Due Dates

by | Jun 10, 2006 | General Ruminations

The book proposal, less than a day and a half late, is done. Or at least the first draft is. Now we’ll see what the agent has to say.

Pop quiz: How many of you actually believed it would be done when I said it would be? I know I didn’t, but I also knew that setting a due date would be an effective kick in the pants. Now, Odin be praised, I can get back to Big Rock Candy Mountain.

I used to tell myself that one of the major problems with completing Desert was that there was no due date. I had learned during college, where it never would have occurred to me to ask for a time extension, just how useful those things can be. Do you know that lovely quote from Samuel Johnson? – “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

College was really not designed to help me stay focused on my work. We had, as I have mentioned before, a million books in our library. One year I had a roommate who thought I must be a wonderful scholar, as I seemed to have so much time for reading stuff that had nothing to do with my coursework. Little did he know. Trouble was, I would be studying in the library, and then take a short break. Wandering the stacks, it was impossible not to run across some volume that absolutely begged to be read, and far be from me to disappoint it.

Fortunately, I do have a practical streak. By the end of my freshman year I knew how long it took me to write a page, which, including writing, editing, and typing, was two hours. Armed with this information, it was simple matter to calculate backwards from the time the paper was due. Eight to ten page paper due Monday at 1:30? Allowing time for meals and so on, I knew I had to get started by late Sunday morning. Did I pull a lot of all-nighters during college? Absolutely.

One of the most grueling was for that paper on Robert Burns. I had gotten started ahead of time, which may or may not have been part of the problem. In any case, it was going even more slowly than usual. Fact is, I really didn’t know what I wanted to say. Then, halfway through the wretched thing, I had a satori. Checking the time, I threw away the result of hours of drudgery and wrote one of the better papers of my college career, finishing the typing about half an hour before it was due.

This is not, I hasten to add, a method I recommend.

But it worked for me.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be necessary to drive myself crazy in this fashion when it comes to writing fiction. Good thing, too, as I don’t know how many pages a story will consist of until it’s done, nor is there anyone around to mark me down if it’s turned in late. Just now, though, I’ve been sitting in front of this computer screen for way too long. It’s time for a break. Fortunately, the library in El Paso County has far fewer than a million books. And, even more fortunately, it’s closed right now.