Self-Imposed Stress

An interesting thing about stress, especially self-imposed stress.

I desperately wanted to get a new novel finished by Pikes Peak Writers Conference, so I’d have something fresh to pitch to the various agents/editors in attendance. To pull this off, I’d have to write about 1200 words a day, every day for almost 3 months. That’s almost NaNoWriMo pace. Yeah. I could probably pull it off, but the stress of writing quality words at that speed for that length of time stressed me out to the point that I couldn’t write at all. I’d open the document and just stare at what I’d written so far and just blank out.

I’d psyched myself out. Stupid brain.

About a month ago, I decided to pass on that opportunity and just attend PPWC to enjoy it and learn and network and such.

Stress gone. Almost immediately gone, to be honest. A few days after this decision, I managed to write several thousand words in a single sitting on this work-in-progress.

Since then, I’ve managed about 10,000 words on the novel. Since I’ll be attending the Ghost Town Writers Retreat in August, there’s another opportunity for me to meet some agents. I’ve decided to set August as my goal for finishing this fresh novel. Scrivener tells me that I need to do about 680 words a day, every day, until then to get things done. I don’t write every single day, so when I do write, I have to hit a higher target number. Most days, when I get a block of time to write, I produce 1k to 3k words. This means that August is much more attainable.

With the self-imposed stress gone, I won’t be letting myself down. It’s freed me to write. It’s opened up my mind and time to allow me to “fill the well” and expand on what I want to write. I’m in a much more comfortable mental space.

However, this makes me worry a bit. What if I get a tight deadline from a publisher? Will I stress to the point of missing the mark or seizing up?

Maybe. Probably not. I tend to do much better with external deadlines than internal ones. If someone needs something from me, I’m highly driven to get it to them by the time they need it. This provides me with energy and drive to accomplish something. I’m not sure why my brain treats my own deadlines differently. Perhaps this particular deadline was too ambitious? Not sure. Probably.

Here’s an example of a tight, external deadline that I managed to nail down.

A good friend of mine, Hank, was editing a horror anthology and needed one more story to round out the book. I knew about the anthology, but just couldn’t capture an idea that fit the theme the way I wanted it to. Then he called me up about 6:30 in the evening with an idea. Hank asked me if I could take the characters from a previous story and transplant them to a setting that fit the theme of the anthology.

It clicked. Hard. Yeah. I could do that.

Then I asked him when he needed the story. He was on a tight deadline from his publisher and passed that along to me. He said, “By midnight.”

Wow. A little over five hours to crank a short story, polish it up a wee bit, and submit it to him.

Here’s the deal: Hank and I can sit and bullshit for hours on end about lost of nothing if given the opportunity.

He opened that door by asking, “How’s things going?”

I responded, “Good, but I have a story to write. Gotta go.” I hung up on him. A little rude, but I’m pretty sure he was laughing on the other end.

I managed to crank out the story (4,600 words), print it, watch an episode of Fringe to clear my mind, edit the story on paper, and then transfer the edits back into the computer by deadline. I sent him an email with the story at 11:55PM. Five minutes to spare!

He called me the next afternoon and told me that I was in the anthology and that I had the anchor spot in the book.

See? I can hit tight deadlines. Just not my own, I guess.

Any tips for setting goals (sometimes crazy goals) for yourself and actually pulling it off?