Deadlines, dead lines, and words with expiration dates
Like many self-identified “creative” people, I’ve got tremendous issues with maintaining focus, shabby impulse control and a zeal for over-committing my time. Oh, and I’m a junky. A deadline junky.
To clarify, I’m not addicted to having a deadline – due dates are proven productivity tools, which I applaud. Overachievers love beating them (“on the seventh day he rested” totally accounts for the rushed job on the universe in my opinion) and lesser beings need them to bitch about (“Can you believe I only have seven days to make everything? Literally, everything.”) I’m more in the Beatles’ camp – they advocated an “Eight Days a Week” calendar, which would give me that one extra day that everything seems to need. Like weekends. Or dying.
Death, the ultimate deadline, “concentrates the mind” as Samuel Johnson might say, though he was specifically referring to hanging, as in “from a noose.”
You won’t see my toes dangling from the hangman’s plank anytime soon (dangling a participle, however, is probable). Death is a deadline I’d rather push off than meet. Or, frankly, miss altogether. I will admit, however, I’ve always enjoyed the quiet ghoulishness of the term “deadline,” which somehow turns my work into a low-stakes a Danse Macabre.
For writers, deadlines are what make the word-trains run on time. It’s like having a little Mussolini atop one’s shoulder with his wee arms akimbo, shouting, “I before E except after ‘si!’” Or in the case of that last gag, deadlines can also derail a word-train, though I’m loathe to cut 22 perfectly functional words when chugging toward the finish line.
Surely I’ve mentioned that my newsroom nickname is Deadline-less (I prefer this one to Daeda-lush)?
But you see, it’s not the deadline that does it for me – it’s being ON deadline. That’s what gets my neurotransmitters firing. And when I’m really on a jag, there’s nothing sweeter in the dark crevices of my brain’s Broca’s Area than being OVER deadline. Suddenly, my entire experience is infused with delicious panic. My mind becomes focused as it searches for some semblance of meaning in every stray thought. It’s rather like doing random multiplication problems in one’s head but the numbers are notions and the answer is only correct when it seems simultaneously novel and known.
In the motion picture version of this moment, it arrives with the velocity of Thor’s hammer and a riot of words spray like sparks from the anvil. Of course, not all these words will ignite infernos of inspiration.
In fact, most are total crap and end up lost somewhere in the Cloud. But I can usually get the 600 or so words it takes to fill this space with a reasonable sense of accomplishment and only the occasional twinge that something is amiss.
This is certainly a hazard when one is two days over the delivery date as I am with this very piece. Yes, this is a disservice to my editors (who are too gallant to grumble) but I do think that it benefits you, the reader. After all, these words are that much fresher, right?
That’s something to consider – inasmuch as I have a deadline, my columns have an expiration date. Yesterday’s news, birdcage liner, fish wrap. Perhaps turning them in late is a way of stalling their inevitable decline into meaninglessness. Or maybe it’s a way of forestalling my own. While one is still writing, one is not yet written off.
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Daedalus Howell writes off most everything at FMRL.com.