In school I was one of those kids who excelled: straight As from junior high through college. My last semester of college, however, I had a poli-sci class where we had to periodically turn in extensively researched papers. I can’t remember the circumstances, most likely boyfriend drama, but I made the conscious decision to forfeit turning in the last of those term papers, which I knew would adversely affect my straight-A-decade-long record. I received the first and last C of my life. Was it worth it? Yes. The alternative was to neglect life.
You can tell by now that I take deadlines seriously. I never once thought I would not make the October 1st promise to my publisher. In my post Delivering Stella Adler’s Biography: The Labor Pains Are Killing Me, I explained how the first two months that I was supposed to be revising were spent getting all my endnotes in order. That left me with one month to get Stella’s manuscript into shape.
And then the unforeseeable happenend. I needed to take in my mother due to an undiagnosed health issue and nurse her back to health. I had to monitor her meds, plan meals, draw baths, schedule doctor’s appointments and referrals, assess the results of various medications, apply ice packs, upload audio books, answer the same questions several times due to her cognitive dysfunction. None of this was conducive to the hours of solitude I needed to track the fundamentals of storytelling. Had I fleshed out the ancillary characters? Had I created tension at the end of each chapter? Was the plot’s pacing consistently moving forward? How was I too assess these things in fits and starts? I was stressed out of my gourd to say the least.
Looking back, I wish I had handled it all differently. For starters I would have given myself an extra month’s padding in the contract for my deadline. I would have set aside ten minutes a day to meditate.
Mostly, I would have kept my mouth shut when out of frustration I took on the victim role and put the burden of everything I could not get to (reconstructing my hacked website, picking up the kid from school, planning his 5th birthday party, dishes, phone calls) on my husband. I wanted outside appearances to remain stable, and I wanted him to pick up the slack. The expectation was unrealistic and all it did was create strain on my marriage. I resented my husband for scheduling work-related commitments that cut into my writing time. I accused him of not helping me enough. I was frightened that I was losing my mother as well as a book I had spent 13 years researching and writing.
One day, I fell sick with a chronic illness I live with. Not knowing how long I’d be in bed, the fear of the unknown and the frustration of my unpredictable illness felt overwhelming. I made the conscious choice to not make my deadline. The book was no longer the baby I was birthing. It was a sentence I had to carry out. An albatross.
At ten o’clock last night I completed the final edits on the manuscript. My publisher received it today, one week late. I was okay with that, but it would have been just as acceptable to turn it in two weeks late and have more sanity. Take time to answer the phone, talk to my husband, play with my son, take a walk, meditate, pray, stretch.
When I awoke this morning I really did feel as if I had finished a 3 month prison sentence and I was finally free to read the paper, visit a friend, get a goddamn pedicure! So, no. Delivering the book to my publisher was not like delivering my son. When he was born, I couldn’t get enough of him. I became more devoted. When the book was finished, I sent it off like a visitor who has overstayed his welcome. Good riddance!
Still, if I hadn’t had a deadline, the book would not be finished. It would not be ready for the next phase on its journey to publication. Deadlines are good; people can make them ugly. Lesson learned for the next one.