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Deadlines and the Working Girl

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I’m writing this post under the assumption that my editor doesn’t read my blog. He works hard, and he likes me, and I’d hate to do anything to possibly damage that relationship. But as he doesn’t read my blog, I’ll tell you guys:
I’ll do pretty much anything to keep from meeting my deadlines.

Deadlines, deadlines. For any given novel, there are usually deadlines for the rough draft, the first edit, the final edit, the copyedit, the first page proofs, and the final page proofs. I tend to write two books a year, so double that. I also do the book trailers for my books, so that means there is a deadline for writing the song for the trailer and a deadline for getting the animation done. There are also various interviews and article type things that come up throughout the year. They come with deadlines too. Baby deadlines, though. Infantile deadlines. Nascent deadlines. When I trample over them, I don’t even feel them stick on the bottom of my boot.

I have devised all sorts of ways to avoid making a deadline. My most traditional method of missing one deadline is to work on another legitimate project. Yesterday, someone asked me on Facebook:

“I’m curious how you spend your days, you seem to get so much done! Write, draw, write, read, create…can you give us a glimpse into a typical day for Miss Maggie? Plz n thnku”

I spend ninety percent of my work day working on things that have absolutely nothing to do with the most pressing deadline. For an example, here is a photograph of my desk as of this morning:
My desk is just . . .

I know what you’re thinking. You are thinking: This is a girl who is Gets Things Done.

However, as sad as I am to disabuse you of this belief, I must report that absolutely nothing on that desk pertains to my most pressing deadline, the edits for Spirit Animals 2. Everything the light touches, Simba, are things that avoid my current deadline. From left to right:

a keyboard I killed by spilling a glass of water on it
The hair dryer I used to try to revive the dead keyboard and then on a piece of plastic to see if it would melt in a cool way.
A roll of scotch tape because I need scotch tape for . . . something.
A single corncob handle because I was making a birthday cake for Lover and needed only one.
A copy of Forever, which I was reading because . . . because.
A copy of The Rook which I was reading because it was delightful.
An advanced review copy of The Dream Thieves because I need to open it every so often to admire my own animal cunning.
A video camera to record buzzards circling over my front yard because . . . because.
Some of my colored pencils, which I organize according to color and value whenever I feel like I’m in danger of meeting a deadline.
Turpenoid, paint brush, pencil, and sketches for the Dream Thieves book trailer, which is not due until August which makes it more urgent than my Monday deadline.
Dream Thieves sketches
the remains of cookies, milk, pecans, and a honey sandwich.
A washcloth to mop up various spilled drinks and any tears from visitors sad about my missed deadlines.

I know it’s pathological, but the more urgent something is, the more I want to do anything else. Is it work avoidance if you will do work to avoid doing work?

Because I’ve been like this since well before college, one would think I would have found a way to short-circuit my bad habits by now. And, you know, it’s not like I don’t try. Last week, I had a studio appointment to lay down the track for The Dream Thieves audiobook and trailer. The day before, I decided I despised the song I had written and threw it all away. As I had only twelve hours before studio-time, I knew I should spend my evening writing a new song.

But all I could think about was how I was going to drive my car two hours to the studio the next morning. And it was dirty. Covered with pollen. Very, very unsexy.

I had two choices. Write the song for the recording in twelve hours. Wash my car so that it looked sexier for the drive.

It’s sexy enough, I told myself firmly. No one but you cares. It’s not important. What is important is this song. You have a very little time to write a song that will be heard my thousands. You need to focus on your priorities. You —

OH the things I do to avoid deadlines. The more aware I am of the problem, the more devious and desperate to miss them I seem to become. As the dates press in more urgently, I watch four episodes of Sherlock in a row. I google all of the bands in my music library. I draw pictures of my author friends’ characters. I make increasingly complicated food items, culminating in Indian feasts of curry, naan bread, hummus and rice finished with shaved apple muffins with cream cheese frosting. I clean the espresso machine, although I have resorted to popping caffeine pills and no longer remember where I put my coffee beans. I take energetic naps. I cultivate lethargic street races. I alphabetize my book collection. I write screenplays for movies that having nothing to do with anything but vintage arcade games. I take up rally driving. I walk the goats. I bounce on a yoga ball while listening to songs iTunes says I will like. I design fake covers and real covers and title books that I will write some day but not this day. Once, memorably, I broke up a wedding rather than meeting a deadline.

The problem with me is that I get bored very easily. The thing that seems interesting and excellent for distracting me from deadlines this week often won’t work the next. Once I’ve done something, what’s the point of doing it again? It means I must devise new and tricky ways of keeping myself entertained. For instance, I took up a new, obscure musical instrument and signed up for lessons from a teacher three hours away, but I must be careful to take a different route to the teacher every time I go because I know that otherwise I will get bored. I had to give up rallying because I could not convince myself that it was entertaining enough to break cars and go sideways when there were so many rules that made you always break them and go sideways the same way each time. What a trial it is to be unable to sit still and work quietly on things. What a trial it is to not sit still. What a . . .

I’m lying. I cannot imagine anything less entertaining that sitting still.

I reckon you are wondering how I ever get my books done. Eventually, I run out of things that are not my book, and I run out of time, and in that crushing moment of time constraint and personal crisis, I write them. It is not really that I don’t work on them during the rest of the time. I do pick and tap and work at them. It’s just that I can’t really finish them without that moment of intense fire. I’ve written 30,000 words in a night, so long as it is the night before my deadline. I really do have work ethic, I swear, it’s just that I have put pieces of it in so many different horcuxes that sometimes it’s hard to prioritize them properly.

So, this question: “I’m curious how you spend your days, you seem to get so much done! Write, draw, write, read, create…can you give us a glimpse into a typical day for Miss Maggie? Plz n thnku”

I guess what I’m saying that there isn’t a typical day. I know what I should reply. I should say, “I work for 8 hours on my current deadline and then I frolic for the remainder of the time.”

But since my editor doesn’t read my blog, I can tell you guys the truth, right?


Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

How I Write

Maggie Stiefvater Novels

Copyright 2012