Having an appointment with writing (also, cats at keyboards)

I like deadlines.

No, scratch that. I need deadlines. I thrive on them. I require them. Without them, I’m left to rely on discipline and good habits to keep myself focused on doing what I should be doing.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a shortage of both.

Cat-WritingThat’s why, whenever possible, I prefer for my writing projects to have a deadline attached. When it comes to professional work, that’s usually a given. Your client is going to want their content by a certain time, after all.

As I write this post, for instance, I’m also tossing around ideas for my Sunday evening appointment with writing. See, for the last two years I have written a weekly beer column for the Philadelphia Weekly. Online, it appears as a series of (mostly) daily briefs on beers I think are worth trying, while in print it’s a weekly spotlight on five great beers, usually focused on a certain theme, style, or whatever catches my fancy that week.

My copy is due Monday morning, which means that every Sunday night I have an appointment with the keyboard. Doesn’t matter what I’ve been doing all day. Doesn’t matter where I am. Doesn’t matter if I’m tired or uninspired or out of ideas or just plain want to have a relaxing Sunday night.

I HAVE TO GET MY FINGERS ON THE KEYBOARD AND DELIVER.

That’s not a bad thing. Yes, I could do the work earlier (and occasionally I do). In theory, I could even get a few weeks of material done ahead of time in order to give myself a few Sundays off (though I’ve never taken it that far). For me, though, having that deadline is a big part of maintaining the discipline needed to write on a regular basis.

For personal projects it can be a little trickier.

For the last several weeks, for instance, I have been consumed with putting the finishing touches on another experiment with self-publishing, Celebrating Mad Men: An Unofficial Guide to What Makes the Show and its Characters Tick. (For what it’s worth, this was my first big one, not counting Pitched Vol. 1 and Pitched Vol. 2.)

It has been a lot of work trying to make this as professional a production as possible. After all, I’m going to be asking people to spend their hard-earned money on it! Cover design, layout, several rounds of proofing and corrections, fact-checking, fine-tuning the small details that separate a professional product from an amateur one, and on and on and on.

The crunch time I am currently experiencing on the project is by design, though. I’ve been working on the book for seven months or so with the knowledge that the end of the show was coming. The idea was to have it ready in the days following the final episode, that way it’s out there when the show is still fresh in our minds and people are still eager to dissect it.

catwritingIn other words, I built a deadline into the project. It’s kicking me in the ass because it was meant to.

No, there is no boss hanging over my head demanding I finish it on time. I won’t get fired or scolded or written up.

However, as a freelance writer, my ability to put food on my family’s table depends on me being able to get stuff like this done. It’s part of my livelihood. It’s how I pay the bills. These self-publishing projects are not vanity projects, they’re part of what I do for a living. There is no room for daydreaming or crossing my fingers and hoping success finds me. I have to go find it. I need to get things done, and hopefully those things will help me support my family while also being enjoyable to do (and in this case, I had a blast writing it).

Therefore, I try to structure things in such a way so that I’m forced to have an appointment with writing, “feeling inspired” or not.

Because me? I need deadlines.

Anyone who wants to write but who has a hard time getting work done should probably consider putting themselves in situations that force them to have deadlines, too. It’s amazing what a difference it can make in your productivity.