Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Taking Work Home

by Mike Crawmer

Saturday morning I found myself doing something I rarely do—working at home on an office project.

I’ve always tried to separate my work life from my home life. Unlike my stressed out coworkers, I enjoy my life outside the office. That’s not to say I never took work home. When I first started at my job two-plus decades ago, 40-hour workweeks were pretty darn rare. In recent years they’ve become the norm. For one thing, the work is just easier for me—I’ve mastered the company’s arcane products and curious lingo and our devilishly complicated templates. Second, my department’s been creating web-based training courses, the software for which I can’t download onto my home computer. And, third, we just don’t have as much work as we used to—the company’s products have matured nicely, you might say.

But last weekend I had no choice: The workbook had to be ready by noon Monday for reproduction, and the coworkers who had dumped it on me had waited until the last possible day to figure out what it should contain and in what order. That meant slogging through all 129 pages Saturday, untangling the mess created by others (the very definition of editor, I guess).

Fortunately, deadlines inspire me, and I plowed through the document lickety-split. Then, again, it’s always been that way with me. In high school I put off tackling assignments until the night before they were do. (Typical teen, I assume.) Back in college after serving in the military, I worked full time (the GI Bill helped some, so for that, thank you, taxpayers) while carrying a full course load and reporting and editing for the university’s student daily. The crunch of time meant that I crammed everything in at the last minute.

As it turned out , all good training for my jobs as a beat and assignment reporter, where my continued employment hung on my ability to get the facts and pull them together into a coherent whole in time to make the deadline.
There’s an unfortunate flip side to all that deadline orientation, as those of you who share this trait know: Namely, when you don’t have a deadline, your project can go on and on and on and on. Till either you or the project dies from exhaustion or neglect.

So, I sit at my desk, computer on, staring at the synopsis or the query letter or chapter 1, version 74 of plot outline 3 yet again and realize, I NEED A DEADLINE. It’s not enough to produce a chapter or two each month for the critique group. No, I need a compelling deadline if I am ever to get this WIP beyond the “progress” phase.

Should I make that deadline a date on the calendar or a date with an agent? Or a date with the funeral director, cause I’m as certain as I can be that if my mortal days were numbered, I’d write the best damn book ever—and on deadline!

P.S.—That weekend scramble means I’ll be stuck in a workshop today and tomorrow, so I won’t be able to respond to your comments, sympathetic or otherwise. But, have at it.


Tory said...

I've been thinking about this "artificial deadline" concept, myself. Is it really motivating if you know that it's only something in your head?

I think yes! I often make such deadlines for before I go on trips ("This has to be done before I leave") and, gol darn it, the thing usually gets done!

Good luck, Mike, with figuring out an appropriate deadline for your WIP.

Annette said...

The success of self-imposed deadlines depends largely on how good you are at sticking to them. I've discovered I'm frequently too likely to cut myself slack. BUT if I have someone else to act as slave driver, I have better success. Or some actual REASON for the deadline, like last summer when I HAD to have my manuscript completed before my mom's surgery. I got it turned in to my agent TWO days before surgery day.

Lately, I've gotten scared of cramming at the last minute because something always crops up that demands my attention. So I'm making a better effort at getting stuff done ahead of time. Whenever possible, that is.

Joyce said...

I do much better with a deadline, even a self-imposed one. Even if I don't meet it, I'm much further along than if I didn't have one. Guess I should go set that deadline...

JennieB said...

You could try signing up for a conference, and then signing up for a one-on-one with an agent or editor at that same conference, and setting yourself a goal of having a finished, completed manuscript to pitch to said agent or editor at that time. It might be more motivating than simply telling yourself 'I shall be done by such date'. Whatever it takes, you know?

Gina said...

Mike -
I hate to take work home. It's hard enough to do it at the office. I'm a procrastinator, so I tend to rely on deadlines to get me moving. Lucky for my day job, the practice of law is largely an exercise in meeting deadlines. Self-imposed deadlines are another matter, though. I'm a rebellious teenager at heart -- whenever I tell myself "I have to . . ." I immediately begin trying to think of ways to get out of it. What works for me is to use writing as my reward, not as my punishment (so to speak). In other words, I tell myself, "If I put a load of laundry in the washing machine, I get to write for 20 minutes." Try it. It works.

Martha Reed said...

Mike, I like the bit about how your work matured. I've noticed that at my job, too; we've learned the product and everyone seems pretty happy with the results. I'm going to steal the deadline idea to kick start my WIP. Let's say a completed mss in time for PennWriters May 16th?

Wish me luck!

Anonymous said...

Deadlines are like a goal line for me... I really need them to get things done. When I wanted to graduate with my doctorate, I scheduled my dissertation defense for 8 weeks in the future (only 2 weeks before walking in graduation). I had to work my ass off to get it done by then, even driving to my chair's house on Thanksgiving day to drop off a "in progress" copy. But it worked. The problem is what Tory said... with an artificial deadline, I know it's in my head and I can ignore me!

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