Thursday, September 15, 2011

Do You Need a Deadline?

Can you guess what I am?

I need deadlines. It's the how I achieve my goals. I may miss a bunch of deadlines. And some of these deadlines may seem rather arbitrary, but I always set deadlines. If I don't have a deadline, then I procrastinate. Sound familiar?

"One of these days I'm going to learn how to do the Rubik's Cube."

When I finally got serious with the Rubik's Cube, I gave myself one week to learn how to solve it. After I realized that a 37 minute solve time wouldn't garner me any admiration from the ladies, I knew I had my next deadline. 36 minutes. Then 35 minutes. And so on.

This forced me to learn new techniques. To look for efficiencies that could save me precious solve time. I found things that I would not have even considered without the next deadline I set for myself. It didn't matter that it was 35 minutes or 35 seconds. It didn't matter if the clock ran out on me first, I was motivated and productive. (Well, as productive as you can be playing with a toy.)

My time on Earth is precious and shall not be squandered.

Time and output are two of the most important things to a writer. You are granted a finite amount of time to write your body of work. If you don’t have time to write, then you obviously won’t produce anything.

How do you make more time?

Well, that won’t happen with our current laws of physics, but we can make the best of the time we have. Setting deadlines helps you focus on what really matters most: becoming a better writer.

Flexible and achievable deadlines keep you motivated to carry on with your writing. You build your confidence. You have little competitions with yourself. This week I’m going to write 15 pages of my novel or story. That’s only 2 pages per day. After all, I wrote 12 pages last week.

Rigid deadlines can be painful, but they help you focus on your objective. For newspaper journalists, they learn to immediately get to the meat of the story. The editor won’t run their piece if there are excessive words to bog down the story.

For other literary folks, a deadline helps us to just finish the draft. We need to focus on the priorities. I’m here to write a story. I’m here to write a blog post. I’m not here to surf the internet or sharpen pencils (yes, they still exist.)

I think deadlines are a good thing. Do you agree? Do they work for you?

Figure out what that image above is? It’s a timer for speedcubing. The clock begins the moment your hands reach for the Rubik’s Cube. Once you solve it, you slam both palms back down on the pads. Keep in mind that other coffee shop patrons will not share your enthusiasm if you use one of these for your writing deadline.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is It Done Yet?

If only writing were as easy as the Rubik's Cube!

Yeah, you heard me right.

How in the world is something as left-brained as the Rubik's Cube easier than writing stories?

For one thing, you are certain when the Rubik's Cube is solved.  You know exactly when it's finished.  Like a pop-up thermometer for your Thanksgiving turkey, the Cube lets you know the moment it's done.  There's no such thing as good enough.  "I'll just leave these two corners unsolved" doesn't fly.

Take a look at your WIP (work in progress).  What about that story you threw in the drawer a year ago?  Are you finished with them?  How do you know?

With the Rubik's Cube, if you need to adjust a corner or flip an edge, it's pretty obvious what needs to be fixed.

It's not so obvious with your stories.

There is no solution manual for your stories.  Even if there were a manual, the solution would change whenever it's looked at like the crystals turning in a Kaleidoscope.  There is nothing quite as obvious as the Rubik's Cube to tell you when something is out of place or doesn't work in your story.

So how do you measure when your story is done?

Is it published?
Unfortunately, what may be considered polished and completed for one market or audience may not be so for others.

Are you, the author, satisfied?
Is this the best work you can produce today?  You may change your mind 6 months or 6 years from now.  But that's okay.

Are you exhausted?
Sometimes it is just healthier to move on to something else.  Your story is good enough.  Draft number two, or draft number eight.  It doesn't matter.  You're so weary of it you risk inadvertently 'fixing' something already working well.

I wish there was a magic solution pamphlet to let you know exactly when your story is completed, but that's just not to be.  Perhaps there is an omniscient professor of literature ready to oversee your story progress, but I have yet to discovered her.

Ink scribblings seem to be ever present on my pile of manuscripts.  I have no ideal end state like with the Rubik's Cube.  Stories are Kaleidoscopes because they are beautiful in their many different states.

What is lovely to one set of eyes may not be appealing to another.  What looks like crap today, will look genius tomorrow.

What about you?  How do you gauge when your stories are done?