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When the Train's on Time

You may not like the notion of having to write under the pressure of a

deadline, but it just might be the best thing that ever happened to you

by D. J. Herda

When I was a kid going to college to better learn the intricacies of my chosen craft of novel writing, I was both surprised and chagrinned when I learned that one of the pre-enrollment requirements for "Novel Writing 101" was "Journalism 101, 102, and 103."  Not just one semester-long class of learning to write what I had no intentions of using ever, but three!

Needless to say, I have thanked God each and every day of my existence for those pre-enrollment requirements, because learning to write like a journalist (and think and talk and interview like a journalist) was exactly the kind of iron-fisted self-discipline I needed to learn.  And the single most critical thing I learned was how to write under deadline.

Writing when you're floundering, out of "the mood," or drifting aimlessly from one disconnected thought to another is damned hard writing.  Writing when your mind is focused and your thoughts are clear is infinitely more pleasurable.  And that's what writing under deadline does for you.  By writing under deadline, you remove yourself from the temptations of piddling the day away and place your entire existence in the act of creating the written word.  That, in turn, makes you feel good about yourself and your productivity, which in turn feeds the quality of your writing, ad infinitum.

Of course, not all writers--particularly successful ones who don't need the additional pressure of a deadline to turn out quality work--use deadlines as motivational tools.  Pop novelist Diana Gabaldon explained, "Let's put it this way: we have deadlines in my contracts because there's a space for them.  I've never met one.  They get the book when I'm finished with it.  They scream and tear their hair a lot ....  But I have a much higher loyalty to my book than I do to any of them."

That may be all fine and well for her, but what about for the rest of us?  Do deadlines really work, even if they're only self-imposed?  Most definitely ... so long as they're realistic in their expectations.  You can't give yourself three days to write a 100,000-word novel and expect anything good to come of it.  Similarly, you can't announce a six-month deadline to produce five paragraphs of prose and expect that the deadline will motivate you to higher grounds.

But when a deadline is carefully thought through and judiciously applied (and adhered to), I can almost guarantee your success.  Here are just a few things a realistic deadline can help a writer to accomplish:

1.) Put to death "writer's block."  After all, if you have to put fingers to keyboard--even if it takes you a few minutes or an hour to start turning out creditable copy--you're not blocked, are you?

2.) Start and keep the juices flowing.  I've known too many writers, including seasoned pros, who write a good page or even a graf or two and then take the rest of the afternoon off.  What they neglect to realize is that's exactly the time they should be prodding themselves onward.  Writing that glows come from writers with flow.  Just the thought that you're writing, hour after hour, day after day, will flush you with satisfaction and--I'd bet on it--show up in your writing, as well.

3.) Keep you from going "stale" between writing periods.  Deadlines don't allow for idle time.  Ask any general-assignment reporter.  If a working journalist completes one story, it's only a quick slug of water and a half-smoked cigarette before he's started on another.

4.) Help you break down your writing into more manageable chunks.  Deadlines are easier to manage, after all, if you can create blocks of written words that fit neatly into corresponding periods of time.  You might tell yourself you'll write the introduction of a book on needlepoint your first morning, then rewrite it and print it out that afternoon.  The next chapter may take two days, since it may be longer, and so forth.  The results are the same: you're writing productively.

5.) Instill the joy of being a writer in you.  Writer's love nothing better than to write.  By writing under deadline, you can have that "God, this is terrific, I feel so good about this stuff" feeling every single day for the rest of your life.  And that kind of confidence can't help but spell success.



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