Deadlines and the Law of Distraction

I'm currently on a deadline that under the best of circumstances would prove a challenge. But the fact is, it's not the best of circumstances. I've been putting in the sweat equity all right, but the universe keeps lobbing hand grenades into my foxhole, each one more distracting than the next. Illness (bang!), son's birthday (boom!), Christmas (pow!)... then, most recently, a loved one's serious illness (cue mushroom cloud!)

But that's the way it is when you're a writer. Life doesn't stop, and disaster's no respecter of the deadline or art either. I meet so many wanna-be authors who tell me they're get serious as soon as _____ settles down in their lives. But I'm here to tell you, the ________'s just there to teach you how to develop the focus to write through anything. If it teaches you instead to make excuses, then you'll never make it in the trenches. Because the hand grenades will just keep raining down; they don't buy into the myth of the lonely artist living in splendid isolation and grunting out each breach-born word as if it were the Second Coming.

You're in the foxhole when you're working. And the best, bravest, most defiant thing you can do is to plug your ears a little while and turn your total focus to the book.

So how do you react to stress? By escaping into your work or freezing up completely? And is there anything (non-pharmaceutical) that can be done to change the way you deal with it?


Janette said…
Colleen, I can so relate to this. I just went through a month long serious illness with my mom which ended with her death, a shakeup at work, and battling a stomach virus that just wanted to hang on. Through it all, I have final page proofs to vet and a proposal to get to my agent. The writing actually allowed me to escape the life junk if only for a little while. But the lingering grief on top of the holidays is making it harder for me to get back in that writing groove. Some things just take time. TG everything I met my deadlines and can regroup now. :)
I am so sorry for your loss. Sounds as if you've earned some recovery time. Be kind to yourself.

Glad you made your deadlines. Sometimes, the work's the best respite we have.
First: Janette--in 2000, I had the same sort of heavy stress--my husband was showing symptoms of some neurological condition (they gave us a horrendous misdiagnosis which through us into panic), he'd just been laid off, and right after that my mother died after a 2 year battle with cancer. The week after she died I received a contract for my 8th nonfiction book and they wanted it in six weeks. We needed the money. I wrote the book, just buried my grief and everything else and wrote the damned book. I burnt out for awhile, big-time, but I got it done.

Every December I seem to be buried under deadlines. This year, my husband is still showing symptoms--never been diagnosed--but he's quite alive, he's out of a contract again but we're a little better off than before, and I still miss my mother but time has eased some of that pain. But again, I am under deadlines--a book due 1/15, copyedits on another book due Very Soon, I'm building promo on yet a different book that comes out in January, and I'm opening a home business on the side on the first of January. Yep...deadlines...

They never stop, but this is our career. We have to cope with them. I am not that great with stress, but I try to eat right, I hand over all the housework to my husband, I try to see friends at least once every couple weeks or so to refresh myself, and I drink a ton of caffeine. Sleep? I try. *grins* Pet the cats, watch junk TV, and when nothing else works, I remember my days working as a data entry operator, hating my job, wanting to be published sooo much I could--and did--cry. And I take a few minutes, drink some icy cold Talking Rain (wonderful flavored artesian well water) and get my butt back to work.

Christie Craig said…
Great post, Colleen!!!

First I send some postive vibes to help you deal with the stress. I can so relate because I've had a few mushroom clouds and big bang stress situations myself.

The one thing I do to help me deal with it is to create what I call my mental worry pockets. I mentally put the thing that is bothering me in a pocket in my heart and tell myself it's okay to forget about it for now, because it's close to my heart and when I finished doing _____ then I can bring it back out and worry about it.

Also when my list of to-dos starts nipping at my sanity, I keep the saying..."How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." in my head. I focus on one thing that I can do and complete. When that one thing is finished, I feel better, more powerful, and am able to tackle another thing on my list.
Kathy Bacus said…
Great topic, Colleen, and so timely. This seems to be the time of year when we discover more on our plates than what is usually served up by everyday life. Add life's unexpected challenges and hardships to the mix--along with deadlines and other writing commitments--and the resultant mish-mosh is hardly conducive to keeping those creative juices flowing.

