Ask A Wench – Deadline Fever!

Deadlinestencil.defaultNicola here, introducing this month’s Ask A Wench question which is: "What comfort foods and other strange rituals do the Wenches turn to when under deadline?" This is a subject which elicited many sighs, groans and hollow laughter when it was raised amongst us. We've all been in deadline territory and we have the scars to prove it. How do we handle it? What rituals do we indulge in to tempt the Muse? How much extra chocolate does it take to see us through to the end of the book? These are all questions that we will be tackling. And because deadlines are pretty much universal in working and other aspects of life we know readers will have lots of tips and suggestions to share, so bring on the deadlines!

Susan writes:

I seem to be always writing at a furious pace at deadline time–partly because I'm always behind on the book's ideal path (which Madonna_of_the_Magnificat_-_Detail_-_Sandro_Botticelliwent by the wayside long before the deadline crunch), and partly because I just write my best when the flames are turned up high under me. I've learned that a wicked final blitz is the best thing for the book overall. During this stage, I can be so hyper-focused that chaos is born all around me. That was more evident when my kids were all younger, when they needed to be fed, clothed, read to, chauffeured, homework-assisted, and so on. So I would take care of those things, and run back into my office–my kids ate pizza and fast food and chocolate cereal, played video games, watched TV, and went to bed early. The Dad would pick up the slack quietly and sometimes heroically, and I'd stay up long into the night, get up early and get them to school, and then make wild tracks in the book while I could. Every minute counted. My only rituals were based on survival–I didn't much care what I wore, what I ate, what the house looked like, if the socks were matched or the towels folded. I turned into a hermit when possible–though there was the time that the boys all got strep throat, and I had a zillion pages to write, but spent my days at the doc's office and the pharmacy and taking temperatures, and didn't sleep at night. That book was finished in a blur (and won awards, so go figure). Now the kids are adult and gone (but adult kids still need time, and I'm there, deadlines or not!)–and the house is quieter. The deadlines are less chaotic and flat-out nuts. But I still need a rushing blitz at the end to get the best writing out of me! 

It's after the book is done, not during, that I have more rituals and favorites. At first I walk around in a daze, then I actually leave the house and do a little shopping, then come home and do a little cleaning … and within a week, I'm painting a room or a table, or moving the furniture around. After going through the long-term project of writing a book, I need to do something creative that's short-term, three-dimensional, and shows a fast result! 

Andrea's walkAndrea/Cara: Deadlines so terrify me (I’m such a slow writer, that even a looming deadline can’t coax a rush of words to spout forth from the Muse) that I have to create faux deadlines way ahead of the official ones so that I don’t turn into a quaking mound of jello. One might think this is less pressure, but no—I stress that if I miss my personal one, then I’m REALLY going to be in trouble. As the dreaded date approaches, I do use the carrot and stick approach. There’s duct tape to keep me in my writing chair, and then there are the treats to reward page counts. Chocolate is, of course, a mainstay bribe, but I do have another vice that works well. I’m very partial to blondie brownies chock full of golden raisins and walnuts. (I tell myself that raisins and walnuts are healthy, even when they’re nestled in divinely gooey butter, brown sugar and vanilla.)

That said, I do, on the whole, eat very healthily to keep the brain sharp. Lots of poached chicken and veggies, hearty homemade soups and pastas. As for rituals, I find a daily walk is key to creativity. Doing something physical, switches the brain synapses just enough that I always seem to unravel plot knots or come up with just the twist I need when I’m outdoors watching the infinite variations of light play over the landscape. For me, Nature is the ultimate inspiration . . . and also reminds me there’s light at the end of the road!. (though there is something strangely cathartic about organizing drawers and reordering shelves to celebrate when a book is done. Alas, perfect neatness doesn’t last long!)

Pat says:

Why do I always feel as if I’m the odd one out? My only deadlines currently are ones I set for myself, and because I don’t handle PAt's chairstress well, I make certain they’re deadlines I can easily reach. Even back in the day, when NYC editors wrote deadlines into my contracts, I had the books drafted before I ever signed anything. Maybe that counts as a strange ritual—writing books before anyone wants them?

Otherwise, all I have is my rocking and writing rituals when I’m stuck. Movement seems to stimulate my Muse, so I have various rocking and swinging chairs to which I can retreat. And if things are going really badly, I write with pen on paper, because just that movement seems to kill the nitpicky editor who lives between my creativity and the paper. And when all else fails—I play symphonies. I’m particularly fond of Tchaikovsky. A good cannon battle always produces mayhem on the page!

