The Writer and the Looming Deadline
Do writers work better under pressure?
As a writer who likes to keep busy, I’m not often without a project. Having something to work on keeps my creative mind busy, and if I’m motivated by my ideas and immersed in my work, I am sure to get my writing done in a short amount of time.
But sometimes, as many of us know, it can be difficult to finish our work, due to a lack of inspiration, or because the task we have taken on is too much. So that begs the question: when we hit a mental block, or when we need to start something new, do we work better under pressure, or at our own pace?
Any student will know that deadlines will creep up on you when you least expect them, and you’re forced to write as much as you can by that point, which can lead to a lot of stress. It’s understandable why we have these deadlines: we are taking a course and want to get the highest grades, and it is practical to get your work done by a certain stage. But before that, we have to use our time to research, draft, re-draft, re-re-draft, proofread, reference, and take general care with how we present our writing. In my experience, this process has made me less ignorant to what is needed for a writer to be successful: hard work and dedication.
However, there are mixed opinions on deadlines. English student Chloe Pendrill says, “Deadlines can be good to give you structure, but they do put a lot of pressure on you when it can take a while to formulate ideas.” It’s clearly difficult for new students to adjust to such strict time constraints, and a university course is probably one of the first times to become used to this routine. Is it really necessary to put all this pressure on first-time writers?
But perhaps what makes deadlines such love-or-hate tools is that all writers are different. Some are fast workers, writing 3000 words a day, while others take things slowly. We are varied in terms of what environments, tools, and mindsets we need to concentrate on our work and write naturally. Likewise, because we are so varied in our patterns, we all respond to deadlines in different ways. Even some of the classic authors have their differences.
Charles Dickens, for example, was known to publish regularly without care for restrictions, except once in his lifetime when he missed a deadline due to the sudden death of a relative. Others, however, will take a significant amount of time to complete their projects, since their work requires a great deal of attention and care to make it perfect. There are some famous works that surprisingly took a long time for authors to complete. J.R.R. Tolkien spent twelve years writing The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Margaret Mitchell wrote her only novel, Gone with the Wind, in about ten. Without any real pressure, except self-discipline, some of our favourite authors have taken the time to perfect their novels that are now considered some of the greatest of all time. This is evidence that our creative flow should not be restrained by time limits, and instead nurtured through our own methods of working.
I remember when I had to write a 2000-word story for my first semester, and I found it hard to enjoy writing now that there was suddenly a lot riding on it; the approaching deadline was like a constant weight on my shoulders. But despite the challenge to my routine, the deadline became a huge benefit to my writing practice. It helped me retrain my habits, discipline myself, and ignore distractions to get my work done without a hitch. These are traits writers need if they want to be successful, specifically in a full-time career. After all, deadlines and restrictions are unavoidable in many jobs, like freelancing and journalism, so it’s important to start mastering them sooner than later.
If you are a writer who is just starting out, or a university student who needs to get into a sensible pattern of work, the best idea is to start working to a deadline as soon as possible, since it is surprising how beneficial they can be to your routine. One way to handle them if you’re not used to them is to create your own goals. Many writers have self-imposed deadlines that they use for personal projects, which can be less stressful than having fixed deadlines given by someone else. If you work at your own pace, but also set yourself some rules, you can slowly learn to time-keep effectively over an extended period. You may choose to set yourself a number of deadlines when a specific stage of your work is completed, so that you feel achievements are being made and you can reward yourself each time. That way, you are motivated to finish your projects.
Bottom line: a deadline should be a motivation, not an obstacle. Reconfiguring your life a little bit may not be the easiest part of being a writer under a deadline, but it can definitely make you better at what you do.
by Abigail Martin