Thursday, August 28, 2014


At the mention the word "deadline" in a group of writers, a sudden charged electricity sense flashes forth like a shard of lightning on an early autumn day.  You can look about the room, noting the variety of response, some seeming to be based in fear, others like clarion calls of a second wind clicking into place.

Deadline causes many vital elements to surface, their common denominator degrees of fear related to the eventual quality of the work due.  First and foremost, deadline means a finite time frame, a point where the work must be done, then "sent in," or submitted.  

Your earlier deadlines were newspaper oriented, meaning you had until X time to get the material to the editor in time for the scheduled edition.  From such deadlines, you learned one of the lessons that would carry over to your days of writing multiple drafts.  Having a story due by X o'clock was only a problem if you felt your material was short, lacking in facts, intrigue, some throbbing sense of importance.

Next came the time the project was due in the publisher's hands, whether the publisher was in the same city as you or another city or, perhaps, even in another country, where distances, time zones, postage rates, and delivery times were factors.  Looking at such deadlines now, you realize how significant the change in matters of submission and means of delivery have changed.

Most deadlines now are tied to electronic submission.  All you need to do to "send something off" is press the Enter key or the Send key.  Most of your current documents are in so-called PDF or Portable Document Format files, which can be attached with some ease to an email, addressed to the recipient with a blind copy directed to one's self for record keeping.  Then click the cursor in Send.  

You did such a thing this week, when your literary agent asked you for a PDF of a recent project in order to send it to a publisher in Germany.  Within moments after the request, the document is not only sent, it is in Germany, its receipt acknowledged with another tap of a Send key.

In the mid past, such a request would mean at least a day of logistics, beginning with checking to see if you had a copy of the typed manuscript, one that was as correct as you could make it.  Then off to a Kinko's or some copy shop for a duplicate copy, then a page-by-page check, then fitting the manuscript in a box, wrapping it, and then a trip to the post office, where, just as you strode toward an open window, from the shadows, an elderly lady would dash ahead of you, plunk down two hundred fifty greeting cards for which she would wish a particular stamp for which the clerk would have to hunt.

Having a deadline forces you to wonder through what you call sociological thoughts.  These have their basis in your working class origins, which means in essence that your tastes in such matters as clothing, food, drinking matter, books, and entertainment cause you to far exceed your income derived directly from writing.  You have at the moment no plans to quit teaching or editing, both sources of income as well as activity.  

Thus your need to be observant to another kind of deadline, the every-day-amount of time spent composing.  In this need for time management, your working-class background forces you to consider the need for daily composition.  

Your sociological thoughts nudge you to wonder how much more writing, if indeed you'd get any writing done at all, would you accomplish if you did not have editing and/or teaching chores.  Such thoughts also cause you to wonder from time to time if you would ever finish anything if it were not for deadlines

Deadlines nudge you to consider the degrees to which you red-line assignments, finishing things on the exact date they are due as opposed to working to get them done as early as possible for the most revision time to spend with the final result.

Although it is well over twenty years in the past, you still recall a deadline you'd contractually agreed to on a novel Donald MacCampbell arranged with a publisher who, he assured you, was such a stickler that he considered being one day late a breech of contract.  

Almost without realizing you were doing so, you found yourself looking forward to the emotional highs of having deadlines.  What more tangible way is there to affirm your arrival at the plateau you strived for than to have a publisher expecting delivery of a specific project from you on or before a specific date?

You could--and did--live with that, until, with less warning than the awareness of deadline as emotional high coming your way, another kind of deadline made its way into your life as a game changer.

This particular deadline is the essence of simplicity, yet it contains all the fears, thoughts, imaginative procrastination devices, and self-examination of all the others, merged into one:  the deadlines you set with yourself.

These are the best deadlines of all.  You are in effect the kites you were so fond of flying as a boy and young man.  A part of you has been lifted by the winds of your expectations, rising as high and independent as the string of your imagination will allow.  Yet even as remote as the project gets from you, like the kite, it still responds to the merest tug on the string.

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