How to work to long deadlines

How to work to long deadlines

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 01/06/15

With the news that David Mitchell will follow in the steps of Margaret Atwood and write a book that won’t be read for 100 years, Nell Frizzell gives you the lowdown on working to long deadlines…

I love deadlines. Together with breakfast and the hot sun on my inflated face, they are the reason I get out of bed in the morning. But my deadlines are days long. Hours, in some cases. I once got a deadline of 90 minutes for an 800-word column, while brushing my teeth, in the middle of the night, in Auckland. I loved it.

But if you ever want to create anything of lasting impact (and no, that doesn’t include bacterial infections) then you will have to start working to a slightly bigger time frame. Whatever those NaNoWriMo idiots tell you, writing a book will take a while. Months, probably. So will writing a film. Actually getting a film made will take years. Sometimes, in the case of Terry Gilliam, decades. So just how do you keep your pecker up and your eye on the ball with nothing but the weight of expectation on your mind and the chill of nobody’s breath over your shoulder?

Break it down

Oldest trick in the book, mate. Take that novel and break it into chapters. Take that play and break it into scenes. Take that hour-long set and break it into 10-minute vignettes. Then set yourself tight little deadlines for each one. 2,000 words a day is a good start. And do something every day.

Buddy up

Remember that boss you had who used to send you snarky, passive-aggressive emails ‘just checking’ that they hadn’t ‘missed the email’ you were supposed to send them, full of the work you promised? Yeah, well that boss was your best friend. And you need someone like that in your life. Just someone who will ask, on a regular but persistent basis, what the hell is going on with your project and who will bollock you if you try to sneak out for yet another swim.

Ostracise yourself

We all know the story of Douglas Adams getting locked in a hotel room until he’d finished his homework (okay, his book). And there is a salutary lesson in that for all of us, even if we can’t afford a hotel room. Take yourself away, right away, from your social responsibilities and temptations. Leave your hometown and go and work somewhere you don’t know anyone, for a whole month. You’ll be amazed by what you can achieve.

Revel in the length

I know, I know. Innuendos are the last refuge of a scoundrel. But hey, I’m a scoundrel. Writing of the Future Library project, under which he will write a book to be printed on paper made from trees planted just last year by the artist Katie Peterson, David Mitchell has said, “The project is a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavour begun by long-dead people a century ago.  Imagine if the Future Library had been conceived in 1914, and a hundred authors from all over the world had written a hundred volumes between 1915 and today, unseen until now – what a human highway through time to be a part of.  Contributing and belonging to a narrative arc longer than your own lifespan is good for your soul.”

Perhaps the only way to rise to the challenge of a long deadline is to think of a narrative arc longer that your own lifespan; to think beyond this narrow mortal corridor and imagine the world beyond.

Or, you know, just sleep for three months and do it all the night before. Like me.


Image by Karol Franks via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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