A week ago, I was on a panel at the AWP Conference. That panel was Why Did You Write That? The Problem of Urgency and I honestly think the Universe wanted to give me some good writing material to work with, as my whole goddamned weekend was a problem of urgency.
Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first: The panel itself went great. I sat amongst three established writers (Susan Merrell, Lou Ann Walker, and Julie Sheehan) who happen to be my professor, thesis advisor, and former boss, respectively, and a literary agent (Erin Harris) whose clients I admire. I felt Important. Super. Important. (But not Important enough to reference the fact that I used to be scared of blueberries. What’s a little importance without some self-deprecation to make it really count?)
I wasn’t nervous, which was surprising, because duh. But during the Q & A, someone asked what we do to encourage urgency in our own writing. I said something to the effect of, “Well, I have this app that blocks my internet for a set amount of time and doing my work is a race against the clock.”
Then my thesis advisor looked at me and said, “That, and you have a deadline.”
Oh, yeah. Shit. I’m supposed to be graduating in August. That means my book, MY BOOK, has to be complete by late-June at the absolute latest.
How far along am I in my writing? Oh, I’m in the third draft. But you see, I never finished the second draft. I’m a quarter of the way through an 8 chapter book where I haven’t written past chapter 4.
So I definitely have some urgency, shall we say. Except this is how my brain works when things get too urgent: Set timer. Freak out for two hours. Write for half an hour. Work out. Freak out for three hours. Procrastinate. Write for ten minutes. Pick at my skin for forty-five minutes. Write for five minutes. Pass out from exhaustion.
I get so nervous about my deadlines that I can’t stay still and do the work. Which makes me more nervous about my deadlines.
I’ve gotten so worked up about the whole thing that I’ve made my significant other promise not to respond to my texts until I’ve written a certain amount of words every day (1500). Does my blog count towards that word total? No? Fuck you.
Here’s the thing: I know I can get it done. I know I will get it done. Not because I have to, time-wise (though, yeah, that’s definitely a major factor) but because I’ve been trying to tell this story for ten years and I’m ready to tell another story. Any other story. Preferably a story where the main character doesn’t do anything but eat chocolate and watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Part of the reason I have this sense of urgency and foreboding and PANIC is that I’ve never written a book before. That’s terrifying! And exciting! And there’s not enough chocolate in the world to calm me down enough to sit still and actually write the damn thing!
So I’m going to make a deal with you, too, blog. I’m not going to tell part II of The Problem With Urgency story until I’ve gotten through chapter four of draft three. And my plan is to do that by the end of next week.
(Like next Sunday. Let’s be realistic here, people)
Here’s a hint: It involves me getting sick. Because nothing is funnier than me getting violently ill at inappropriate times.
8 thoughts on “The Problem of Urgency: Stories from #AWP15, Part One”
Girl, you’re about to pull a Hannah Horvath here (shameless GIRLS reference) .. 99% of the battle has already been won by scoring the book deal, and you can totally tackle 1% 🙂
I need a book deal! hahaha
I wish you luck!
I hate deadlines too. Fortunately for me, my superpower is blissful ignorance of anything that can get in the way of whatever I’m doing. Which is also a really bad character trait, depending on the circumstances.
It sounds like you operate worse under a deadline, so maybe you should try my strategy: Take that deadline that someone else gave you and destroy it. (Or, if you really dislike that person, imagine yourself cramming it down their throat.) Relax and let the work flow from your mind, because pushing it doesn’t work. But only if the work does in fact flow; otherwise, you need that deadline.
What I’ve found is that I needed a shift in perspective. I forgot that I LOVE to write and I LOVE this story. Since then, the work has been really easy!
I totally understand your situation! While writing is in itself a very enjoyable hobby, deadlines and work pressure makes people get fired up about expectations and living up to them. Expectations can be the quality of the work or the finishing up in time and things. There are those and disappointment.
Don’t worry you will finish a very good book and in good time. Good luck! 😉
Thanks, friend! Although I DO have a deadline since I need to graduate in August. But I’m making good progress! So there is that.