reasonable to assume that this time will be like that. I’ll survive, I’ll be better for it, and the book will turn out great.

And yet, what does logic have to do with how I feel right now?

Nothing, I tell you! Logic is useless when that failure sign is flashing. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve survived the ride, I’m certain that this time is when the car goes off the track. THIS time I am doomed. THIS time there is no way I’ll ever make it. I don’t know why I thought I could. What was I thinking? This book is horrible, there’s no way I can fix it. I’ve taken one too many chances and this time I’ll fail miserably and have the words “Has Been” stamped permanently to my forehead. The very word DEADline mocks me from the dark corner of my mind, tapping his fingers together in a rhythmic pattern, waiting for me to give into what we both know is true.

I tried to explain this to a friend not too long ago and they didn’t get it. They said I should extend my deadline, or find more time to write, or just not worry so much. Uh-huh, good advice from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’s a DEADline, it wants to kill me.

I can’t wait until that same person asks me if they look fat in something.

I honestly planned to talk about something else in this post, something interesting and deep. I have nothing of interest and depth to say, however, and thus I simply regurgitated the abyss of my current writing.

Stay tuned for next months post, when my DEADline will have passed. Maybe I will survive. Maybe not. I guess we’ll see. I hope the family I may or may not kill in the parking lot isn’t related to you

About Josi Kilpack

Born in raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, I'm the third of nine children and the mother of four kids of my own. I've written 13 novels, most of them directed to the LDS market, and also write articles, short stories, and do freelance editing. I've been involved with LDStorymakers, a guild for LDS writers, since it's inception ten years ago and am currently the president of The Whitney Awards, a genre award program for LDS writers. I live in Willard Utah with my husband, kids, dog, and chickens.
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6 Responses to Mysterious Doings: DEADline = DREADline

  1. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Ha! I’m not worried about the family in the parking lot, but the family living with you. That’s the kind of stress I take out on the people I love most. (I’m sure you don’t.)Good luck..to them. I trust you’ll get yourself (and your characters) out of whatever corner you paint yourself into. That’s the thrill, after all. I’ll pray for your children. :)

  2. Jonathan Langford says:

    Each kind of work is a combination of the parts you like and the parts that drive you nuts. Writing, in that respect, isn’t any exception…

    Good luck with making it through the tough part!

  3. Scott Parkin says:

    Deadlines may be the single most effective spur to creative thinking ever devised. It’s not fun to stare down a page count with days (or hours) to go, but it’s where unformed (or semi-formed) ideas crystallize into tangible plot, character, and theme.

    In my own experience I’ve found that deadline-stress-induced writing is sometimes not the most sparkling prose, but is nearly always the most compelling story. Since I believe prose can be more easily repaired in rewrite than core story, that seems like a fair trade-off.

    It’s worked for me on all sorts of writing—technical documentation (one deadline spurred 125 pages of finished computer documentation in 24 hours), marketing white papers (most often written in days or hours), creative non-fiction, and fiction. I remember one novella where I wrote 9000 words the day I was scheduled to hand it out to my writing group. My intent the whole time was to write the most depressing, hopeless story I could imagine (the top magazine editor in my genre was famous for liking dark and hopeless stuff), but as I sat at the kitchen table tapping away on my laptop the story transformed into one of hope and (tragic) possibility, such that I literally called out to my wife as I wrote, “I can’t believe it; I’m going to pull this thing out.” The deep theme revealed itself as I wrote, not because of careful construction up-front, but because of internal (and largely subconscious) resonance where I actually pushed the chattering monkey of my internal editor (and closet literary critic) aside and just told a story.

    (I spent a *lot* of time later on the rewrites, but that was refining the story I discovered in the throes of deadline-induced panic, not recreating or re-imagining it.)

    It’s one of the many reasons writing groups and volunteer deadlines (NaNoWriMo, writing contests, etc.) are useful for those of us not under contract—anything that spurs words to leave the mind and find the paper is good.

    Not often fun at the moment, but very, very useful in the end.

    • Julie Nichols says:

      Loved these stories, Scott–will share them with my cw classes for hope & encouragement! Me, I like far-away deadlines. I need deadlines or I find I don’t write at all, but the far-away ones give me space to write, rewrite, rethink. Pacing yourself? Ever heard of it? (Not that I always do, but the far-away deadlines help me. I have one coming up, two weeks. Once it felt far away…)

      • Scott Parkin says:

        I haven’t written much fiction recently, but when I was more active in it pacing was my strong suit. I tend to keep 2-3 projects going at once so that when I get stuck on one I can switch to another and get the cognitive break needed to overcome the roadblock. The goal is to keep moving forward on something at all times.

        While the examples above represent extreme accomplishment to external deadline, the fact is that small, self-imposed deadlines can have similar effect. Choosing to write 1000 words a day (or 300 in a sitting) helps create a mindset that says the task is unfinished until you reach the goal.

        For me it’s more a matter of getting started—I tend to have pretty bad inertia at the start of a session and have to work my way into a rhythm of forward momentum. Once I get moving, I tend to blow through those small deadlines with ease, but it requires a fairly unpleasant half-hour of false starts to get the ball rolling.

        (Sorry for hijacking the conversation here, but creative process is an interest of mine, so I tend to wax lengthy [hate that waxy build-up] when chatting about it.)

        So I do a lot of little things to help initiate that momentum. I tend to stop in the middle of a sentence so that I have a quick exercise at the start of the next session that results in putting down new words immediately to finish that sentence (and looking back a few paragraphs to make sure I maintain the narrative thread). I separate new writing from rewriting. I seek external deadlines because I’m ultimately lazy and tend to put off or rationalize my self-imposed ones.

        Everyone has their own hurdles to overcome, and their own strengths to exploit. Word count is easy for me; starting a writing session is hard. So I can only speak from my own experience when I suggest that deadlines have been a wonderful spur to me in overcoming my (personal) greatest challenge to writing.

        Next problem: long form writing and not being intimidated by a novel’s length.

      • Scott Parkin says:

        Small note—

        The 9000 words on the novella were entirely unexpected. I thought I was essentially done with the story and just needed to write the climactic scene and denouement, but it turned out I wrote two entirely new (unplanned) scenes needed to fill out an underlying concept.

        The story was told over a sixty-year span, so each of those new scenes represented a sort of mini short story complete in itself that required concept, detail, and unity to the larger story. The finished novella was more than 20,000 words (I had planned on about 13,000), so when I sat down that day I only expected to write 1500-2000, not 9000.

        If not for the writing group deadline I might never have discovered those two new scenes or the hopeful resolution that I never intended, but that I think is far more honest to my own concept.

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