I Never Miss a Deadline … Except When I Do (which is often)

Deadline

So, my WIP, such as it is, is indeed still IP.

To date, despite have been writing seriously for some six years, I’ve yet to complete anything novel-length that stands as a fully completed story – a fact that haunts me continuously.

I’d originally resolved to finish my WIP last year by my birthday, which is at the end of November.

I didn’t make that deadline, but consoled myself with the fact that I had an entire other novel to write to finish the story, my previously anticipated duology in fact being a trilogy.

But there’s still something about deadlines – something definitive and binding, which I suppose is the whole point.  I almost never set deadlines.  I really don’t like them, even though my “type” is supposed to thrive on them.

At my work, we make use a fair bit of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test.

We do this not for the purpose of pigeon-holing ourselves or each other into rigid castes and duties, but to better understand something of our natural tendencies to help foster a positive and productive work environment.

One of the dichotomies of the MBTI (there are four in total) is judging vs. perceiving.  This is a measure of how a person organizes his/her life.  The characteristics describing each function are as follows:

Judging (J)
(prefers a planned, orderly way of life)
Perceiving (P)
(prefers a flexible, spontaneous way of life)
Organized Pending
Settled Flexible
Planned Spontaneous
Decisive Tentative
Control one’s life Let life happen
Set goals Undaunted by surprise
Systematic Open to change

This kind of reads like the stereotypical differences between plotters and pantsers.

I don’t need no stinkin’ deadline

My MBTI type is ISTJ (aka, the boring type – the one that never gets invited to parties).  As you can see, I have the J in my type, and accordingly should almost never struggle to finish things on time.

And I usually don’t.  I don’t even need a deadline, for I’m the type who will begin work on a project as soon it’s assigned, day after day steadily pecking away at it, constantly fussing and tweaking it until I get sick of looking at it.

All that and it will still be finished well before anyone would think to inquire after it, ‘cause I’m that awesome.

Without a deadline.

With a deadline, however, everything changes.  Particularly with projects where I don’t have clear sense of how long they should take because the various steps aren’t straightforward or easy to visualize, or are otherwise outside my realm of experience.

Like writing a novel to completion, for example.

I have a problem when it comes to writing: even though I have a very clear idea of where the story is going and all the specific plot points along the way (because I’m a boring ISTJ plotter who doesn’t gets invited to parties), I never know how many words it will actually take me to get to those points.

To the extent that I’ve been telling a friend that an important character “is going to die soon” for three chapters now.

Because I’m not that type of plotter – the type who knows exactly how many words per scene and scenes per chapter, and has outlined exactly which events will happen in which chapters.

My outlines are sorta … freeform.  And I’m not even writing from my outline right now.

I’m also a slow writer, which further complicates matters.

The line I fear to cross

Deadline nearDeadlines in situations like this make me panic.  They’re like a noose around my neck, or a gauntlet thrown down in challenge.

Yeah, you think you’re hot sh*t at gettin’ things done?  Rewire that light fixture by Thursday!

What if I don’t make it?  What if something happens along the way to derail me?  What if I choke?  What if my natural sense of a reasonable daily output is way off target?

Sometimes, this  ends up becoming something of a self-fulfilling prophecy; I either get the project done just under the wire with so much mental anguish, it’s nowhere near as good as it could have been (for who can think clearly when under pressure?)

Or I miss the deadline completely, and feel even greater stress.

I don’t like deadlines because they endanger the concept I’ve constructed of myself as a doer and a finisher – as a person who doesn’t need external motivation because I can motivate my own self just fine.

I have no clue how long it will take me to finish my WIP.  I’m at the climax now, so presumably it will be “soon”, but “soon” has been my go-to metric since the midway point.

(Okay, let’s be honest: since I wrote the first book of the trilogy back in 2006.)

I would like to have this last book done in draft this year, but I’m running out of year.

And I’m not going to be around for much of the last quarter of it: I have a month-long trip to Australia coming up in November, and will then travel home for Christmas.

Since I’m such a pro-star at writing while on vacation (not), the best option would be to finish it before I take off in November.

A deadline.

The air is already starting to feel thin.

How are you with deadlines?  Do they help focus your efforts or are you better left to your own devices?  Do you know what your Myers-Briggs type is?  Let me know in the comments.

