WRITING ON A DEADLINE

Deadlines.

I cringe when I hear that word. It brings back horrible memories of projects for school being done at the last minute, sometimes because of my own procrastination, sometimes because of having more than one project due at once. Deadlines also reminds me of NANO, the national novel writing month where writing 50k by November 30 is the challenge.

Deadlines permeate every aspect of our lives and yet for novelists, writing that magical first draft of a novel often doesn’t have a deadline—especially if there’s no contract is involved. Writing can be done at your leisure. You can write seven hundred words between preparing dinner and putting the kids down for bed or you can write seven-thousand words over a snowy weekend.

The leisurely approach also does wonders for your creativity. The story is allowed to breathe and expand at its own pace and that can be an exciting venture in and of itself. Yet despite all that, there is one problem with this method of writing—you may or may not finish the story before your muses or another idea take you into another world.

For me personally, abandoning projects because I lost interest or inspiration was always my problem. The longer that I worked on something, the more my mind would wander and the more likely I would be to stumble upon a new idea that just screamed to be written. Additional plot bunnies would rack up in notebooks and word documents until I would either switch mid-way through or finish up my current story as quickly as possible (and often to the detriment of the story itself).

Despite the fact that I began writing at the age of seven, I could never settle down into something long enough to stick it through the first four pages or the first two chapters. However that all changed when I found NANO. When you break down fifty-thousand words it works out to 1667 words per day and while that doesn’t seem like a lot it can actually be quite difficult. Before I first attempted NaNoWriMo I was writing a thousand words over a couple of weeks and the idea of doing nearly two-thousand words every day was quite daunting yet in 2003 I dived in to the challenge and failed with a pitiful eight-thousand words.

The following year (2004) I was in grade twelve and made a valiant effort that paid off. I didn’t finish my novel (though I am in the process of rewriting it completely) but I did cross the 50k mark and learned that I could write longer pieces of fiction, especially when I had such a strict deadline. In 2005 I was in my first year of university and once again I decided to attempt this novel-in-a-month thing and I was determined that come hell or high water I would win. To my surprise I did and after another twenty-thousand words I had the first draft of my very first novel length story.

Now, I bet you’re asking yourself—what’s the point?

The point is that deadlines work. If I had never had that deadline in 2004 I doubt that I would have been able to write that much ever (maybe eventually). If I hadn’t tried again in 2005 I wouldn’t have gotten the basis for my novel. Without that deadline I wouldn’t haven been able to experience what it was like to write “The End” at the end of a hundred-plus page document. My first draft wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination but it did lay down the ground work and it broke me (somewhat) of my habit of not finishing a project.

So to sum up, deadline can provide the motivation needed to finish a project and for myself that was achieved through National Novel Writing Month and I am a better writer for it…even though I failed Camp Nano 2011 – July.

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