The Magic of Deadlines

 Racers cross finish line in 5K run. U.S. Navy photo by Candice Villarreal.

I have heard rumors in my travels of creative people who are entirely self-motivated. They get up early, awakened by an innate drive to create, go to their computers, ignore Facebook and Google, and complete their work in a timely manner with no exterior motivator. I am not one of those people. I’m not even sure they exist.

Don’t get me wrong — I love to write. I’m bursting with stories to tell and would happily write all the time if given the chance. But after a long day at work, there’s dinner to make, chores to conquer, Netflix to be watched, and it’s hard to give up that precious downtime to the task of writing. While I’m passionate about writing, it requires a lot of energy, which is one thing I do not generally have in abundance. And so, weeks will go by without putting words to the page.

Unless, of course, there’s a deadline to meet.

Deadlines are magical things. As a writer and serial procrastinator, I honestly don’t know how I would complete anything without the pressure of a firm deadline to keep me going. It’s easy to put a story off to the next day or the next when I’m on my own timeline, but when I have to submit something for publication by a certain date, something clicks.

I have always thrived under a deadline. Some of my best work gets done with only minutes to spare. There’s no time for scrolling through Facebook, debating the exact phrasing of a passage, or starting all over again when you’re under the gun. There’s a clarity and an insanity in rushing to finish. It may not make for the most lyrical prose, but I’ve found that the immediacy of my work is heightened and the tempo of the action rises when I’m a little bit rushed.

I’m trying to teach myself to write on a set schedule, but I’ve never been that kind of person. I create in flashes and then go silent until the next unexpected strike of inspiration and inclination.

This week, I realized that I was in danger of missing the deadline for a local print anthology that I’ve appeared in twice. I didn’t want to miss out, so I dusted off a story that had been languishing in rewrite hell for years. I wrote the rough draft of this story way back in 2012 and tinkered with it off and on for five years. But it was only in the last week that I got serious about getting it ready for public view. The pressure of the deadline approaching gave me the energy to make drastic cuts and bold changes to the plot, characters, and setting. The looming deadline was perfect for a suspenseful tale that needed an infusion of new life. I’m proud of the way it turned out and thankful for the countdown that forced me to rethink a stale narrative.

Now, if only I could figure out how to get the same effect with self-imposed deadlines.

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker in Tacoma, WA. Be careful what you say around him, because it’s all going in his novel.

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