"If I don't have a date to have a story done by, I often will do my laundry instead -- I HATE doing laundry! If I don't have to have a group of poems done by Friday, I'll spend my time watching re-runs of Friends and Seinfeld. If there wasn't concrete reason to finish it, it would rarely get finished.
I seem to have a love/hate relationship with my writing. Maybe you can relate. The signature lines at the end of the emails for the WG accounts each have a quote from Thomas Mann:
A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,
The process of writing intimidates the hell out of me. I am always sure that I have exhausted my good prose, that "that's it, Pal! -- you're done with this writing nonsense! There ain't nothin' left in the well". Plus, when I write I expose my psyche to ya'll. Not to mention that I do things like admit what an insecure coward I can be. It's often hard for me to sit down and write. So, I see the deadline as an asset.
Those who have read my other essays at the site know that I finally went to college at the age of thirty, after more than a decade of floundering. In terms of art, my teens were the period of drama (school plays), my late teens/early twenties were the time of intense musical endeavor (lots of song writing and an ill-fated band), my late twenties were when I began to really focus on writing stories. Actually, I wrote my first, very awful, novel at the age of nineteen or twenty. I essentially did not start becoming a writer until around the age of twenty-six. I would not say that I became a good writer -- just that I did become a writer. I wrote in irregular binges. I had two novels going. One for which I was mostly developing the background, the other, of which I was winging through the prose to what almost became a finished first draft. Both projects had great story ideas, but, it became clear to me that I had no idea how to shape them into good literature -- I didn't know what I was doing. This, especially, and the fact that I was an artist wasting my time in menial labor jobs, got me to college when I was thirty.
I majored in English and Mass Communication, took almost every writing class there was to take, and took absolutely every creative writing course save for Screen Writing (and that was because only Theater or Film majors were allowed). Certainly there are very many reasons why the "college experience" was incredibly beneficial to me as a writer -- I would probably not still be one without it -- that I had deadlines to finish work was one of the more important aspects.
For me, and for very many writers whom I know, the deadline is not a looming monster, it is our friend, if sometimes a stern one. It means we must produce. This motivation was most important during my college career. Writing classes forced me to write, or, more accurately, they forced me to finish things. Since I continued as staff at my university when I graduated, I had the chance to continue taking classes. I took a few more fiction seminars specifically because that would mean I still would have work due to someone by a deadline; which meant I would have to actually write something.
The real magic of college isn't that you learn information that you need, rather, that you have learned how to DO. Giving me deadlines was most important by showing me how much I need deadlines. It's part of the recipe for a finished story or poem.
I am at the stage of writing where most writers are. There are very few deadlines, if any, directly imposed from outside. I am not yet a commissioned writer so I never have an editor saying, "Give me a thousand words by next Friday," or whatever. As of yet, I don't have that editor saying, "We need the first chapter by the end of. . . ."
These days my deadlines are usually generated in two ways. First is the self imposed sort. I have a goal of sending out submissions of my work at least twice a month. That helps with deadline. If everything that is in my finished file is currently out and not yet responded to, then I need to finish something else. So, I do. The second way is to seek out deadlines. That almost always means a literary contest with a deadline for entry. It also can mean the deadlines for consideration for a particular issue number of a literary journal:
"submissions for the Spring 1999 issue must be postmarked by midnight, January 15."
I often meld those two manners of deadline together -- an entry in a contest counts as one of my two monthly submissions. But, that's all right. I still have self-imposed motivation to sit at the keyboard and get something out of my head and into prose or poetry. I use other sorts of deadlines, or, close motivations. In terms of the web site and my own writing in general, these essays on the "From K.L.'s Desk" page are down the list of priorities. But, so that I will eventually get a new one written, I purposefully take each essay down when I do the odd month updates. That way I am aware that there is no essay on the page. That bothers me. So, eventually, I get a new one done.
This essay took a little while to get done because I had been working on a couple pieces of fiction. One was to meet a monthly submission quota, the other was for the annual Carson McCullers Short Story contest from Story Magazine. The deadline was the third of the next month, but I hoped to have it done in time to count as a submission for the current month. I was not -- by-the-way -- done with the first draft, when I posted this essay. I was quite excited about the story I was writing, however. I always am in love with the ones I'm working on, which is as it should be. And I decided that if I mailed it just in time for an eleventh-hour postmark (not an unthinkable turn of events), oh well, so I didn't submit twice that first month. At least I submit on a regular basis. And I just had a deadline for three submissions for the next month.
this essay first appeared on the "From K.L.'s Desk" page on Monday, April 12, 1999.
|For the index of K.L.'s creative writing and essays at this site, click here.|