I remember discussing a phenomenon with other writers a decade or so back that we called the “Suddenly Syndrome.” Your house could have been a wreck for ages, and your errands could have been postponed for weeks, and maybe there had been nothing even remotely interesting on television in the past millennia. And then you get a deadline.
Suddenly, you must clean your house or it’s going to drive you insane. And suddenly, the errands can wait no longer, because if they aren’t done this minute the whole world is going to end. And the television? Why it’s suddenly displaying the most amazing and wonderful of programs…of course you have to watch them, because that’s vital creative input, right?
Suddenly, everything in the world is pressing for your attention and the deadline that’s looming gets more and more daunting with each passing hour.
That’s me to a tee, still today. I suffer from Suddenly Syndrome so badly that my favorite coffee cup says “What Deadline?” And if I don’t guard my time very closely, I can land right on top of a deadline without a single word written.
When I wrote articles, that wasn’t so much of a problem. I can knock out 400-2000 words in a few short hours. But when I started selling books and suddenly a deadline consists of 30-50 pages, that’s a bit more challenging to accomplish in 24 hours or less.
Let me explain that my book deadlines are the non-fiction kind. And non-fiction works a little differently than fiction. With non-fiction books (at least in the technology sector), you’re given incremental deadlines. My most recent project requires that I write 1-3 chapters a week, for a total of a little more than 36 pages. It doesn’t sound terribly daunting, unless of course, you have to write it. Then it’s a whole different story.
To deal with the pressure of getting something written I have to monitor myself pretty closely. It’s nothing for me to spend a few hours a day online researching something. But at some point I have to make myself pull away from the research and get to work.
I’m also prone to fits and starts. I start working on a project but if I can’t sink right into it, I’m up putting in a load of laundry, washing a few dishes, taking the dog out…whatever little something I can do to take me away from the words that won’t flow. Then I’m back in front of the computer, wrestling with the muse.
Self-discipline is hard for me! I wish I could give you some magic formula that would show you how to discipline yourself to sit in front of the computer and put in whatever number of words or pages you have scheduled for that day. I can’t. What works for me is simply the repeated liberal application of my backside to the seat and my fingers to the keyboard. Eventually, the writing brain kicks in and I focus and the words start to flow easily.
It might not work for you. You may require a brisk walk, or a music regimen. Or maybe it’s just sitting down in the right place, whether that’s your office, your favorite writing chair, or a coffee house. Whatever it is, I can be sure of this much…it’s unique to you. Just like my forcing the muse to come out to play is unique to me. Given enough time (and a quickly approaching deadline), and I can force the old girl to cooperate. In fact, that’s usually the only way she’ll join the party.