Deadlines, yo (or) Fun With Motivation

What is up?

Kind of a random thought/topic: I’ve had some people ask me in the past how the heck I’m able to stay productive and get so much stuff done.  I’ve also had people make snide comments when I mentioned going to a concert or a movie (god forbid!) every once in a while, wondering how I’m able to do it with a couple kids, a wife, three jobs, etc…etc…

Caffeine, right?

No.  I don’t drink caffeine.  Haven’t had any for about 4-5 years.  I lost count, actually.  In a world where (a lot of) writers talk about how they GOTTA have their coffee and chocolate, I…um, sort of don’t.

But that’s not why we’re here today.  I want to talk about motivation and I guess my way of doing things.  (Feel free to watch FutureSand if this is boring to you!)

The big secret (and I wish it were really more exciting, but here it) is: Make the most of the time you have.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t shut myself into my basement office (the Nerdery) and keep my family out and away from me.  I really and truly wait until the rest of the family is in bed and mostly asleep before I position butt into chair and tap my way into a literary nirvana.  It’s that easy.  I guess it does help that I try to stay awake until I can barely keep my eyes open, but that’s taken years of practice, friends.  I actually (waaaay back in the day) used to force myself to stay up until 2-3 am every night and get up at a reasonable hour.  It didn’t matter if I had to work the next day or not.  I conditioned myself a bit to subsist on very little sleep.  Of course, I was drinking gallons of Diet Coke back then, too.  So, you know…balance.

Do I get distracted?  Oh, gosh yes.  There are books and DVDs and video games just screaming for me to take them off the shelf and fritter away hours of my time.  Some days I give in and take a much-deserved break.  Other times, I say: Nope.  This book is due in a few days.  Powering up to win the game is just gonna have to wait.

It’s not easy, since I due have a bit of an addictive personality.  (Hello cookies!)

But, the way it works out, I carve out a pretty decent slice of time for myself each night.  From about 9pm – 12:30am/1am, I’m working on something.  It might be a chapter.  It might be a revision.  It might be an (ahem) blog entry.  I try and do as much as I can stand (without sacrificing quality) and then it’s off to read or shoot bad guys or watch a movie.

I think one of the biggest motivators I have (and it’s a bit morbid) is this: I know there are only so many days left in my (or anyone’s!) life.  I guess I feel like it’s not enough to just sit and simply come home, eat, watch tv, play with the kids and go to sleep.  I’m not knocking people who do this, because if that’s what makes ’em happy then so be it.  I just get this weird, guilty feeling (excess former-Catholic guilt?) in my gut that I’m spinning my wheels creatively and I NEED to do something.

Maybe it’s a writer thing.  Maybe I’m nuts.  Yeah.  Probably nuts.

Want to hear something even kookier?  Sometimes it’s not enough to be working on books that I’ve been contracted to write.  Sometimes I get done working on those projects and I start tinkering with novels that I have NO IDEA if they’ll ever see an editor’s desk or a publishing house. I’ll set deadlines in my head and tell myself: YOU HAVE TO GET THIS DONE BY THE END OF THE MONTH.  Even if I don’t really have to.  I used to add even more motivators to it.

Would you believe I used to say to myself: You can’t shave until you finish editing your book.  I’m serious.  There was a period where I was totally bearded.  Just ask my wife, Laura.  When we started dating, my face was covered in beardy goodness.  And let me tell you, if hurt like a mother to shave that thing off…when I was done editing, of course.  Rules are rules.

I’ll even take it a step further:  I often will beat myself up for setting up “writing goals” (see previous post) and not meeting my own self-set deadlines.  I’ll be honest.  I’m STUNNED that July is over half-over.  I’m sick with the idea that I haven’t been sending out query letters like I should be.  I’ve had some friends tell me that I’m lucky to be able to come up with stuff and find the time to write and all that.  And yes, I do think I’m lucky…but (and I hate to sound Spider-Man-ish about this) it’s actually a curse and a gift.

I’ve been writing books or making little films of some sort since I’ve been in the 2nd grade.  I don’t think there’s ever been a point in my life where I’ve said: Eh…this writing thing’s not for me.

Considering I’ll be 38 in a few months…

(oh good lord…38?)

Ahem.  Anyway, what I guess I’m trying to say is…I’m in it for the long haul.  If my “other” work never gets published and I’m an old(er) crusty(er) guy still hacking away on a keyboard, at least I’ll feel like I went out swinging…you know? I’m not sure I’m cut out to do anything else.  Also: Pretty sure I don’t want to.

So…like the fabled Dragon Scroll in Kung Fu Panda: The secret is you.  There is no special ingredient for noodle soup.  It’s all you, baby.  Every keystroke, every page.  It ain’t gonna write itself and there aren’t little literary gnomes who are wringing their tiny hands, watching from the shadows, waiting for you to abandon your work so they can finish it for you.

But dang.  It’d be cool if there were.