(Image source #1 and #2)

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19 thoughts on “I Never Miss a Deadline … Except When I Do (which is often)

  1. Oddly enough, I stumbled upon the benefits of deadlines when I began running again. I was notorious for never quite finishing anything. Yet in that moment where I committed to training for my first Sun Run then crossing the finish line, the sense of empowerment and completion was like a drug. Deadlines are merely a measure of time from point A to point B now. I have something I want to complete and I give myself a period by which to do it. If I don’t make that deadline, then I assess if perhaps I’m asking far too much from myself and if it is in fact doable and perhaps the task requires some restructuring. One thing I did was to take on way too much! The other thing that surfaced was a ‘fear of success’. That’s what I’ll call it for lack of a better term.

    In any case I now just treat this as a tool. It doesn’t intimidate any longer. Great piece J!

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    • I don’t like to strain myself or feel pressured, so I structure all my work so that I don’t have to. I’ve never been the type to wait until the last minute to do something (actually, I did once while in university – I pulled an all-nighter to get a paper done and it was the worst thing I ever produced. Never again!) My work habits are very consistent, so I should be satisfied with that, but I am definitely affected sometimes by society’s urging for more! better! yesterday! Also, since I’ve never finished a novel-length story to date (this is my second attempt), I get impatient with my own self sometimes.

      Fear of success – that is a fascinating concept. A lot of people grapple with that. Me, my fears probably run closer to failure than success, at least for now. I just need to stay the course and keep working, for as long as I’m working, I’m not dwelling on things that bother me.

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  2. Here’s an example of the Myers-Briggs limitation (full disclosure: I work for one of their competitors, sort of but not really). It lumps people into rigid categories. I am much closer to J than to P, yet I’m a pantser who is open and flexible.I know I’m closer to J because I am controlling, organized, and decisive.

    That was a side trip. The main point is that I set my own deadlines and I get annoyed when projects don’t have them (don’t give me a project with no deadline and then complain when it’s not done “on time”). I work best when the workload is heavy, though. If the tasks are piecemeal, it’s harder to get a rhythm going.

    Do you think it’s possible that part of you does not want to complete your novel? Working on it perpetually precludes you from the “out of control” parts. Right now, you are the master of your universe, but when you’re done, there will be beta readers who might find flaws, a professional editor who will point out weaknesses, and, ultimately, people in the publishing industry who will decide whether your story is worth the investment. That’s all scary stuff… the unknown.

    I’ve blamed my lack of success in the music business in the past in the no connections or financial backing. That’s part of it, but ultimately it is an excuse. I believe now that I feared success. I feared being thrust into the unknown and having to change my life and accept that I was good enough. Maybe you have those thoughts… You know you’re good, but then again maybe you aren’t worthy of being a public entity.

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    • No person can ever be truly classified, so I don’t any such system, be it Myers-Briggs, astrology, or the characters alignments from Dungeons & Dragons as gospel (although I do find all three as useful starting points). I don’t like deadlines, whether self-imposed or external, because I just find I work better without them. Obviously, I’ve had to adapt myself to suit the real world (and to be able to hold down a job!), but in my natural state, I like to keep my work obligations loosey-goosey.

      Do you think it’s possible that part of you does not want to complete your novel?
      I don’t think that. I want to finish it. I am going to finish it. I’m consistently working on it, adding new words every other day. I’ve been working on this project most of my adult life and am excited to see what lies on the other side. Not that a lot of that other side isn’t scary (betas! Editors! Agents! I thought I was going to develop an ulcer waiting for comments on an excerpt I gave to my best friend to read, and she’s loves me).

      I would say I more so fear failure than success, but it’s interesting that both you and Nancy above mentioned fear of success. I don’t think I’ve ever feared success in anything. Change yes, whether positive or negative, but success in and of itself, no. Fear of change doesn’t hold me back either, for I just remember a quote from the book A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle: “Both positive and negative change is challenging.”

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      • I wonder if fear of failure and fear of success aren’t almost the same thing. At this point, I feel like everything is a distraction. I want to get an apartment somewhere where they don’t speak English and I have no telephone, and I have enough money in the bank to survive with no paycheck for a while. I’d finish mine in a month then hire an editor to spiff it up.

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  3. From the way you describe yourself, you do seem to fall into the J-type stuff. You begin work “as soon as it’s assigned” and impose “structure” on your work so you don’t have to feel pressured; you panic when given a deadline, which a P wouldn’t likely care so much about; and the fact that you have an outline at all. A P’s outline would likely be less detailed, subject to change, or non-existent (I didn’t outline my novel until I finished draft one and, really, it was more of a summary).

