Are you a Deadline Junkie like me? Let’s go to rehab.
I was recently writing around the clock to hit a deadline whilst deep in the panic of a story not working… A friend called and made the mistake of asking me how my work was going? I off loaded to him like he was my priest and my therapist combined, which is no surprise really as I was in need of both divine inspiration and talking down off the edge. He listened patiently and then simply asked why I was always like this around a deadline, surely I was used to it by now? And - most pertinently of all - does it really need to be this painful?
Cue my rant. Painful? This is just how it is, isn’t it? Like, for everyone? I’m working on a really difficult story that anyone would struggle to make work, okay? If I’d had more time I could have fixed it earlier but now the deadline is a matter of hours away and I am panicking, who wouldn’t? And besides, I usually always work brilliantly under pressure. It’s hardly my fault that this time, something isn’t making sense to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a cold. And I can’t think straight. And I haven’t hardly slept. And the other day I had this other thing to do so I couldn’t make the head start I wanted… and bla bla bla… Sound familiar?
The self-justifications we employ to imprison ourselves in a stressful writing pattern that is not healthy, not enjoyable but seemingly unavoidable. I admit it, I hold my hands up; I am a deadline junkie.
Over the years I’ve conned myself into thinking that working under pressure is the way I work best because it has always gone down well. The proof is in the results, right? When I started as a storyliner at Coronation Street, every week the storyline I had spent a day writing, struggling like getting blood from a stone, it would be torn apart in the edit. But the storyline I wrote in 90 minutes instinctively and ably because I had to - deadline looming, time running out - that one would barely get a note. The habit was locked into my psyche – my best work comes under pressure. But if I’m truly honest with myself it is painful and it is a lie.
All that is happening when writing under pressure - deadline looming, time running out – aside from feeling sick, eating crap, drinking caffeine and getting little sleep – all that is happening is I stop listening to the voice inside of me that inspires the fear “What if this just isn’t good enough?” ergo “What if I’m just not good enough?” Something I’ve counseled countless writers against and yet I’m guilty of it too.
Under pressure to hit a deadline I have to ignore that voice or the deadline won’t be met. And if the motivation is strong enough to meet that deadline, i.e. I lose my job if I don’t, then I will silence the voice, silence the fear and write great work.
The missed opportunities come when the deadline isn’t being enforced by anyone – that cool competition I’d really like to enter; the script I’m itching to write; that series idea I know will sell. Without an enforced deadline making me overcome the fear, the competition remains un-entered, the script unwritten and the series a mere thought in my head.
And so in order to enjoy more balance in my working life and not let opportunities pass me by, what I need to recognize is that the reason I deliver great work under pressure, is not the pressure but that I am capable of great work. If the ability wasn’t there, I’d never be able to access it, pressure or not. If I can stop listening to the fear everyday and not only when a deadline is looming - I can stop being a deadline junkie.
So, does it need to be this painful? No. Will it be difficult retraining myself? Possibly. But nevertheless it’s time for me to go into Deadline Junkie Rehab.
And if you’re a fellow addict, if you allow the same fears to block you until the last 24 hour sprint to the finish, you can join me by following the steps below and you too can lead a more productive and happier writing life.