Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Here's to Deadlines - Damian Harvey

You may love them or you may hate them, but if you’re a writer you’re probably stuck with them.

For me, deadlines started at school. After double English on Tuesday afternoon our teacher would set the homework which was due to be handed in first thing the following Monday – this was a generous deadline as it gave us the rest of the week, and the weekend, to get it done.

Knowing I had so long to get the work done was not necessarily a good thing though. My English homework would get buried beneath other homework and would generally stay buried until the weekend. This wasn’t a problem as I knew I still had two full days left. It didn’t get done on Saturday morning as that was the family shopping day. I Didn’t want to do it in the afternoon as I’d spent the morning shopping and there were much more interesting things to do outside. By Saturday night all thoughts of homework were forgotten and it didn’t usually get remembered again until Sunday night when Mum would ask if I had everything ready for school. Sunday nights were spent madly trying to get work done that should have been completed over the course of a full week.

I thought that leaving school would bring an end to homework – but of course I was wrong. College and University brought even more.

As everyone knows, the sensible thing is to do a little bit of homework each day/night so that you don’t get overloaded. It helps balance your workload and reduce stress. As an adult I’ve tried to pass this wisdom on to my own children but despite this I’ve still witnessed their blind panic as a weeks worth of forgotten maths homework is dragged out of their school bags on Sunday nights. I can’t get cross with them though as I know that I did exactly the same thing.

Now, as a writer, I find that almost all of my work is homework and I still have deadlines. Instead of teachers and lecturers setting my homework I have lots of lovely editors doing it for me. Things are a little different now though… I love my homework - and even the deadlines are useful. They can be frustratingly short at times but having a deadline set too far in the future can be even worse. Knowing I’ve got months to do a piece of work can lead me to move on to other projects until I find myself getting ready for bed one night and realising I haven’t even started a piece of work that’s due in the following week. I think deadlines also make me work. Without them I worry that I would waste a lot of time and get very little done. So all in all, I find deadlines to be a good thing. I’m getting better at them too – I really am.

As Douglas Adams famously said "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."


Lee said...

Damian, I'm sure you don't mean it this way, but you're being a tiny bit disrespectful to those of us who set our own deadlines. Why should I need an editor to force me to work?

Lucy Coats said...

I love deadlines. They mean I have an actual contract!!

Anonymous said...

Damian, I quite agree - a deadline just invites you to leave things to the last minute. But then, don't you feel you need the adrenaline to make it happen at all? In the same way, it's usually when I have masses that has to be done that I think of new ideas - it's the knowledge that I don't have time to pursue them that makes them so alluring!

I don't have any more deadlines this year, so I know I'm going to waffle around and do very little until it is impossible to finish this book by end of Jan. It's rather like Schopenhauer's point about things being drawn to their doom - cliffs you want to jump off, for example.

Anonymous said...

Oh I'm a hopeless deadliner too. I faff about and faff about and then I have NO TIME at all and I write like a demon for about six weeks and then somehow miraculously squeak in an ms just in time (my latest was a week late but my editor helpfully went on holiday the day the book was due in, so I automatically extended the deadline...) I wish I could work another way. I really wish I could. But. I. can't.

Damian Harvey said...

Lee, you are right, I certainly wasn't intending to sound disrespectful to those that don't have deadlines... I don't have deadlines for a lot of the work that I do as I write it first and then hope to sell it afterwards - and with that work I have no problem in motivating myself at all. It's just the work to which I am set deadlines that seems to become problematic... it shouldn't be the case I know but it does sometimes seem to be so.

Otherside of the world said...

Loved the reference to Double English - it gave me a frisson of horror. I still have nightmares about Double Maths, dream that I get there with absolutely nothing in my head.

Jon M said...

Deadlines do seem to challenge you to leave things to the last moment. I find them quite motivating once I can see the whites of their eyes. I tend not to be a 'last minute merchant' these days but I have to leave it with a week or a few days to go to get moving.

Anonymous said...

I write things down a piece of paper to make sure I don't forget. Then that little piece of paper slowly disappears under more pieces of paper. Then one day I look through them all and discover it's all too late.

Once, when I was young(er) I was very organised.