Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deadline: how an old enemy became a good friend


I've always hated that word.  It reminds me too much of words like "homework" and "chore."  You know, those really nasty concepts that could ruin entire weekends.

It took a long time for me to realize how important deadlines are.

Before I was published, back when I wrote only fiction, deadlines were a rather aloof topic.  People would ask when I would write a book or get a story out.  The truth was that I didn't know.  I always answered in vague timetables like "later" or "this year."

Finally, I got tired of my own procrastination and started working for a local newspaper.  That's where I learned how to write and how to write fast.

No longer could I tell someone "I'll write it later" or "this year."  Stories were due often a few hours after I interviewed someone.

At first, this terrified me.  I had always told myself that I could write a really good story if I were given more time.  I'll admit that sometimes that's true, but procrastination is never the answer.

In 2010, I pushed myself to the limit by signing up for what became a 22 part series for my newspaper.  I had always wanted to do a series, and I was thinking big--something that would really make me stick out.  I wanted to profile prominent Mainers for their success across the state.

This meant I would have to snag interviews with busy hard-to-reach people, write stories and turn them in well before my usual deadline.  My editor wanted it to be a front-page series, so there was no fudging the dates.  I agreed, and to this day, I surprised myself.

I took this picture in 2010 when I interviewed author and actress Victoria Rowell. It made the front page along with my story.  Everyone I knew was shocked that I got to meet her. In Maine, she's known from her roles in prime-time series like "Diagnosis Murder" and "Dumb and Dumber" with Jim Carey.

During that time, I interviewed people like Victoria Rowell from "The Young and the Restless,"  former Maine governor Angus King, UFC Fighters Marcus Davis and Tim Boetsch, and New York Times Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen, among many others.

I churned the stories out as fast as I could because half my time was spent scheduling interviews, some of which never worked out.

But more importantly, I learned more about myself and what I could accomplish.  I just needed a deadline to do it.

Here's a pic of UFC fighter Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch (right) in action.  Due to his training schedule, I wasn't able to meet Tim, but he spoke to me over an hour on the phone.   His UFC record is an impressive 16-4.  He knocked this opponent, Mike Patt, out in the first round at UFC 88.

I learned that there are too many stories that need attention.  As a writer, each one is a step in improving your craft.

Writing is a lot like lifting weights.  If you want to see results, you don't start working out the night before your big date.  You have to do it consistently over time.

Sometimes you won't lift that much.  Sometimes you might drop the weights.  But what matters is that you're doing it.  Only by lifting weights do you see results, and only by writing do you finish a story.

The thing I hated most--the deadline--helped me finally become a writer.  Now with more than 200 articles published in various newspapers and magazines, I've come to recognize the deadline as an ally in the continuous battle against procrastination.

If you need to organize your ideas, make a deadline. Nothing will light a fire like that.

If you want to write fiction every week, create a writers group.  Nothing will make you write more than sharing your work with others on a regular basis.

Only writing will make you a writer, and if you're anything like me, you need a deadline to make you write.


  1. I totally agree, but it's not easy to keep to a deadline you make just for yourself. This, I think, is why writing groups are so important. I'm not a professional writer yet, so I don't have any professional deadlines, but if I don't have anyone to share with at all, I'd never write.

  2. Exactly, Brent. Self-imposed deadlines rarely work for me.

    In fact,the only self-imposed deadline I ever met was when I gave myself a month to finish my book "Who's at the Door?" It was nearly complete, and I forced myself to write every night until it was done.

  3. Accountability is an amazing thing. It turns the "I think I want to" into "I am doing." Thanks for the great blog.

  4. There is definitely truth there. I do the most writing when I have limited time to accomplish it.