There once was a time when I stayed as far away as I could get from anything that resembled a deadline. This was back in the day when I maintained a more-than-respectable daily word count almost without effort. I moved cross-country—twice! Driving each way—without it noticeably changing my output. I went on vacation, worked full-time, parented teens all without it impacting how much I wrote. And in my pride and ignorance I naively assumed it would always be like that.
Oh, how wrong I was.
In a way, what happened to me is a lot like what happened when my daughter was three years old. She’d always been an outgoing, confident, non-clingy child (unlike her older brother). Then we moved. After that, if she could have figured out a way to Velcro herself to my leg, she would have done so. I remember complaining to her pre-school teacher after enduring several months of separation-anxiety-tantrums, “You don’t understand. She’s not like this!”
To which she very sensibly replied, “I think you have to accept the fact that she is like this now.”
Understandably, I was horrified by this idea. Unfortunately, she seemed to be correct. Ultimately, I was proved right—but I had to wait until my daughter turned nineteen before I could say,“I told you so.” Which actually came out sounding more like, “Waaaah!” because that was the point at which she blithely traipsed off to Europe—completely on her own, without understanding more than a handful of words in any language other than English—and ended up staying away for almost two entire years.
But I digress.
The thing is, when I was effortlessly turning out massive amounts of words-on-paper, I had no need for deadlines—either self-imposed of otherwise. The very idea of them irked me. I figured I was a responsible adult and I didn’t need anyone (including myself) telling me how and when to do what I knew I needed to get done. Besides, for most of my life, my main role model (and I’m using the term very loosely here) for how to handle deadlines has been my sister. She’s always loved deadlines—much like Douglas Adams.
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
I’m convinced my sister looks at each deadline as a game in which the object is to find the absolute last minute in which a project needs to be started in order to finish in time—without leaving a single moment to spare. That kind of thinking made me crazy. Still does.
But over the course of the last year or so, I’ve realized that deadlines don’t have to always be the stick, sometimes they can be the carrot as well. They can be the goal you aspire to—like an inanimate exercise buddy that helps get you out the door for your daily run. And so I’ve developed a new appreciation for deadlines. It’s a very zen appreciation, actually.
Deadlines are likes waves. They can be exhilarating—like the perfect swell you look for when you surf. One that propels you forward, carrying you gently into shore. But they can also be terrifying, a tsunami powering down on you even as you race up the beach in an effort to keep from drowning.
Needless to say, I’m gonna try to stick with surfing.