The thrill of the deadline

There’s nothing more thrilling than reaching a deadline, is there? For the organised amongst you, this may involve a gentle jog to the finishing line, a small but heart-felt air-punch and that satisfied sense of a job well done. If you are slightly chaotic, as I am, it’s a bumpy ride. It goes something like this.

A fortnight before the deadline, you are calm personified – a mixture of Mary Berry and Barack Obama – cool, twinkling, confident.

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A week to go and you take on the air of Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army, muttering ‘Don’t Panic’, under your breath in a less soothing, more hissy mantra.

You then hurl yourself into the task at hand. You work late into the night (never first thing – there isn’t enough coffee in the world that could jump-start you into early-morning writing). So working late is the only option but it’s okay because it means a glass of wine, a bowl of Kettle Chips and an episode of Modern Family as a reward.

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See? Being a night-owl pays big time, my friends. You can’t be hitting the Chablis at ten in the morning. It may have worked for Hemingway but then he never had to do the afternoon school-run.

Then we reach the day before the deadline. This day is oddly calm. The hard work is done. There is a niggling panic that you have lost control of the book somehow, that it doesn’t hang together but then you remember that it’s hard to keep the detail of ninety thousand words in your head and the panic subsides. This day mainly consists of ticking off items on the slightly odd final check list such as:

–          Does Dan have size ten or size twelve feet?

–          Check number of times the word ‘wow’ is used & delete accordingly.

–          Decide whether to keep or remove the new vicar.

It’s not your average ‘to do’ list but it all seems vitally necessary during the intense adrenaline-pumped moments before you attach the manuscript to an e-mail and send it to your editor.

Finally, the moment does arrive. You simply cannot put it off anymore. The manuscript is saved for the final time. You send it off into the world, like a baby bird on its first flight and hope that it doesn’t crash into the first window it reaches.

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You hold your breath and then realise that breathing is important and exhale. You stare at your screen for a moment and feel quite tired. Your brain is as weary as a toddler after an hour in a ball pool. Take a break, brain. You’ve worked hard. You need a rest.

The day afterwards is lovely. You emerge into the world, blinking at the light – a bewildered writing mole. There is no writing to do today. You have earned a rest.

It’s a day to tick off some of those things you don’t have time to do because you are writing, like communicating with your family and working out why the fridge makes that weird whining noise, but only in the afternoons.

Important stuff.

You write a shiny new ‘to-do’ list. It doesn’t seem quite as writerly and creative as the manuscript check-list. It contains items like:

–          Sort e-mails (2 years’ worth)

–          Check utilities bills

–          Phone the Inland Revenue

You give it your best shot. After a day of clenching your teeth as you try but fail to find someone from HMRC who wants your tax and weeping as your Yahoo Mail page crashes every time you try to archive something, you have an epiphany. Existing in the real world is too hard and actually, really quite boring.

Immediately, you know what you need to do. You e-mail your editor with a request and she is delighted to oblige.

The next day, you’re one happy camper. You sit at your computer with a fresh sense of purpose and a manic grin on your face as you type the words, ‘Chapter One.’

You have a new deadline. All is well.

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