Guest post by Braden Russell
Mostly hate, it seems—deadlines trigger major freak-out sessions, piling on stress and forcing us to actually get stuff done.
But it’s just this aspect of deadlines that makes them such a valuable tool for us as writers and creators. They keep us cranking out work when we’d much rather be putting some hours into whatever new and intriguing source of procrastination we’ve discovered.
And since I’ve found that procrastinating seems to be one of my natural and honed talents, I try to thwart myself by giving myself as many deadlines as I can. I have deadlines for writing, cleaning the shower, getting certain books read, and even making phone calls to friends.
But I’ve discovered one type of deadline that you should never, ever make for yourself. It will depress you, disillusion you, and completely take the wind out of your motivation. And for many of us, it’s the only kind of deadline we give ourselves.
It’s a deadline for success.
It doesn’t sound like a bad idea, at first. We all want success, and it only seems logical to hang a ticking watch on our vision of that success. I want to be signed with a record label by the time I’m twenty. I want my novel to be a Oprah’s Book Club title in two years. I want my sock monkey business to be grossing seven digits in five years.
When I was in my preteen years, I had pretty much decided I wanted to be a writer. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest and The Writer. I decided that I liked coffee on the sole principle that a steaming cup of joe was indispensable to any serious writer’s desk. I inherited my dad’s clunky old laptop and spent hours typing out ridiculously cliché sci-fi and fantasy stories, thinking I was really clever for inventing an entire vocabulary of swear words for my characters. (My favorite was Buckletar. Guaranteed to get your mouth scrubbed out with something soapy if you were a young lad on the planet of Vextorcal.)
I also decided I was going to publish my first novel before I turned twenty. Preferably around fifteen or so. I figured that for a guy of my skills, that couldn’t be too hard. I’d read Eragon, by teen fantasy-writing success story Christopher Paoloni, and enjoyed making offhand, scathing critiques of Paoloni’s writing to my friends, inwardly reveling in the fact that I was obviously so much better than that guy.
Basically, I was an egotistical little twerp.
But then I turned fifteen, and I didn’t even have a completed novel yet. I started to worry a little about my self-imposed deadline, but decided that having a published novel at age sixteen was still pretty impressive.
I finished my first novel at about sixteen-and-a-half, and breathed a sigh of relief. I had the book, all I had to do was send it off to a publisher or something (how exactly did you do that, anyway?) and my dream of teenage fame was in the bag.
Except I’m sure you’ve guessed the rest of the story.
I learned that my novel, although decent for a first attempt, stunk in a number of ways that most first novels do. I also realized how far I had to go before I could ever hope to see a story of mine in hardcover on somebody’s bookshelf.
And as ridiculous as it seems now, that revelation crushed me. For a long time, I’d seen writing as the one thing I could really do well, something that made me special. And it had failed me.
But here’s the thing. I hadn’t failed. What I had done was special. I had finished a book, for crying out loud! I was an author!
The only thing I had failed was meeting my own ill-conceived, unrealistic deadline. A deadline that almost made me decide to stop doing what I loved.
That’s what happens when you put a deadline on vague future achievements like fame and success, whatever your definition of those things are. Nine times out of ten, you’ll be disappointed, because life just doesn’t work like that.
If you decide you’re going to have your screenplay made into a Hollywood movie before you graduate college, you’re going to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.
If you decide you’re going to be married before you turn twenty-five, you’ll be disappointed if you hit thirty and still haven’t met “The One.”
Now I’m nearing twenty, and the closest I’ve come to publication is a story or two in an e-magazine.
But I’m fine with that now.
In my journey so far, I’ve learned that publication isn’t a magic bullet that rockets you to fame and fortune overnight—the vast majority of selling authors have day jobs and save pennies for groceries like everyone else. And I’m fine with that, too.
I’ve come to realize there’s a calling on my life, on your life, and on the lives of anyone who will listen. And if you’re following that call, I believe that God will make the journey just as satisfying and fulfilling as the destination, as long as we can lay our grand dreams and deadlines aside and enjoy our lives as they happen.
And isn’t that a kind of success anyway?
Have you ever put a deadline on your success? How did that go for you?
Braden Russell wrote his first “novel” with a red felt-tip marker on construction paper when he was six years old. It is believed by some that whiffing toxic fumes from the aforementioned marker permanently altered his brain, but regardless of the reason, he has been writing ever since.
Completing his second novel in his teens, he is now following the threads of several different stories while simultaneously chasing down little siblings, tending the family farm, and building his career in music education. He blogs about his writing and various forms of storytelling at TheStorymonger.com.