No, not that time, though this period may cause stress, crankiness and discomfort as well… I’m talking about deadline time. Most anthologies, magazine and contests I’ve looked into set their deadlines at the end of the month. This isn’t necessarily universal or a rule, as I’ve a couple on my “to do” list which end in the middle of the month, but it’s common. Of course, everyone else puts their deadlines and due dates around this time as well.
So, not only are you scrambling to finish two or three stories and send them off, but bills come due, demanding time with the old checkbook or online if you’re into that kind of thing, checking off a list of demands. I have found myself in this situation more times than I care to think about.
What’s to be done? That’s a good question, and I’m experimenting right now with… ready?
It’s actually not going very well right now, as procrastination has been a constant stalker in my life since I’ve had things I’ve needed to get done. Progress is, however, being made.
More specifically, I’ve created for myself a schedule. (Ooooh!) I start with researching a handful of markets per month, looking for calls for submissions, themes, if you will, which appeal or even call to me. Basically, this allows me to set up a list of stories I need to write each month.
Personally, I tend to also put more than I think I can do initially. Why? you might reasonably ask. Doesn’t that leave you open to near-guaranteed failure and thus negative feedback? While there is risk of that, it’s all about perspective and intent. Rather than feel bad about failing to write five or six stories in a month, I treat those extra couple of stories as what they call on kickstarter “stretch goals.”
These extra stories give me a buffer. I know I’m going procrastinate or get distracted by other projects or the dreaded Internet. I accept that, but I also know that if I see I have six stories to write, I’m much more likely to get three done than if I merely shoot for three. The initial mild pressure to do more, earlier, and since I’m keeping in mind that the others are stretch goals, it doesn’t hurt as much when I find I can’t do it all.
Another aspect of this approach is the fact that while I pick themes and markets I think I can get into, I don’t always come up with a story which flows easily from my fingers into the keyboard. I sometimes get stuck on how to approach a theme, which idea to chase down. Sometimes the first idea I expand doesn’t make it to the word count minimum or twists away from the original theme and may work much better for one of the following month’s choices. (I’m currently working about three months out, with six stories planned for April.)
This brings me to my next point. Having set a ridiculous goal, part of me wants to not just hit it, but knock it out of the proverbial park. You give me the “that’s impossible!” speech and some part in the back of my mind says, “We should do that.” Doing something extraordinary, something someone else doesn’t think can be done, can be a big motivator.
Even though one of my stories derailed a bit and is too big to fix by tomorrow, let alone edit properly by the deadline (which of course is compounded by Easter and other obligations this week/month end,) I have two first drafts for next month already set up.
This may also be a function of “do the easy stuff first.” Which can be a good way to get through a project or set of projects. I know reaching ahead and doing something I know isn’t due until the end of next month makes me feel like I’m ahead of the game even if I’d bailed on the current goal.
This may seem counter-productive, spending this month’s effort on next month’s work, but it puts me in a place where I feel more like I can do anything. For me, feeling like I’m putting the icing on the impossible cake is far more motivating and effective than feeling like I’m under the gun, struggling to make a deadline.
So here I am, still in the early stages of experimenting with getting stories written early in the month and being prepared before the last few days, nibbling my already too-short fingernails. Currently I’m on track to send out three of the four stories I’d originally intended, but if I get lucky, there’s this other fourth story, a much shorter, simpler one which might make it out as well.
Keep reading, keep writing.