Mary Jo here.  In my experience, deadlines narrow life down.  When the deadline is in the fuzzy distance, it’s easy to have lunch with a friend, or poke around in a store, or try a new recipe that looks interesting. 

Lentil soupAll those things tend to drop away as the deadline nears.  In my house, the food get simpler and simpler.  I love soup and make great pots and freeze it into quarts.  On deadline, I pull them out one after another for lunches.  For dinner, I rely more and more on the local gourmet grocery stores, which has a nice line in prepared food: meatloaf and shrimp fried rice and coddie cakes and much, much more. (Ed: For those of us who don’t know about coddie cakes, here’s a link!) Ideally all I have to do is heat it up and add a veg and that’s it.  The goal is to put a meal on the table that is edible, not too unhealthy, and very, very easy to prepare. 

Of course, occasionally I go off the rails.  When I was writing Sometimes a Rogue, I developed a passion for banana pudding from the same door.  It was delicious and pretty much defined the term “comfort food.”  Breaking the addiction after the book went in was aided by the fact that they changed the recipe a little so I didn’t love it  quite so much.  This is fortunate, or I’d be spherical.  <G> 

What do I do after the book goes in and I’ve recovered?  I start making pots of soup again—because the freezer is almost empty!

Anne writes:

I don't really turn to comfort food when facing a deadline — I tend to eat a lot of fish and greens in an attempt to make my brain Spirit of the Plains sharper. <g> Plus that kind of meal is quick and easy to prepare. Any comfort food (for instance pizza or chocolate, my drugs of choice) comes later. Strange rituals? Definitely. When there's a bright moon — doesn't matter whether it's a crescent moon or full, fat and golden one, or a lop-sided grapefruit moon (reference to a Tom Waits song) — I go out into my back garden, dressed only in a goatskin and dance and chant, attempting to channel my muse, who is fond of goats. Except, no, I don't. <g>  

When a deadline is looming, I'm pretty much chained to the computer round the clock. Even when I stop for the day and think I don't have another word in me, half an hour later I'll think of something and head back to the keyboard. I really can't stay away from it. In the last week or so, my daily word counts are really high — for me, that is. I wish I could write that much every day, but two things make it possible. The first is the deadline — where deadline panic outweighs the "this isn't good enough" panic. The other is that I write sequentially, and so the final scenes in the novel are ones I've had in my head or scribbled down in my notebook for a long time, so when it comes to writing them, they flow.

The final ritual comes after the book has been emailed to my editor, and I wake up the next morning, look around me and do a primal scream. Because somehow, in the last few weeks, no housework has been done. People often ask writers how they celebrate getting a book in. For most of us it's doing housework. Wheee.

Stencil.default.timeSo there you have it: A peek into the mayhem (or in the case of some Wenches the supremely well-ordered world of deadlines!) I recognise a lot of the elements my fellow Wenches have described; as a deadline looms I tend to start feeling panicky but once it gets really close I become completely focussed. I’ll eat what is put in front of me with great gratitude even if it’s eggs and fish that normally I wouldn’t touch. I resent any interruption that drags me out of the process. I just want it to end! And then when it does – the tears, the relief, the wandering around blinking like a dormouse emerging from hibernation… The shock and horror on seeing the state of the house, the venturing out again into the world… Shops! People! It can be a strange life being a writer!

How do you handle deadlines? Do they motivate or terrify you? Do you have any strange rituals or favourite foods that get you through?

80 thoughts on “Ask A Wench – Deadline Fever!”

  1. Great article about deadlines. I am very grateful as a reader that you put yourselves through so much stress for us! Fascinating about how you all approach it in different ways

    Reply
  2. Great article about deadlines. I am very grateful as a reader that you put yourselves through so much stress for us! Fascinating about how you all approach it in different ways

    Reply
  3. Great article about deadlines. I am very grateful as a reader that you put yourselves through so much stress for us! Fascinating about how you all approach it in different ways

    Reply
  4. Great article about deadlines. I am very grateful as a reader that you put yourselves through so much stress for us! Fascinating about how you all approach it in different ways

    Reply
  5. Great article about deadlines. I am very grateful as a reader that you put yourselves through so much stress for us! Fascinating about how you all approach it in different ways

    Reply
  6. Hi Alice! I’m glad you liked the post. I think I speak for all the Wenches when I say that no matter how pressured the deadline time can get, none of us would choose not to be writers! We’re very lucky.

    Reply
  7. Hi Alice! I’m glad you liked the post. I think I speak for all the Wenches when I say that no matter how pressured the deadline time can get, none of us would choose not to be writers! We’re very lucky.

    Reply
  8. Hi Alice! I’m glad you liked the post. I think I speak for all the Wenches when I say that no matter how pressured the deadline time can get, none of us would choose not to be writers! We’re very lucky.

