Dealing with time pressures

The act of writing often involves tension, and that tension is often a result of time: not enough time to write, for example, or deadlines coming fast and furious.  You have only an hour to write this evening, so you better make the most of it.  You have a deadline tomorrow, and if inspiration doesn’t strike soon, that client will never hire you again.  You look at the blank piece of paper or the glowing computer screen, and you can’t think what to write.  The first sentence you produce is so asinine you should probably give up and become a truck driver instead. This tension blocks you from being able to write as effectively and successfully as possible and the more you stare at the screen with nothing to say, the louder the clock ticks in your ear.

(For Andrew Marvell fans: “But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”)


Most people don’t have as much time to write as they would like.  So the pressure is on to produce golden prose on your first try, in that hour you have set aside for writing this evening. We also complicate matters by both under- and over-estimating how much we can accomplish in a given time.   For instance, you may think it will only take a couple of hours to polish that essay when it may take a whole day.  You may think it will take just a few minutes to revise a query and send it along – but it takes two or three hours instead.  At the same time, you may think, “I only have an hour this evening, it’s not worth getting the manuscript out.”  But an hour can give you time to block out the next scene, or get started researching Civil War dress for your next blockbuster novel.  An hour is enough to write a page or two of your book proposal.


The next time you go to sit at your desk and write, and you feel that familiar tension in your shoulders, and you start gritting your teeth and looking for something else to do instead, stop.  Ask yourself what’s causing the tension.  If you’re afraid you won’t get the project done on deadline, ask yourself if you’re being realistic.  If you cannot possibly under any circumstances get the project done on time, then you need to face up to it and call the editor or client and ask for an extension.  But usually this tension is unnecessary.  As long as you sit down and do the assignment, you’ll get it done by deadline.  Ask yourself what is the worst thing that will happen.  In this case, the worst thing is, you’ll miss the deadline. 


Well, it ain’t pretty but you won’t be the first writer to miss a deadline.  However, if you make yourself so anxious you can’t write, not only will you miss the deadline, but you’ll miss it by a month instead of by three hours.  Take the attitude: So what?  So what if you miss the deadline?  Does that mean you’ll never be allowed to write again?  Of course not.  (This is not to say that you should tell potential clients and editors, “So what?” when they call to say your copy is late.  It’s just a little exercise you can use to change your thought patterns so you can move beyond the fear and tension.)


Purposefully relax.  Do some stretching exercises.  Do a little deep breathing.  Meditate if you have to. Visualize a successful writing time.  Light a candle or some incense.  Give yourself permission to write fifteen totally stupid sentences.  Do whatever it takes to relax those muscles.  If it takes a pound of chocolates?  Good investment.