    I think knowing the exact word count to a plot point would be extreme even for most J-type folks.

    Maybe the key to meeting your overall deadline is to embrace your J-ness and create smaller deadlines and schedules as stepping stones to get there, or you can be a total P and just write the ending and fill in the rest with later drafts. Technically, with a beginning, middle and end, you’ll have a full draft—just one with giant plot holes.

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    • I am pretty J, A.D. You make a good suggestion of harnessing my inherent J powers by imposing structure through smaller goals. That might feel more manageable. This writing project, in being the first one I actually complete, is going to teach me so much about my work habits once all is said and done. It will help me refine my method for the next time. (And the fact that I want a refined method further proves just how J I am!)

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  4. There is a big problem when your natural tendencies and your capacity to execute them are at war. I expect big things of myself – one of those plotter types who knows exactly where she is going. But I’ve got the CFS thing going on, for, like 25 years now, and it plays games with me every single day. So the main way it manifests is that I can’t count on my self. And yes, that is two words.

    So I do it anyway. Every day I reconstruct my brain from scratch, and try to make progress. Every time life knocks me for a loop for a while, I lose another couple of days figuring out where I was, and then proceed from there. I get so tired of being tired – but I have this book I’m writing, see, and I want to finish it.

    I had a deadline for myself (one word): this month. Okay, at the worst, by the end of next month. And then I lost two months to Life – and was driving myself into a frenzy – so I took a deep breath, and stopped putting pressure on myself.

    There IS no external deadline – I’d just like to have the first one finished and published on Amazon in ebook form, so I can get to the next bits (print version, finish Book 2, learn more marketing, get more people to try Pride’s Children). That’s it: I would like it.

    There is a complicated thingy in there about how SS Disability works for writers (hint: it doesn’t) that I never managed to work out with them. And of this month, I’m free of them – so it doesn’t matter any more. And I can do what I want, which is to publish, only that part about having a finished product?

    Relax. You’ll get there. I’ll get there. It will be worth the wait. The process has been amazing, the people I’ve met online have been warm, funny, and inspiring.

    And I write every day I can, not because I have to, but because it helps me not lose the details of where I am; but if I miss a day or a few, the world doesn’t end – I’m just a little further behind.

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    • Alicia, my good health is something for which I must definitely show more gratitude, for whatever my writerly shortcomings (be they real or imagined), writing while managing illness isn’t something I need to deal with. I hold myself to an incredible standard in all that I do, so to have been writing this long and still not have even a completed novel yet is utterly maddening to me. You understand in principle, I’m sure.

      But you’re right: I will get there; you will get there. I’m really still learning all about my optimum novel-writing methods here (having yet to see this process through to the end), so I really should cut myself some slack.

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      • I can yell at myself – or I can cut myself some slack – when I do something I know I shouldn’t (like staying up too late). I let it go – you can only change the future. There is nothing wrong with standards: when you get there, you will have a better product. If that’s the way your mind works, then you’re basically stuck with it, because brain transplants aren’t common yet, and you couldn’t guarantee a writing brain anyway.

        Just keep trying things – and keep an open mind about things that work for other people. Some of them may be just what you need to add to your arsenal.

        I got a lot out of Rachel Aaron’s 2000 to 10,000 words book – but I’ll never write that fast, because I can write that fast, but it’s not usable. I have a huge facility for creating, but I have to use it in support of plot, or I can’t keep the results – my files are littered with scene fragments I can’t use. My process is slow to make all the connections I’ve set up – but the final weave is tighter. I think.

        Trust yourself.

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    • Roy, I’ve all but given up on trying to write anywhere other than my own home. I find that while a change of scenery is great for inspiring writing, it’s crap at helping me actually get words on the page. When you get home I bet you’ll get your groove back. If for no other reason than after two weeks, you’re overdue in the production department. 🙂

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  5. Eh, it depends. Sometimes I like deadlines like NaNoWriMo and other times I work at my own pace. If I only wrote with or without deadlines I wouldn’t write.

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  6. I appreciated this article, as I have worked at a few places over my career that stresses Myers and Briggs. My comment , I believe that EI — emotional intelligence is a very important factor to combine with MBIT. EI- allows an individual or manager to try and understand an individual’s motivation to Meet the deadline.. Check it out out EI or FIRO , I believe combined assessments allows an individual to better inderstand themselves or,a manager to reflect on why a deadline has not been met.

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