    Reply
  9. Hi Alice! I’m glad you liked the post. I think I speak for all the Wenches when I say that no matter how pressured the deadline time can get, none of us would choose not to be writers! We’re very lucky.

    Reply
  10. Hi Alice! I’m glad you liked the post. I think I speak for all the Wenches when I say that no matter how pressured the deadline time can get, none of us would choose not to be writers! We’re very lucky.

    Reply
  11. Thanks for an entertaining post. Fortunately, I don’t have many deadlines as I’m a procrastinator of the first water. The coddie cakes link did not show up, so I’m still curious.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for an entertaining post. Fortunately, I don’t have many deadlines as I’m a procrastinator of the first water. The coddie cakes link did not show up, so I’m still curious.

    Reply
  13. Thanks for an entertaining post. Fortunately, I don’t have many deadlines as I’m a procrastinator of the first water. The coddie cakes link did not show up, so I’m still curious.

    Reply
  14. Thanks for an entertaining post. Fortunately, I don’t have many deadlines as I’m a procrastinator of the first water. The coddie cakes link did not show up, so I’m still curious.

    Reply
  15. Thanks for an entertaining post. Fortunately, I don’t have many deadlines as I’m a procrastinator of the first water. The coddie cakes link did not show up, so I’m still curious.

    Reply
  16. Often wondered how you authors avoid or cope with deadlines … very illuminating post.
    My first real deadline was the need to complete a PhD thesis before the grant money expired. Six months earlier I had married a fellow research student and I think we both found inspiration and comfort in the marriage bed (sex!) … it generated wonderful new ideas for the thesis.
    Later my deadlines involved getting results for conference presentations or contract reports … and one technical book. The marriage bed worked the first time but those sizzling early heights later evolved to a loving plateau and I had to rely more on chocolate and beer.😊

    Reply
  17. Often wondered how you authors avoid or cope with deadlines … very illuminating post.
    My first real deadline was the need to complete a PhD thesis before the grant money expired. Six months earlier I had married a fellow research student and I think we both found inspiration and comfort in the marriage bed (sex!) … it generated wonderful new ideas for the thesis.
    Later my deadlines involved getting results for conference presentations or contract reports … and one technical book. The marriage bed worked the first time but those sizzling early heights later evolved to a loving plateau and I had to rely more on chocolate and beer.😊

    Reply
  18. Often wondered how you authors avoid or cope with deadlines … very illuminating post.
    My first real deadline was the need to complete a PhD thesis before the grant money expired. Six months earlier I had married a fellow research student and I think we both found inspiration and comfort in the marriage bed (sex!) … it generated wonderful new ideas for the thesis.
    Later my deadlines involved getting results for conference presentations or contract reports … and one technical book. The marriage bed worked the first time but those sizzling early heights later evolved to a loving plateau and I had to rely more on chocolate and beer.😊

    Reply
  19. Often wondered how you authors avoid or cope with deadlines … very illuminating post.
    My first real deadline was the need to complete a PhD thesis before the grant money expired. Six months earlier I had married a fellow research student and I think we both found inspiration and comfort in the marriage bed (sex!) … it generated wonderful new ideas for the thesis.
    Later my deadlines involved getting results for conference presentations or contract reports … and one technical book. The marriage bed worked the first time but those sizzling early heights later evolved to a loving plateau and I had to rely more on chocolate and beer.😊

    Reply
  20. Often wondered how you authors avoid or cope with deadlines … very illuminating post.
    My first real deadline was the need to complete a PhD thesis before the grant money expired. Six months earlier I had married a fellow research student and I think we both found inspiration and comfort in the marriage bed (sex!) … it generated wonderful new ideas for the thesis.
    Later my deadlines involved getting results for conference presentations or contract reports … and one technical book. The marriage bed worked the first time but those sizzling early heights later evolved to a loving plateau and I had to rely more on chocolate and beer.😊

    Reply
  21. I worked as an accountant and we have nothing but deadlines — continuous, one after the other, mandatory due dates. During tas season twelve or more hour days including weekends were not unusual. I worked hard, drank a lot of diet coke, and had a few laughs with my friends in the office as we worked.
    For a time I had exams to study for and deadlines for papers at school as well, and I always left them til the last minute, hoping I’d think of something to say. I’d do time & treats – write or study for a set period then have a reward treat of some kind – read a regency for a while to unbend my brain.
    Everybody has to evolve their own strategy.

