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Deadlining

deadlining
William Blake: The Tiger from Songs of Experience (1794)
" … right on time, in a photo finish … "

As a writer, I mostly work without the distraction deadlines bring. I have no publication date looming, no external expectations goosing me forward other than the rather tacit and largely unknowable desire my readers might have to receive my latest posting. I quite frankly don't think about that very much. The question of whom I'm writing for rarely comes up and my response rarely changes. I'm usually writing for myself and for future generations, neither constituencies terribly demanding. But once each year, I write on deadline, Deadlining, if you will. My Christmas Poem Cycle, twelve big fat juicy ones which must, according to the constraints I've constructed around the effort, emerge between Solstice and Christmas Morning. It's Christmas Morning as I write this essay, and the scent of Deadlining still clings to me.

I notice these last few days have felt different than my usual routine, though I've tried to maintain my regular routine underneath my Deadlining effort.
I've been wary, watching. The deadline seems to bring a paranoia. I know what my average production should have been if I'm going to make my deadline target. I need to produce three poems per day. If I produce fewer than three, I create a deficit which must be compensated for within the narrow boundaries I've constructed. If I only produce one the first day, I need to produce five the following day to 'stay on schedule.' Nobody could possibly know how long the next poem might take me to write. Some write themselves while others need to be pulled out by their heels. It all depends upon something unknowable.

The paranoia seems absolutely justified. I understand—intellectually, not emotionally— that there are an infinite number of paths to creating the requisite number of poems on time. These range from none the first day and twelve on the last to twelve on the first day and none on the second, third, and fourth days. Any pattern could emerge, each providing little information about what's coming next. Years where the first poem emerges easily might see the remainder breach-birthed. One never knows, but not knowing does not dissuade this writer from calculating anyway. The number remaining haunts me from the moment I begin until the moment I finally concede that I've finished. My Christmas Eves are haunted as a result, rarely merry or even very cheerful, for I'm distracted, busy trying to snatch some magic from a particularly unpromising atmosphere, looking for lightening.

Lightening strikes! The very most counter-intuitive notion in project management might be that a dandy way to produce more stuff involves tightening resources, not allocating more. The truth of the matter boils down to the fact that deadlines often work just as well as trite metaphors! They often do not work, too, however, so understanding when they're working and when they're undermining an effort matters. There's really no way to know, though, so one sets their constraints and one takes their chances. I have mostly succeeded in producing twelve fat juicy poems by Christmas morning, though not all of them are ever equally fat or juicy. A couple tend to come out thin. Some years, I'm stymied at eight. Others, I over-produce and create fifteen. However many I produce, though, I'm living under a metaphorical gun for the duration. I'm counting uncountable and projecting production rates while, oh, yea, writing thoughtful poems. Deadlines drive me out of my mind in an attempt to make me more mindful. They often succeed.

I do not like them, though. Deadlining seems, In Daniel Starr's characterization, too much like work. My writing's almost always play. Deadlining nudges the effort a little closer to the edge of real effort, a questionable improvement. Authoring, for me, seems likely to encourage just this same shift. My challenge will be, or already is, to find some way to better cope with it. The paranoid projecting seems to limit productivity. There must be another way to construct the constraints so that they ain't smothering me. Suffocating seems an unpromising strategy for achieving anything. I will be and am, I keep reminding myself, Authoring my own experience first. I don't so much need drop dead dates as stay-awake ones. I probably don't need a threat to produce. And a definite date sometimes helps. I managed to produce all twelve of those Christmas poems this year, right on time, in a photo finish, of course. If I hold a sword high over my own head, sometimes lightening strikes it.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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