Deadly Deadlines – The One Type of Deadline You Should Never Make
Guest post by Braden Russell
As writers, we have a love/hate relationship with deadlines.
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.
I had decided I wanted to have 5 novels written and edited by the time I graduated. It’s now been nearly a year since my graduation and I’ve only written 3. It’s been kind of grating at me lately, so this post came at exactly the right time. Thank you.
Wow, that’s quite a deadline you gave yourself! I feel your pain. Three novels is a huge feat, though–I’d say you’re well on your way. 😉 Keep churning ’em out!
Great post, Braden, and so true! You should read “Me, Myself & Bob” by Phil Vischer… it addresses some of these topics very well. 🙂
I’ve heard of that one, and definitely want to read it! I’ll have to see if I can coerce my library into seeking it out…
This is an awesome post, Braden! Lately I’ve been a little frustrated for writing and not having “success,” as if, somehow, publication would validate that I’m pursuing the right thing. Ultimately though, if I’m published but not writing where God’s leading, there’s no point, while if I remain undiscovered for the brilliant talent that I am (we’re all wonderful in our own minds, right? 😀 ) but write the words God speaks through me, my life has meaning. This post means a lot to me right now. Thanks for writing it!
Exactly! God is the ultimate source of Meaning, and as long as we’re following the course He has for us, we don’t have to worry about being insignificant or useless. Keep it up!
Thanks! You too; I really enjoy your Storymonger blog. 🙂
I experienced a similar disappointment, strangely also around 16-and-a-half–when I finalized in the OYAN contest but didn’t win (as lots of my friends, and eventually me, expected). That kind of knock, however dumbly taken, can be a really important point in a young writer’s life. It forced me to really mean “soli deo gloria.” I was pessimistic enough to not expect publication, but was still hanging on to other versions of worldly approval. It’s still hard to let go, sometimes!
But the idea of deadlines in other areas of life really is what struck home for me in this article. I feel pretty hopelessly stalled at the moment, watching others charge through times of life I haven’t even started–from college to relationships to even the simple pursuit of publishing. I always like being young while doing things. But yeah. I need to be okay with where I am and where my own journey is, regardless of others.
Know what you mean–I used to get really frustrated because I felt like all my friends got to “do big stuff” before I did. My parents used to tell me, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Wise words. 😉
Maybe this should be called the youth syndrome. Because I have a hard time looking to the future (beyond 20). In my head, my life ends at 20, and I MUST GET EVERYTHING DONE BY THEN.
Hrmhrm. Yeah right.
Thanks for the post, Brayden. Once again, you have hit on something. 😛
Ha, I think 20 is the deadline age for many of us. Once you’re above that, you’re, like, OLD, and nothing you do will be nearly as impressive.
Or that’s the mentality, I think. 😉
Ahh yes. Deadlines.
I used to hate them; now, I’m afraid I love lists and deadlines a little too much.
This is a great post. I never really set a goal to be “really” published by such-and-such a date, but I’ve always felt a self-imposed rush and pressure to begin certain phases of “real life” (which, now, I’m not even sure what my younger self meant by that…) at certain times. Like college, for instance. It’s been frustrating–being 20 and not yet in college. Buuuuuuut I’m learning that it’s okay. Because I am getting there, and will get there. My route has simply been a bit scenic.
I didn’t start college until I was twenty so you’re definitely not alone. The hardest thing for me was the pressure from others (or the self imposed view of what others might be thinking) to be ‘doing something with my life’. I certainly wasn’t sitting on my hands though and now I’m really happy to be going at the right time for me. I’m glad you’re finding peace with where God has you right now. Because I didn’t start college until 2 1/2 years after high school I’ve been able to encourage my friends who don’t know what they want to do immediately after HS. God always has a plan<3
Braden, I loved the humour in your writing. I’m fast approaching 50 and bizarrely enough, it is still a temptation to succumb to the pressure of the “deadline for success”! I’m over half way through the journey, and there’s a lot less time left than there was at 20. Buckletar! Fortunately life is made up of lots of “little successes” and I’m so thankful for these. You did a great job, Braden!
Another well-written posts, Braden, with some great points!! Thanks for the reminder!
Good post, Braden. I have a tendency to do this to myself. 😛 I have a plan for how I want my life to go, but I have to trust God on how He wants to go even if I don’t like it and my whole being fights it sometimes, but I try to trust Him. I want to be a writer more than anything and I hope we both find success in God’s time. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
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At age 11, I wanted to be the youngest author ever. The idea came to me after watching Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. About a 10 year old who wanted her story published in the news paper. I decided that I would try to get published before I turned 12.
This is interesting I’ll make sure not to set these deadlines!! 🙂