Archive for May, 2010

Deadlines: Who needs them?

May 24, 2010

Since my working life was spent as a journalist, I have no experience living a deadline-free existence.

Always, when I was awake, I carried a detailed, internal list of which story was due when, what needed to be done to complete each story and in what sequence they needed to be completed. Attached to this psychic list was the requisite guilt, which—while painful—was a good thing, in that it enabled me to actually finish stories (frequently on time) for publication in the newspaper.

I mention this to illustrate my complete and ongoing delight at NOT having said list lurking in my psyche any longer. It’s a revelation and a constant source of joy.

However, I DO have guilt about not working more hours daily on my book, but I’m learning that without deadlines, it’s hard to develop the knack for when to finish what. And a book is so unformed compared to a newspaper article. Giant swaths of research time are required; statistics have to be corralled; outlines must be created; agents wooed; publishers contacted. It’s a far cry from interviewing sources and sharing their stories.

Still, I love what I’m doing. The research has turned me into a semi-expert, the interviews are engaging and I’m getting a good feel for the shape of one of the first chapters I’ve dug into. However, I still need to create a more detailed outline for the book, and now that I’ve seriously studied the 1100 surveys we’ve collected so far, I think that’s feasible. But WHEN will I do that? And how will I hold myself to getting it done? That’s what I struggle with.

It’s not like I can’t set deadlines for myself. I can. But I’d know they were fake deadlines and I’d know I could push them. After a lifetime, I can tell the difference.

And it’s not like I’m undisciplined in general. Dishes never sit in the sink overnight, bills don’t go unpaid, friends’ birthdays are acknowledged. I’m able to harness my productive energy for small stuff pretty consistently. It’s the big tasks that I tend to put off, in favor of those more manageable ones.

Also to consider: I’m much better about keeping a commitment to another than one to myself. This is why having a trainer works so well for me. Without an appointment, I can find 17 good reasons why today isn’t a good day to go to the gym, and 11 reasons why exercising tomorrow actually makes more sense. And, naturally, I can do the same thing the next day. That inked commitment on my calendar to trainer Chris is another matter entirely. I work around it, guard it, keep it. Result: I’ve been at my optimum weight for almost 4 years now. Not a bad result at all.

So. How to transfer that knowledge about myself to the book project?

I’ve been giving this some thought. I have no shortage of smart, editor-type friends I could ask to play the role of deadline-enforcer for me. I could create a calendar of “due dates” for chapters and commit to having it done for “my editor” by those times. And it may come to that. But with my work history, I find it’s such a relief to not have looming deadlines that I am unwilling to take that step.

Instead, I’ve earmarked the next two weeks as a time to dig in and see what I can get done outline-wise without an external boss. I’m dog sitting for some friends in my former neighborhood, which means I’ll be spending lots of hours in a comfortable setting with an elderly dog—an ideal environment for concentration, methinks. I visited their house yesterday for orientation and found a spot in their nice den to hook up my computer. I’m thinking it’s going to be a friendly little work retreat. Bonus: Comforting presence of sweet pup in the same room!

So. That’s my deadline solution—for the moment. We’ll see if it works. And I’ll try to be accountable to you blog readers at least, and let you know how it’s going a week from now.

So check back! And please send good thoughts.

Thank you, thank you.

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