I start writing at 11 pm. The deadline is midnight. Ever been there? It ain’t pretty.
But I like deadlines. They get me going. They keep me going when I could say I don’t have time for this. Once I start something I have to finish it, especially when I know my carriage will turn into a pumpkin again at midnight and it’s a long walk home.
But starting something two hours before deadline isn’t a great idea, even if you only have to write 1,000 words. Especially not if it’s something you really want on the other side of that deadline.
In my case, it was a full scholarship to The Sun magazine’s October writing conference at Esalen. It’s moved its way along the squares of my iCal for three months, squeezed out time after time by everything else I’m doing. I knew the deadline was mid-August, even went on the magazine’s website TWICE to double-check that. They even sent me an email announcing the scholarship and deadline to rub it in.
Was it true? Only four more weeks left? Only three more? It’s the last two weeks!?
Great. Between client projects, the book I’m writing, and a Labradoodle puppy I had to take care of for my brother for two weeks, suddenly it was the last day to apply. My schedule wasn’t any more open that day (last Friday) and I toyed with the idea of letting it go. No, I decided. Not an option. I don’t want to go to bed tonight knowing I didn’t even apply and missing my chance for something I’ve wanted all year.
As soon as I finished work that night — my book had to come first — I got a fresh glass of bubbly lemon water, cleared my mind for a moment with a sip, sat down again with the laptop and opened the application. Part I was the job history. A real downer compared to Part B, my short writing on what I think I’ll gain by getting the full scholarship for the weekend at the writer’s conference.
I dove in, subscribing to the “Do it fast and it won’t hurt as much” theory. Quickly, I wrote up a page about my relevant jobs and education. Because it wasn’t a resume and didn’t need descriptions of each job, to my surprise, it was actually quite easy.
Done. An hour left. I took a drink of water and went on. Now the good stuff. Why I want to go. What writing means to me. What The Sun magazine means to me. Why I belong at the weekend in Big Sur with other Sun readers and writers. Why I should be one of only two being offered this full scholarship.
Again, I dove in. But this time it was deep, introspective. My writing mattered. I plumbed my depths, founds words to express things I’d never even found ways to describe to myself before, about my relationship with writing.
By 11:35 pm I was ready. I saved the document again and got up to splash my face with water at the bathroom sink to refresh myself for that final read-through before emailing. First, I closed the few extra drafts that had showed up on the desktop, those nasties the program Pages creates all the time and I delete over and over again, clicking in their upper left corner box and wistfully wishing I could use my MS Word program on my new MacBook Pro. I’ve used Word since I started using an Apple computer in 1983. Now, the MacBook operating system will only run later versions of Word than I have. So I use Pages, the new “fabulous” program for documents.
Back at my laptop, I took a deep breath and looked for the file I’d saved as “The Sun Application – Sherman.”
My heart thumped hard. I scanned the desktop — where was it?! Only 20 minutes left! Nowhere to be seen. I raced through all the possible places it could have gone to, scoped wherever I thought it could still show up, and nothing. Gone. I squeezed my eyes shut. I swore at Pages. I resolved there was no Sun magazine conference for me this year.
Anything like that ever happen to you?
After some unpublishable freak-out reactions, as calmly as I could I turned off the laptop and closed it (not its fault and I don’t have a two-story window anyway) and flopped into my armchair. The clock read 11:56. It was over.
There are a few lessons here, of course. Living them is painful, and I hope you never have to. In the past I would have said the first lesson is to SAVE, SAVE, SAVE. But I did that, and this time, it didn’t work. It didn’t work because of Lesson #2: Don’t rush with anything important. There has to be time to not only write something, but to reflect on it, to read it over and rewrite or refine it. In this case, I wrote something I’m interested in reading even just to see what I had to say about that subject. It went by too fast.
I’m an intuitive writer — I discover as I go. I don’t outline. It’s part of my joy in writing. The voice comes when I sit down to let it talk. But writing is one thing and computers are another.
I went to bed pretty unhappy that night, and I didn’t wake up feeling a whole lot better. My saving grace is knowing I’ll never do anything like that again. And Saturday morning I signed up for my first class at Apple on Pages.