The Deadline Dilemma

10 October 2019 on Nonfiction, Storystorm  

I work best on a deadline.

When I’m feeling charitable, I tell myself it’s the journalist in me. Years of working under pressure, all those late nights in the newsroom. The habits formed as a college newspaper editor compounded by time spent freelancing, knowing that missing the ever-looming deadline meant missing the all-important paycheck.

If I’m being honest, I know that I was a procrastinator long before any of that. I was that kid. The one whose paper mâché atom was still a little soupy at the science fair, whose trifold poster was still sticky with half-dried glue when she turned it in. Whether I naturally work better under pressure or have just developed a knack for it out of necessity, I may never know, but at this point in my life I, like many others, have a love-hate relationship with deadlines.

In a way, deadlines are what brought me back to school. One of the reasons I decided to get my MFA, and to do it now rather than later, is because I was worried that without hard deadlines I might lose my writing momentum. While I spent the time between my undergrad and graduate studies writing marketing copy and newspaper articles, the writing I did for myself was rare and unfocused. Without an upcoming workshop or an approaching due date, it was just too easy to put it off. The second I got distracted or found myself at a loss for words, I could just put it away. Close the laptop and tell myself I’d come back to it another time. After all, there was no rush. No one was waiting to read it. No one was keeping tabs on when, or if, I finished anything at all. 

Every few months, as I gear up to start another semester, I tell myself that this time is going to be different. With the same unfounded optimism that makes me believe I could one day become a morning person or get into yoga, I tell myself that this is the semester that I break my cycle of procrastination and get things done before the deadline. I told myself that just a few weeks ago, at the end of August, as I headed into the third semester of my MFA. 

And yet, here I am. Down to the deadline again, typing this blog up at 10:49 p.m. on the day I was supposed to upload it. Some things never change.

But they’ll have to, I think. Try as I may to drag it all out, my grand plan to avoid real life by staying in school for as long as possible can only play out for so long. A year from now I’ll be through with classes and workshops (and back to paying off student loans) and if I can’t figure out how to write without a deadline before then it will all have been for nothing. So now, go-getters of the world, I ask you for your help. How do you do it? Teach me your ways. Drop me a line, hit me up for coffee and a chat. I’ll buy the joe if you can teach me how to write without a due date hanging over my head. Get in touch any time, my schedule is wide open...according to the syllabus my next deadline isn’t for another six weeks. 

Abigael Sleeper is Barnstorm’s Nonfiction Editor and a second year MFA nonfiction student at the University of New Hampshire.

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