But life happens.

Example: I received a rather long revision request for my May, 2008 release with the customary 'ten days' with which to complete said revisions and get them returned. Yes, right at the holidays and smack dab during finals for college courses I was enrolled in. And what happens next? I'm in middle of revisions when a freak ice storm hits and takes out the electricity in my town for days. I still managed to get the revisions completed and mailed off only to have them delivered two days late.

Presently I'm on a deadline for my next book and finding lots to distract me--including the 7.5 inches of new snow that fell overnight. I guess the key for me to keep writing and to keep meeting deadline after deadline is the fact that I do consider myself a professional--and that distinction comes with the same level of commitment and responsibility as other professions. Admittedly, it's a challenge to meet writing obligations when you hold down a full-time job and are head of your household, but we all know writers write. I can't imagine not having a writing project (or two or three) to lose myself in. All the better that I actually get paid...
Deadlines. I know they sound ominous, but for some reason, they motivate me. When I was in school, I was a terrible procrastinator. Now, I'm more methodical and don't want to get caught short. I write like I'm killing snakes till I get the first draft done. Then I have time to clean it up.

Deadlines aren't as hard to deal with as the disasters of life. In 2003, my husband lost his job, we moved half way across the country and I started working full time (learning to be a banker with very little business background, so I had a steep learning curve) while my DH struggled through 6 months of unemployment.

If not for my wonderful critique partner, I'd have quit writing altogether. She stuck by me, e-critiquing since we were now many states apart, and giving me well-timed kicks in the pants. The result was ERINSONG, my title that earned a Desert Isle Keeper Review from All About Romance. I would not be published today with my critique partner, Darcy Carson.

I've heard people say the difference between men and women is their ability to compartmentalize. If part of your life is in the crapper, set it aside (in Jenny's little pocket if you like!) and concentrate on something else. Men tend to find this much easier to do. I think as writers, we MUST learn how to do this. It's hard to write love scenes by the hospital bedside of a stroke victim, but I've done it.

Nothing is ever wasted on a writer. If we're feeling stressed, we'll use that sensation and bequeath it to a heroine someday. If we have ups and downs, we can better torment our characters with challenges.

Thanks for an excuse to play hooky, Colleen. Now I'm heading back to the woodshed. PLEASURING THE PIRATE, my August release, is due Jan 2nd!
Eilis Flynn said…
What an amazing post, Colleen. As Nike would tell us, all we can do is "Just do it."
Thanks so much for all the great feedback. It helps to know that we all go through periods of high stress, that we all develop our own ways to muddle through.

By the way, did anybody notice the grenade pic is actually the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Because Monty Python's one of the best stress reducers I know.

Back to the salt mines...
Rowena Cherry said…
Hi, Colleen,

I'm under deadline, too, and not doing well! If any of my friends read this, do not feel slighted that you didn't get a Christmas card. No one did.

Sometimes, I think my priorities are *wrong*!

Not all the hand grenades are bad, though! There are the unexpected award nominations (the CAPA announced this am, the new covey trailer awards poll) that one feels compelled to announce/promote.

We all deal in our own way...and I envy those who write better (and faster) with their proverbial "t88ts to the tile" but I see so many mentions of authors under stress who fall ill, that I have to wonder what the long term health effects of deadline stress are.

Anyway, happy, productive "Holidays" to all those under deadline.

And don't forget to fill your prescriptions, fit in the mammogram before your benefits expire, send in your state taxes before the end of the year for credit to your 2007 federal taxes, take your stock losses, pay your bills, tip the trash collector... blast! I forgot... and mailcarrier.

LOL (maniacally).

Congrats on the award nominations, Rowena! *Pleasant* distractions are always welcome. :)

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