Get to Do

Jessie: In NH where it is finally warm enough to wear

I am on deadline. June 1 to be exact. I love deadlines and I hate them. The constant pressure of the clock ticking away in my ear, the calendar pages that seem to whip by in a whirl feel oppressive half the time. The other half of the time it feels like the universe has taken me firmly in hand and demanded I behave like a professional adult.

I have always been at my writerly best when under time pressure. As a high school student I would often write papers due in the afternoon during the lunch period. It clarified and focused my thoughts and I think I enjoyed the frenzied pace such a strategy demanded.

Now although my writing projects are far more complex and cannot be left to the day before I still find I thrive on writing at a rapid clip. I love to set audacious writing goals and to challenge myself to reach them each day. I love dashing each morning into the story and galloping furiously along until I’ve met my projected word count, especially if I am worried that I can’t do it.

But despite the pleasure I take from working that way there are some unexpected consequences. My usually tidy office is heaped and piled with delayed decisions and unfinished tasks. Emails go unanswered. I switch off my phone. The interior of my fridge is a sad, echoing sort of place. I don’t always make it out of my pajamas before noon. Which brings me to the final pleasure of writing with single-minded focus: the get to do list. 

Every time a deadline is drawing near I start keeping a list of all the things I am itching to do just as soon as it passes. The fact that I cannot seem to get to some things makes them seem all the more interesting. The trip to the grocer, steaming the wrinkles out of the new duvet, updating my website. All these things and more take on the air of forbidden fruit. Not only do I get to write the way I prefer but I end up looking forward to those tasks I would consider mundane under most circumstances and would likely put off doing them. It is all a little crazy. It is a little slice of heaven.

Readers and writers, do you love or hate deadlines? Do you keep get to do lists?



29 Thoughts

  1. With you, Jessie, and the fruits of your deadlines are wonderful!

    I, too, am a deadline person. There is something invigorating about them, and meeting them makes me feel like Joan of Arc without the fire! LIke the idea of a get to do list – hum…..Enjoy!

  2. I’m a deadline person but, at 69, I realize that we are ALL going to die, we just don’t usually know when and most of the things for which we have deadlines aren’t actually all that important. People are more important than things so, given a deadline for something, if someone needs my immediate assistance I will go with the immediate assistance over the deadline most of the time. Back to the 13,460 emails and 45 past-due ARCs…

  3. Fun, Jessie. I am away alone also writing insane numbers of words every day. I expected from the title that your blog would be about the fact that we get to do this work, that we are so lucky to be doing work that we love. Which is true!

  4. Sorry, but I always want whatever the deadline is for off my back so must do it early and not worry about it! That’s probably why you all are writers and I am not.

  5. I like deadlines but I’m not a wait until the last minute person. That scenario of writing a school report during lunch gave me hives! (JK) I do love the get to do list. I have a 10 item to-do list every day, but I need to do a list of things I “get” to do, rather that “must” do. Great idea, Jessie! See how words matter?

  6. I love your “delayed decisions” comment about your office. My office is heaped with them too. I tend to keep lists in my head instead of on paper.

    1. It sort of gets to the heart of what the messis really about, doesn’t it? It also makes it easier to fix once the deadline has passed, at least for me. I tell myself it is decision time and I tackle the piles.

  7. I love your attitude toward all the critical undone tasks taking on “the air of forbidden fruit”! Suddenly the gravel left by my snow boots inside the front door and the layer of dust over every piece of furniture look more like opportunities to reward myself for finishing that new book! –Kate, writing as C.T. Collier

  8. I know what you mean (about it all!). I don’t think I ever missed a deadline in high school or college, because I had a good internal sense of how long it would take me to do something–but that didn’t mean I started the paper early. Turns out it’s the same with books (yes, I have a 6/1 deadline–and half a book written). And a couple of pages of To-Do lists, for whenever I hit Send.

  9. I don’t do well under pressure, so my solution has always been to set my own deadline for every project and make it several weeks earlier than the real one. I save a last read through for right before the book is due and hope I don’t spot anything major that needs fixing at that stage, but if I do, I still have time to fix it. And yes, I am a list maker. It keeps me on track. But, oddly, housework never seems to make it onto the list. I tackle the dust bunnies only after they are bigger than the cat.

  10. I always feel more focused under a deadline. I just checked and my next one isn’t until June 20. So right now I feel like I should be doing something, but I’m not and it’s weird.

    I don’t keep a “get to do” list, but I do make plans to celebrate/relax after I hit each deadline.

  11. A “get to do” list is scary! Deadlines are difficult enough! My “to do” list guides me and I rush to get some things done. I self impose deadlines for all sorts of things, partly because I spend quite a bit of time on volunteer things. Some have to be done, like getting the golf scores done each week! I make lists but the “get to do” list is that wonderful process I keep internal so I don’t get tempted away by the first person who calls me and says “Let’s….”

  12. I always say, when you get older and wiser, it’s not that you don’t put things off to the last minute–it’s that you know when the last minute actually is.

  13. A get to do list? Sounds like the things on your get to do list are things I usually avoid doing at all costs. 🙂

      1. Yes, we agree on that.

        However, I should do some of the things on your list. It’s just that reading is so much fun, and a great way to avoid things on the list.

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