“Deadline” is one of the best words in the English language. The implication is obvious, the flash of imagery stark – if you don’t cross a particular line before time’s up, you’re probably going to be killed. Mercilessly, too. I have an obsession with playing chicken with that line, a kind of subconscious risk-reward relationship with the concept. The thing about me and deadlines is that I always have to get as close as I possibly can to the “dead” bit.
It’s a bewildering, destructive compulsion. Give me a week to accomplish a task and I’ll complete it with five minutes to go, guaranteed. No, that’d be too safe: two minutes. Maybe one. Everything’s like the end of a Bond movie, with the timer bleeping down to zero, the world – my world – about to explode. Maybe that’s putting it slightly overdramatically, but every time it happens, it’s my life happening in microcosm, running from one bomb defusal to the next. I’m never, ever in a situation where there isn’t an upcoming disaster looming in my mind, one that I’ll take right to the brink. I wish I could stop doing it.
It all started in school. Why do my homework slowly and casually in plenty of time and then celebrate with a nice, cool lemonade, when I could leave it until the breaktime before the lesson it’s due and finish it with literally seconds to spare? This soon became a terrible habit and, now many years later, a seemingly unbreakable one.
A self-imposed deadline is often my only incentive to finish things. There my novel Certainty sat back in the day, two thirds finished, with me being under no pressure whatsoever to bring it to a conclusion. Oh dear, I knew what that meant – I might never get to the end. I’d go to the PC to work on it, open Microsoft Word and then decide, “Actually, I’ll just browse the Internet for a bit before I start.” And then a bit more. And then a bit more. I have no idea why, but sometimes I physically can’t make myself do things that can be put off.
The answer is to make them incapable of being put off. With Certainty I did this by booking a Monday off work, and promising myself on the Friday beforehand that I’d finish the novel in that long weekend before I went back to the office. I say to everyone that I wrote the final seventy pages in those three days, but the scary truth of the matter is that I sat there doing my usual meandering until my brain figured out that the time pressure was well past critical and approaching the mortal wound stage. Then I properly started. I pretty much wrote the whole final third of the novel in a day and a half. The really frightening thing about that? It’s probably the part I later had to redraft the least.
The knowledge that I have it within myself to do a crazy amount of work in a very short period of time and make it turn out pretty nicely doesn’t help at all – quite the opposite, in fact. It makes every occasion when I go right up to the deadline and hammer something doubly frustrating, because I know life would be much easier if I could begin as soon as I’m able to, and who knows what I could accomplish with a steadier, more organised flow of energy going into things. As it is, my creativity flows on and off like a tap controlled by the average toddler on Supernanny. Maybe one day I’ll figure out the enigma (or Holy Grail) that is time management. This blog may have helped beyond measure to reinforce my writing habit, but looking at how many entries are written just (JUST!) before I go to bed, it’s clear that the symptoms of my deadline problems are on display for all to see here too.
I’m entering the Red Planet competition I wrote about a few days ago, for which I have to send in the first ten pages of an hour-long script. The deadline is 31 July. Given that the existing script’s required overhaul is pretty achievable in a fairly short period of time, in my mind I’ve got absolutely ages. The warning signs are there already, then. I predict that on 30 July I’ll be just about started.
Okay, therapy session over. Time’s up.