Cafe Witness

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Absence of Deadlines

My friend Rachel has been writing a novella (at least, that's how long I expect the finished story will be) for the past year now.

I was there for some of her earliest brainstorming sessions, and I've seen the idea evolve from a series of sketches into a written outline and now into a mostly-finished first draft. It's gone through plenty of changes along the way, including a massive restructuring about midway through the process, but it's always stayed true to the core of her intial idea. Likewise, she's always stayed true to her initial deadline for a rough draft: May 1.

This weekend, she plans on hunkering down at Crazy Mocha and finishing up the final pages of the story (she's writing in chronological order), and then she'll be "done." She'll take a break for a few weeks, then return to the story and begin the editing and rewriting process. In between, she'll do something else, or many other things, to clear her mind from the story she's been telling and the process of telling it. Dedication and caffeine can burn a creative mind out, so a recharge is necessary.

But what happens when the deadlines are lifted?

Every writer's guide suggests setting aside a certain time every day or week to write, just to stay in the flow. Most time management guides stress deadlines and structure as a way to meet your goals. But what happens when your need to complete a certain task has been satisfied and the times comes to... relax?

My mother is also an aspiring writer, and she recently finished the rough draft of her own first novel. She called me the next day, depressed because she has no reason to leave the house, go to her favorite writing place (in her case, an Eat 'n Park restaurant in Erie) and write her characters' stories. This is a woman who finds the most uncanny ways to AVOID writing in the first place (think: changing the color scheme of her apartment twice a year, from the walls to the furniture), and now she was staring down the barrel of an absence of a deadline and she was distraught.

I suggested she go back out to the same place and keep writing, but write something else instead. She seemed content with that advice. The next day she called back to say she'd done so, and sat down with the intention of writing something else entirely, but then she got a few more ideas for the story she'd been working on so she started making more notes for the next draft. She was rejuvenated, giving herself purpose to keep writing, even during her alleged "lull" from the material.

Rachel has said her own lulls have decreased steadily with every story she's written, from 8 months off to 4 months to 2. This time, she's wondering if she'll make it through May before she's aching to return. I have a feeling she'll take as long a break as her creativity needs to recharge and then she'll be back at Crazy Mocha, laptop fired up and sketchbook reopened.

Writers. We're such creatures of habit. If we aren't steadfastly avoiding what we're supposed to be doing, we're categorically unable to leave it alone.


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