Like most writers, I would never get anything done if it wasn’t for deadlines.
The problem I’m foreseeing, as I take more and more meetings with lit agents, is that deadlines simply aren’t going to be enough for my eventual literary pursuits. Books are mammoth undertakings that require hours, weeks, months of diligent work to finish.
Knowing when I have to finish that work by isn’t enough of a motivator to get me to take action now. After all, why would I start on something that’s going to take 100 hours when I only have one hour to write a review of a West Wing episode that aired almost a decade ago? And so on and so forth. Fact is, when someone tells me I have a deadline in a month, they might as well say, “This is a fictional assignment,” given how much I think about it on a daily basis.
I can’t even imagine what’s going to run through my mind when inevitably some mustachioed editor sits me down and exclaims, “Congrats! You have a book deal, and a year to write it! My mustache isn’t all that important to this anecdote!” Probably something along the lines of, “What’s for lunch?” for about 11 months.
Think about it this way: How many grad students do you know that have actually finished their dissertation on time? For the purposes of this article, it’s zero. Zero grad students. Zero.
I need to get better at parsing out the workload of book writing into manageable chunks to ensure it can all get done; then after that, do the work on those chunks. Which means I have to do what I’ve always done as a writer and lie to myself—pretend deadlines for smaller things are actually a lot sooner, and concoct elaborate scenarios that allow no option other than to actually get something done.
Here are a few of my favorite games to play with myself:
- Facebook has been wiped off the Internet. I imagine a shortage of oil and a lack of investment in renewable energy sources have rendered our planet in a catatonic state of powerlessness. There is no more electricity; everything is in chaos. So, obviously, there’s no Facebook.
- Reward myself with black and white cookies. If I finish 800 words, I go for a walk to the bakery down the street, purchase a black and white cookie (my favorite), and then I eat it on the walk back. Repeat as necessary until I have a strong aversion to black and white cookies, and I move on to black and white tar heroin.
- Write a word, do a push-up. A quick fix for 4.75 new words.
- Put the words down on paper, then transfer them to the computer. Be the guy at the bar writing in his notebook. Sketching in his notebook. Staring at you while writing/sketching in his notebook. Get up to go to the bathroom and lick your pen as you go, never breaking eye contact, in his notebook.
- I can only take Melissa Newman to the prom if I finish this part of a thing. I had a big crush on Melissa Newman when I was in high school. I can only take her to the prom if I finish this part of a thing.
- Dancing fingers. They’re dancing!
- New and interesting music to shift the mood. I’m getting really into “the sound of a single seal realizing that life is ultimately meaningless”, and The Doobie Brothers.
- The red squishy pillow. I have this red squishy pillow that I twirl around in my hand whenever I’m thinking of a new idea or working up the courage to start something new. I occasionally use it like a bat to knock around the exercise ball I sit on. Sometimes I throw the squishy pillow at the far wall, watch it sadly flop back to the ground, pick it up and start over again. I yell at it. It tears and showers me with foam confetti. Wait, what assignment?
- I make a comprehensive task list and diligently cross things off as I complete them. Yeah, right!
It’s important to note that when you play games with yourself, you always win! But also, you always lose. Bear that in mind, and buy me a black and white cookie when you get a chance. I’ve been cut off.