“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
You’ve probably seen this inspirational quote somewhere at the office, sometime. Douglas Adams, the writer of the famously hilarious and imaginative Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy went on to sell over 15 million copies during his lifetime. The movie grossed over $100 million worldwide. Meanwhile, his quote continues to inspire writers, creative thinkers and professionals worldwide.
Deadlines to a writer are like spouses – you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. The trick, I think, is to understand their true nature and role in your life. (Much like a spouse)
While many argue that deadlines limit your creativity, for a professional writer, deadlines are the best friend, making sure your electricity bills and rent are paid. Making a productive and meaningful partnership with deadlines is the first step to a happy marriage with writing.
Step 1: The courtship – understand your personal creative process
Deadlines do limit creativity, but with good reason. This is because the creative process is unique to each individual, getting to that state of ‘flow’ often has different paths. For some it’s endless research, each exciting find leading you down a different path, changing the idea and direction, each more interesting than the last. For some like me, it’s procrastination, building up the stress on myself until I just have no choice but to write the article. It could even be physical activity after a stint of deep research and thinking. A deadline allows a writer to learn what works for them, but also how to master it – they can crunch the process to churn out equally powerful content in a short time, or spread out the creative journey to come up with something truly lateral.
Step 2: Three dates and a first draft
Getting to the ‘flow’ state after you figure out your creative process feels like an achievement, because it is. Once you sit down and words begin to take shape – this is not the time to overthink the grammar or whether a sentence is too long. Get the words on the paper and let your mind do its thing. But don’t make the mistake of sharing this draft with your client or publisher! It’s the essential download, raw material that your creative process has given you to work with. While a potter can go out and buy a lump of clay, this first draft is the writer’s clay. Your second draft is when you go back with a reader’s perspective, revisit the brief and fine-tune your article. But wait, don’t send this one either. Like any good baker who knows not to serve a cake hot from the oven, because no matter how delicious it smells, it would crumble when being served. Wait on it, do something else to reset your mind. Then read through it – this time as a proofreader and editor – detached from the fact that it is your creation. Three drafts later, you have your first draft, ready to be served.
Step 3: Get committed, or it’s complicated
There’s no limit to creativity; it’s a high that gets you chasing after perfection. Your work could always be better, it could spin off into a more interesting direction, it could be visualised differently, organised differently…. This is also why deadlines are a writer’s best friend. As they say in engineering, another similar creative process, albeit more technical, there is a time when you have to freeze the design. Unlike engineering, it’s most important for a professional writer to realise that the client is likely to have inputs, so the pursuit for perfection is better turned into collaborative thinking. At this point, invite your reviewers into your home, the writing process, guide them on which are the load-bearing pillars that shouldn’t be touched and how you can both go about painting the house and choosing curtains together. If, at this point, the brief changes, then it gets complicated, and it’s better to start again.
With all this in mind, enjoy the journey and remember that deadlines are, actually, your friend.
The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.