NaNoWriMo Prep: Deadlines Don't Have to Be Scary
Well hello, Swoon Readers—we meet again.
How have you been? Did you have a productive summer? Hard to believe it’s already the end of October, eh? Time just keeps on keepin’ on, no matter how much you want it to slow down. Ready or not, 2018 is on the horizon. Remember those resolutions? Or what about your “I’m going to do that before the end of summer” items? How about those writing deadlines you keep mapping out for yourself (or maybe your kindly neighborhood editor is mapping them out for you)? With NaNoWriMo right around the corner, deadlines are particularly relevant again.
That’s why I’ve gathered you all here today—I want to talk about time and deadlines.
I am the queen of a deadline—I LOVE a goal-oriented task. I also LOVE to procrastinate. It turns out all are genetic traits (thanks, Mom and Dad). And while it might not seem like those are opposing forces, I would ask you to email Miss Swoon Reads Emily Settle and inquire with her exactly how many deadlines she has given me, how many times she has gently reminded me and how many blog posts I have missed (ugh, sorry Emily! Thanks for sticking with me).
So let’s dive in here—what is happening when it comes to deadlines and why are we avoiding them? I’m sure there are many a psychology paper that I could have read to really get to the heart of this problem, but I don’t have that kind of time. And for the purpose of this article, I’m going to be talking about writing deadlines. I know that deep down, the root of my issue with writing deadlines is that I’m scared. Of course, my five-year-old tendency to push boundaries plays a role, as does my uncanny ability to reject being told what to do—but when it comes to putting pen to paper I am terrified of not having anything to say. Or not having enough to say. Or not having anything interesting/funny/insightful/thoughtful etc. to say. I’ve never been more motivated to deep clean my fridge than when I have come to the time I set aside for writing. There is nothing like sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper (or a blank word document), except maybe sitting back down to something you’ve started and know you have to keep writing. Thus lies the real challenge of being a writer—facing your fears and staring down all those voices in your head (you can’t stare down voices, but whatever you know what I mean).
The good news here is there are real, honest to god solutions. Many solutions involve writing for short spurts—you can limit yourself to an hour (or half an hour) and not let yourself go beyond that time frame. You can write on for five minutes (or ten) and then take a five- or ten-minute break. Sometimes I like to sit down to a piece of paper and a real pen and do that first writing exercise I ever learned—just write and do not stop for ten minutes (or thirty? I can’t remember the rules now). I actually find a pen and paper to be so much more manageable than a word doc (logic has no place when it comes to fear, people!). You can always get someone to chain you to your computer and not let you go until you hit your word count—lots of options here! For more inspiration pick up a copy of Writing Fiction from Gotham Writer’s Workshop, an oldie but a goodie.
That fear I feel when I sit down, I know that it comes from having something in my head that I want to share. Something in my head that is, of course, clever, witty, and perfectly written, but getting it out—shaping that thought into words—is terrifying because there’s a very good chance it won’t be perfect. Usually when I’m deep down this dark hole, I think about "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by Keats. I read it in high school and it’s still one of my all time favorite poems. It’s known for its final line, but there’s more to it.
The poem is describing a picture on an urn (Grecian if you can believe it). The picture is of a boy and girl almost kissing. In the moment before the kiss, it feels like perfection; the moment of anticipation, the high of wanting. But that kiss never comes, the moment of two lips actually touching doesn’t actually happen—and as Keats tells us that, that’s the tragedy. We can’t live in the moment before, we can’t be happy with the dream of what might come to be—we have to kiss the boy (or girl), we have to do, we have to write. Because if we don’t, the words in our head remain there—the world will never hear them. And sure, there’s a very real chance that the kiss won’t be perfect, the relationship might not last, the words might not be exactly what existed in your head—but we live in the imperfect. Living, breathing, doing, writing in reality is so much better than sitting on the sidelines and just enjoying what could maybe someday be perfect.
So all this to say, fear not your writing deadlines. Embrace your writing goals and sit down to the computer. As you dive into this years NaNoWriMo, I want you to focus, carve out the time, and find the right exercise for breaking through the anxiety of having to take that which is perfect in your head and putting it on paper. You can do it. I know you can because like me, you live in the real, imperfect, beautiful world.