Deadline – Before and After

Maybe it’s the word itself that evokes dread the closer we get? It’s some kind of hurdle that we prepare to jump as we are approaching. To make the jump we have to coordinate every moving part to time it right. But what happens after you take the hurdle? Turns out a deadline is more than a point in time. To jump the hurdle successfully, we need to prepare for the landing.

Before the deadline I am overwhelmed by fear of failure. I fret over my material, reluctant to expose myself to outside judgement. As a deadline approaches, I worry my work might not hold up to standards I’m not sure I fully comprehend. In an effort to meet a certain standard my work might change, not always for the better. I’m in a constant battle with forces inside of me and forces outside of my control. We writers go through this every time we put our work in front of fresh eyes and ears.

When I was younger, I often crumbled under the pressure. Avoiding to be judged, I pushed back deadlines or missed them and with that an opportunity to show my work. Scared I wouldn’t be good enough, I suffered from perfectionism. But perfectionism stifles creativity.

Today I see deadlines as an opportunity that fuels my energy. To have someone waiting, wanting to read what I have written, propels me forward. Working towards a deadline is like giving birth on a due date. There is expectation and pressure to deliver, now. As a mother I am mindful that this is the moment I have to push and release what has been created inside of me. Right after I submitted, I am light and free to do the next thing. I am content just having met my deadline. This is a time to celebrate.

Okay, my elation lasts for about a week. Even though I delivered, on time, I have no clue how my work will be received. What if there is something missing? What if what I thought was perfect is flawed? What if there is something wrong about my conception and the result is an irreparable mess? My happy go lucky attitude, Yay I made it, shifts to a worrisome state of insecurity. What if my work is not good enough? What if I am not good enough?

I find myself in limbo and wonder why I question my abilities as I wait for outside approval. I gave it my all, the rest isn’t up to me anymore, right? It’s like throwing a ball. The instant it leaves my hand all I can do is watch it take the course I’ve set it on, right? But as a golfer I know the moment I hit the ball is not the end of my swing.

As a golfer I train for a swing that continues after the ball is sent flying through the air. A golfer knows that everything depends on that full swing which forms a circle or an arc. An arc in which, at some point, the ball comes into play. As a storyteller I create an arc with obstacles that hit the protagonist at the right time. Creating a moment of impact which causes her to change and propels her towards an inevitable outcome.

As a writer I know that a deadline is not the end of a story. After submitting our material, we have to take the next step. Either we improve our writing or we prepare for the next phase. It’s all about timing. If you submit your material prematurely, you might spoil a perfectly good story. You might be distraught by feedback on material you haven’t honed enough for the reader to get it. You might give up telling the story. But you can’t wait too long to swing for the fences. Enough is enough and you have to let go to test your creation. We writers need readers to tell us when our aim is off. We have to allow for corrections before it’s too late to change the course of our story.

I am curious: How do you experience the time before and after a deadline?

* National Times, 2016/2019 – Installation by Augustina Woodgate Photographed by Michaela von Schweinitz at the Whitney in May 2019.