Deadlines and Detours

Hourglass.

Photo by flickr user Alexander Boden

I’m not a procrastinator. I’ve always been the type to plan ahead and finish projects early. I know this probably baffles and/or disgusts many people, but it’s my way of coping with my fear of failure — even if I’m not crazy about the final product, having something done feels better than facing a deadline empty-handed.

Consequently, I take deadlines — even the ones I set for myself — very seriously. I set a timeline for each of my writing projects, and tell my critique partners when they can expect to see my latest drafts. My most recent deadline was for a round of revisions that I knew were going to be tough, so I gave myself a couple extra weeks to tackle them.

But then another project took over with all the suddenness and subtlety of a carjacker. I forced myself to take a step back from my manuscript so that I could return to it with fresh eyes, but wanted to keep writing during that break, so I decided to start playing around with an idea I’d gotten a few months back. Usually, this stage of a project involves me writing scenes that will never make it into the actual book, but that give me a better sense of the characters and the world they inhabit.

This time, I started writing and immediately knew I was writing the first scene of the book. I wasn’t expecting to produce anything substantial during my “play” stage, but I had so much fun writing it that I decided to keep going. I wrote the next scene. And then the next one.

Somehow, my “play” turned into a first draft of almost 60,000 words written in 15 days. I was swept up in a fever, a frenzy — I literally could not stop writing. I got up early to write. I stayed up late to write. I wrote on my lunch break.

Fireworks.

Photo by flickr user bayassa

When I finally finished, I wanted to dive into editing my new project, but I forced myself to go back to the first one. I had a deadline to meet. I read through the whole manuscript in one morning and realized that a.) a lot of changes still need to be made, but I’m not sure what they are or how to make them; and b.) I’m not invested enough in that project right now to give it the attention it deserves.

And so, for the first time ever, I’ve slashed a deadline that I set for myself. It wasn’t easy, but I want to make sure I give the older project the attention it deserves, and I just can’t do that right now. Plus, anything that seems to write itself like this ought to be given proper recognition. I started typing up my new book (I write first drafts longhand), and the fever returned. It’s not quite the same frenzy that it was before, but it’s still guiding me, telling me what to change, what to add (beyond the obvious “10,000+ words”), and where, and how — all the things I couldn’t do with my older manuscript.

I still plan to come back to that project, but I’m going to surrender to the fever of this new one first. The fact that I’m getting chills just writing this tells me I’ve made the right decision.

Have you ever been swept up by an idea like this? Share your stories in the comments!

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