about writing and life and God

Time enough…

on November 7, 2012

Ever noticed how time doesn’t move at one steady pace? When you don’t have a deadline, it’s slow and easy. But when there’s a deadline, you can hear the ticking of the clock and it seems to speed up.


I love deadlines. Being basically lazy, I’d get very little done without them. That’s why I love having a contract for a book, a commission for an article or story, an invitation to read my poetry, or an engagement to lead worship. Knowing that there is a fixed date when I or my manuscript must appear is very motivating.

But if a deadline is so far away as to be out of sight, something has to be done to take up the slack. I find that creating a flow-chart of the work needed to be done to hit the deadline enables me to put interim deadlines along the way which will prevent the frantic midnight-oil burning towards the end. (Which usually also produces inferior work.)

I’m due to deliver the manuscript of a non-fiction book to SPCK before the end of the year. According to the contract, it should consist of 40 separate meditations so I’ve been gently building up a cache of material by writing one meditation each Friday and Saturday for the last ten weeks – my Dementia Diaries on this blog.

I reckon that the eighteen Dementia Diaries from the blog plus eleven others already written will make a good foundation for the book. This leaves only 11 more to write. And there are 6 Fridays and 6 Saturdays before delivery date…

Looking good.

But as anyone who has been writing for while will know, that’s not the whole story, as Ian Rankin showed so clearly on BBC tv last night. Nobody submits their first draft and expects acceptance/acclamation/publication. Working towards a deadline, you have to allow time for editing and revision, maybe a couple or three times through, and then a final, slow and steady re-read. And if you’re taking this writing business seriously, you’ll want to have your manuscript read and critiqued by two or three appropriate (and honest) readers. All of which takes time.

So, it’s diary out and work backwards. How long for a final read-through? How long to let folk read and critique?

Somewhere along this process panic will hit… because there simply never is enough time.

That’s where the timer comes in. Check your diary for those time slots when you can get some writing done – even if it’s only a half-hour here and there. Then when the time comes round, sit down, set the timer for the planned time, and get to work.

There’s something magic about the timer: it focuses the mind and drives off distractions. It creates a kind of invisible glue that sticks you to that chair till the buzzer goes.

And the work gets done. And the deadline is met.




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