When I was in college and thought I would go crazy with the stress of finishing up all the papers and studying for the exams at the end of my junior year, my father gave me some counter-intuitive advice.
He told me to appreciate the concrete endings that came with school because you didn’t get too many of those in the rest of life.
It is one of the peculiar joys of college—everything comes due at the same time (at least for procrastinators like me) and you think you’ll never have time to write it all or study it all and then, somehow, you do. And, oh, remember that feeling of blessed relief after you turned in the final exam and you were DONE for a break or even an entire summer?
My dad was right— most jobs aren’t like that. Even while you’re finishing up one project, it’s only so you can turn your attention to another ongoing project, and many projects don’t ever seem to end.
But that’s one beautiful thing about writing and editing as a career. We get to have these sometimes impossible-sounding, yet satisfying deadlines. I’ve found that deadlines really suit my personality. I thrive under a little bit of pressure. When I have a lot to do, I tend to get a lot done. And if I don’t have a clear due date, I might never write it at all.
Sometimes, though, I think those deadlines are going to be the death of me. I do my best to plan out a writing schedule (one chapter here, two chapters there), and then I find myself not even close to hitting it. Then I start to get a little panicky.
Writing for me, and editing to a lesser extent, is kind of a mystical process. I throw a block of time at it and see how far I get. Sometimes I steamroll through chapters and chapters and sometimes I barely manage a few pages.
One thing that makes it more difficult is that, with two small children, my writing time is extremely limited, so if I don’t finish something when I’m supposed to, then it’s hard to fit it in somewhere else in the schedule, although I have been known to sit at the sidelines of the soccer field with my laptop or pages to edit, trying to get a little bit done while keeping an eye on my wandering three-year-old.
And unlike college, when I used to let everything else slide while I worked frantically to cram or write, I can no longer leave everything else until I’ve met my deadline. That’s all well and good when it’s just your 20-year-old self and there’s a school dining hall and you can just wear a shirt you don’t like all that much until you get around to the laundry. But when you’re responsible for the care and feeding of a family, you’ve got to prioritize that above all else. And alas, the laundry still does not do itself.
You know what’s funny, though? I’ve found that the distractions of the rest of my life help to focus me like a laser when I do have the time to write and edit. If I had eight hours a day to sit in front of my computer, I’d probably be watching a lot of YouTube or shopping online. Instead, I have to write or edit because that couple of hours is all the time I’m going to get.
And I’m not the first to compare writing to childbirth, but meeting a deadline is a little bit like labor, at least my labors. Just when I am absolutely ready to give up because that baby will never ever ever be born, then there he comes. And just when I despair that I’m never ever going to finish a book, then somehow I usually do. And that is as great a feeling as it ever was.
It’s a real lesson for me in ceding control to God. My job with my writing is to diligently work during the hours that I have and hand the anxiety over to God. With God’s help, I almost always finish on time.
And then I get to celebrate.