    Reply
  22. I worked as an accountant and we have nothing but deadlines — continuous, one after the other, mandatory due dates. During tas season twelve or more hour days including weekends were not unusual. I worked hard, drank a lot of diet coke, and had a few laughs with my friends in the office as we worked.
    For a time I had exams to study for and deadlines for papers at school as well, and I always left them til the last minute, hoping I’d think of something to say. I’d do time & treats – write or study for a set period then have a reward treat of some kind – read a regency for a while to unbend my brain.
    Everybody has to evolve their own strategy.

    Reply
  23. I worked as an accountant and we have nothing but deadlines — continuous, one after the other, mandatory due dates. During tas season twelve or more hour days including weekends were not unusual. I worked hard, drank a lot of diet coke, and had a few laughs with my friends in the office as we worked.
    For a time I had exams to study for and deadlines for papers at school as well, and I always left them til the last minute, hoping I’d think of something to say. I’d do time & treats – write or study for a set period then have a reward treat of some kind – read a regency for a while to unbend my brain.
    Everybody has to evolve their own strategy.

    Reply
  24. I worked as an accountant and we have nothing but deadlines — continuous, one after the other, mandatory due dates. During tas season twelve or more hour days including weekends were not unusual. I worked hard, drank a lot of diet coke, and had a few laughs with my friends in the office as we worked.
    For a time I had exams to study for and deadlines for papers at school as well, and I always left them til the last minute, hoping I’d think of something to say. I’d do time & treats – write or study for a set period then have a reward treat of some kind – read a regency for a while to unbend my brain.
    Everybody has to evolve their own strategy.

    Reply
  25. I worked as an accountant and we have nothing but deadlines — continuous, one after the other, mandatory due dates. During tas season twelve or more hour days including weekends were not unusual. I worked hard, drank a lot of diet coke, and had a few laughs with my friends in the office as we worked.
    For a time I had exams to study for and deadlines for papers at school as well, and I always left them til the last minute, hoping I’d think of something to say. I’d do time & treats – write or study for a set period then have a reward treat of some kind – read a regency for a while to unbend my brain.
    Everybody has to evolve their own strategy.

    Reply
  26. This was a I great post! Really enjoyable! It also shows us readers that authors are real people too. I appreciate all you go through to bring us such wonderful stories. My daughter is currently trying her hand at writing a novel. I’m going to show her this post to give her some encouragement.

    Reply
  27. This was a I great post! Really enjoyable! It also shows us readers that authors are real people too. I appreciate all you go through to bring us such wonderful stories. My daughter is currently trying her hand at writing a novel. I’m going to show her this post to give her some encouragement.

    Reply
  28. This was a I great post! Really enjoyable! It also shows us readers that authors are real people too. I appreciate all you go through to bring us such wonderful stories. My daughter is currently trying her hand at writing a novel. I’m going to show her this post to give her some encouragement.

    Reply
  29. This was a I great post! Really enjoyable! It also shows us readers that authors are real people too. I appreciate all you go through to bring us such wonderful stories. My daughter is currently trying her hand at writing a novel. I’m going to show her this post to give her some encouragement.

    Reply
  30. This was a I great post! Really enjoyable! It also shows us readers that authors are real people too. I appreciate all you go through to bring us such wonderful stories. My daughter is currently trying her hand at writing a novel. I’m going to show her this post to give her some encouragement.

    Reply
  31. So, you are saying that finishing a novel will make me do housework??? That would be a miracle. I mostly just don’t do it…..
    Seriously, since I have ADD, I work (hyperfocus) best under pressure and until I learned to behave better as an adult professional, I wrote every paper the night before. That’s the reason I didn’t go to graduate school and become an academic! I couldn’t imagine writing a PhD thesis the night before and I couldn’t imagine writing anything that long…..hence I became something practical with daily tasks that had to be finished that day.

    Reply
  32. So, you are saying that finishing a novel will make me do housework??? That would be a miracle. I mostly just don’t do it…..
    Seriously, since I have ADD, I work (hyperfocus) best under pressure and until I learned to behave better as an adult professional, I wrote every paper the night before. That’s the reason I didn’t go to graduate school and become an academic! I couldn’t imagine writing a PhD thesis the night before and I couldn’t imagine writing anything that long…..hence I became something practical with daily tasks that had to be finished that day.

    Reply
  33. So, you are saying that finishing a novel will make me do housework??? That would be a miracle. I mostly just don’t do it…..
    Seriously, since I have ADD, I work (hyperfocus) best under pressure and until I learned to behave better as an adult professional, I wrote every paper the night before. That’s the reason I didn’t go to graduate school and become an academic! I couldn’t imagine writing a PhD thesis the night before and I couldn’t imagine writing anything that long…..hence I became something practical with daily tasks that had to be finished that day.

