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Rewriting, laundry and the deadline hangover

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Daedalus Howell/Index-Tribune

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Been rewriting a novel which I’ve paced out, at least at present, to a three page or thousand-word-a-day fixer upper. As always, the most difficult part of the gig is actually sitting in the chair, which, given the generative part of my process, is a foreign notion. I tend to write opportunistically, on whatever device is at hand, straight into the cloud. I’ve been editing, however, from a printed draft that I’ve marked up and have to be physically near to move forward. It feels so, I don’t know, 20th century.

I’ve tried to station these sessions in the upstairs garret on a desktop machine rigged with a webcam and mic as an ersatz personal media studio to, you know, document the process, man. It works well enough, though not as well as the iPhone in my hand on which I’m writing this bit, lying on my bed amongst the laundry that needs folding.

To paraphrase the online Ancient Aliens Guy, “I’m not saying it’s procrastination but it’s procrastination.”

Fact is, making a routine of being in the same place at the same time to accomplish the same task with any regularity is proving difficult. Not for some failure of will, but for the simple reason that we’re on a mud ball hurtling through space such that we’re never in the same place twice.

Even if we were, we wouldn’t be the same people anyway, due to the constant cellular shifts we undergo between any given moments. This is how I rationalize the lack of progress of my “rewriting process” — it’s not my lack of work ethic but a conspiracy of physics and physiology.

The only reason I’ll probably rewrite anything at all today is not because I need to polish the next chapter but because I don’t want to fold clothes.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that a deadline might be the solution to my dilemma. As is, I’m accountable to no one. I’m like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western of words and rhetoric, shooting at will and squinting into the desert horizon without cares or compunction, just a gnarly cheroot that requires occasional ashing.

Do deadlines make you more creative? Marketplace commentator Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work,” doesn’t think so. According to her research, professionals are 45 percent less likely to “come up with a new idea or solve a complex problem” when on extreme deadlines. Worse yet, your creative energies are apparently sapped for an additional two or more days due to a sort of deadline “hangover.”

So, that’s what that is. And here, I thought it was due to my mid afternoon drinking. Whew, that’s a relief.

Amabile suggests avoiding the “treadmill effect” wherein you’re running all day due to distractions and sequestering yourself into a quiet place. Brings to mind Jack Keroauc locking himself in a closet writing 10,000 words in a sitting whilst losing 10 pounds in the process.

Albeit, he was on Benzedrine but the general idea is the same. Also, Amabile says, “If you’re a procrastinator, maybe the most important change you can make is an attitude adjustment,” which raised the hackles of at least two commenters on the Marketplace blog where this bit was archived. As MJWilco replied, “Don’t insult us with simplistic advice. An ‘attitude adjustment?’ If that was true, I would have fixed all my problems in grade school.”

True. So, the question at hand is, “Do deadlines work for you?” Amabile says that, “When you work under the gun, creativity is usually the first casualty.” Or does it just improve your aim? We’ll see — if I ever make it upstairs.

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Daedalus Howell rewrites himself at DHowell.com.