    Reply
  34. So, you are saying that finishing a novel will make me do housework??? That would be a miracle. I mostly just don’t do it…..
    Seriously, since I have ADD, I work (hyperfocus) best under pressure and until I learned to behave better as an adult professional, I wrote every paper the night before. That’s the reason I didn’t go to graduate school and become an academic! I couldn’t imagine writing a PhD thesis the night before and I couldn’t imagine writing anything that long…..hence I became something practical with daily tasks that had to be finished that day.

    Reply
  35. So, you are saying that finishing a novel will make me do housework??? That would be a miracle. I mostly just don’t do it…..
    Seriously, since I have ADD, I work (hyperfocus) best under pressure and until I learned to behave better as an adult professional, I wrote every paper the night before. That’s the reason I didn’t go to graduate school and become an academic! I couldn’t imagine writing a PhD thesis the night before and I couldn’t imagine writing anything that long…..hence I became something practical with daily tasks that had to be finished that day.

    Reply
  36. I hope it helps her, Teresa, and very best wishes to her for her writing. I do think everyone finds their own stress relievers and ways to keep going, and sharing tips is a really useful way of giving support.

    Reply
  37. I hope it helps her, Teresa, and very best wishes to her for her writing. I do think everyone finds their own stress relievers and ways to keep going, and sharing tips is a really useful way of giving support.

    Reply
  38. I hope it helps her, Teresa, and very best wishes to her for her writing. I do think everyone finds their own stress relievers and ways to keep going, and sharing tips is a really useful way of giving support.

    Reply
  39. I hope it helps her, Teresa, and very best wishes to her for her writing. I do think everyone finds their own stress relievers and ways to keep going, and sharing tips is a really useful way of giving support.

    Reply
  40. I hope it helps her, Teresa, and very best wishes to her for her writing. I do think everyone finds their own stress relievers and ways to keep going, and sharing tips is a really useful way of giving support.

    Reply
  41. LOL, Linnea! Housework isn’t the most exciting way to celebrate finishing a book, is it. Thank you for giving us an insight into what it is like to work with ADD, and the effect this has had on your life. That was interesting and thought-provoking.

    Reply
  42. LOL, Linnea! Housework isn’t the most exciting way to celebrate finishing a book, is it. Thank you for giving us an insight into what it is like to work with ADD, and the effect this has had on your life. That was interesting and thought-provoking.

    Reply
  43. LOL, Linnea! Housework isn’t the most exciting way to celebrate finishing a book, is it. Thank you for giving us an insight into what it is like to work with ADD, and the effect this has had on your life. That was interesting and thought-provoking.

    Reply
  44. LOL, Linnea! Housework isn’t the most exciting way to celebrate finishing a book, is it. Thank you for giving us an insight into what it is like to work with ADD, and the effect this has had on your life. That was interesting and thought-provoking.

    Reply
  45. LOL, Linnea! Housework isn’t the most exciting way to celebrate finishing a book, is it. Thank you for giving us an insight into what it is like to work with ADD, and the effect this has had on your life. That was interesting and thought-provoking.

    Reply
  46. The deadlines for publishing are different, but the rituals are mainly the same. As the deadline grows near, the world becomes 16 hours of work, with sleep, eating, travel to work and all the rest jammed into the remaining 8. After the book is out of you hands, you tend to sit at you desk, stare at the walls, and wonder where you are and why you are.

    Reply
  47. The deadlines for publishing are different, but the rituals are mainly the same. As the deadline grows near, the world becomes 16 hours of work, with sleep, eating, travel to work and all the rest jammed into the remaining 8. After the book is out of you hands, you tend to sit at you desk, stare at the walls, and wonder where you are and why you are.

    Reply
  48. The deadlines for publishing are different, but the rituals are mainly the same. As the deadline grows near, the world becomes 16 hours of work, with sleep, eating, travel to work and all the rest jammed into the remaining 8. After the book is out of you hands, you tend to sit at you desk, stare at the walls, and wonder where you are and why you are.

    Reply
  49. The deadlines for publishing are different, but the rituals are mainly the same. As the deadline grows near, the world becomes 16 hours of work, with sleep, eating, travel to work and all the rest jammed into the remaining 8. After the book is out of you hands, you tend to sit at you desk, stare at the walls, and wonder where you are and why you are.

    Reply
  50. The deadlines for publishing are different, but the rituals are mainly the same. As the deadline grows near, the world becomes 16 hours of work, with sleep, eating, travel to work and all the rest jammed into the remaining 8. After the book is out of you hands, you tend to sit at you desk, stare at the walls, and wonder where you are and why you are.

    Reply

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