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On Deadlines and Self Examination

Categories: This Writer's Life.
I am working on a deadline for Boston Magazine. The deadline is this  
Thursday. And, at the moment, that seems manageable. I am (mostly)  
done with the reporting, I have (partially) transcribed the  
interviews, I even (vaguely) know what I’m trying to say. Of course,  
there are other things for me to do as well, smaller-ish things, like  
preparing a presentation about the mechanics and literary devices  
employed by Philip Roth when beginning and ending chapters in The  
Human Stain,
re-writing a portion of a chapter to turn into my  
workshop and writing, you know, this blog, but the deadline is the  
major looming thing in my life this week. The deadline rules. And  
this stresses me out.

Now, in my “writing life”, I have written several blogs, columns, and  
features about my procrastination issues. As my editors can surely  
attest, they are more than well-documented. They are, perhaps, over-
documented. So this is not another recounting of the various  
techniques I actively and passively employ to facilitate not writing  
(examples I will not be giving: constantly getting up to refill my  
water, organizing my books by author then re-organizing them by  
genre, typing 200 words worth of swear words or catch phrases,  
etc.) . No sir. Totally not that. Instead, I am attempting to examine  
the psychology behind my dangerous and job-threatening need to  
procrastinate. Because if we can get under the hood and take a look–
to use a semi-incompatible cliche–maybe this baby will finally drive  
right. Onward self-examination!

Reason 1: I need the pressure to focus.
Analysis: Because I wait till the last moment to do things, I like to  
leave myself with little to no choice about whether or not I can work  
because–if I know I have time– I will then rationalize doing  
something else, usually involving Netflix. Pressure leaves me no  
wiggle room, which forces me into a corner, which unleashes my  
creative side, which is something to behold a 4 AM. This excuse may  
have some legs.
What My Dad Would Say: You are lazy and unbecoming of the Alexander  
lineage.
What My Mom Would Say: I’m very proud of you, but I want you to get  
more sleep.

Reason 2: I have an acute fear of failure and/or not knowing what I’m  
doing.

Analysis: Every time I sit down to begin another article/blog/
chapter, I am stricken with the thoughts that I can’t do it, I can’t  
possibly pull off something again, that I will never write (blank)  
like the last (blank) that I wrote, and that I shouldn’t even bother,  
and I should just get an internship at an Art Gallery.
What My Dad Would Say: You’re not a closer. And an internship at an  
Art Gallery sounds unpaid.
What My Mom Would Say: You’re the best writer ever, but I want you to  
get more sleep.

Reason 3: If someone else is doing something, I need to also be doing  
that thing.

Analysis: Like most people who spend their days locked up with their  
thoughts, I get lonely, even (or especially) when surrounded by  
hippies., which makes me susceptible to–like the title of R&B group  
‘Nuttin Nice’s song says– being “down for whateva”. Also, people  
with 9-5 jobs don’t “think I do anything all day”, and always call me  
when they a) have a day off, b) want to go out during the week, c)  
want to do something stupid like go to Europe for 4 months, and can’t  
find any takers. Of course, when I say “people with 9-5 jobs”, i mean  
my friend Casey.
What My Dad Would Say: If your friends jumped off the Tobin Bridge  
and into a low paying, non-health benefits filled “sea” of self-
doubt, would you? Oh God, don’t answer that.
What My Mom Would Say: You’re very unique, but I want you to get more  
sleep.

Reason 4: I’m just lazy.
Analysis: Maybe I’m just lazy.
What My Dad Would Say: Yep. You nailed it.
What My Mom Would Say: I agree with your father.

Anyway, I don’t have time for this. I have to go stress about my  
deadline while watching a documentary about the rise of R&B on VH1  
Soul. I’m up to the part where they talk to Boyz II Men about Jodeci.  
Feel free to leave your own reasons as to why you think you  
procrastinate in a little something the Internet 2.0 likes to call  
the Comment(z) section and I’ll try and update you on how things turn  
out. Let’s get this money.

Thank,
You (live)

Boyz II Men

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11 Responses to On Deadlines and Self Examination

  1. Rob says:

    Check out Neil’s book on procrastination http://www.amazon.com/Now-Habit-Overcoming-Procrastination-Guilt-Free/dp/1585425524/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1197201777&sr=8-1

    He nails the whole psychology of procrastination thing, and I find myself referring to it over and over in lieu of doing whatever it is I should be doing…

    Keep up the great work!
    Rob

  2. Michelle Yang says:

    It’s like the saying goes, you give a man too much time and he’ll waste it, you take away his time and he’ll manage it wisely. I can liken what you’re going through the same way I spent my college extravaganza–cranking it out 8 hours before class. It’s human nature for us to put pressure on ourselves to actually produce. If we worked ahead of schedule and finished a project, we would question ourselves, and review, and dissect, til we had to start over again. There’s some unexplained satisfaction in finishing a project right before deadlines, like we are proud to have been able to call upon ourselves right at the very last minute. It validates our abilities. There is no reward in early completion, its as if we never had to push ourselves.

    You’re funny and a great writer! Thanks

    Michelle

  3. Kara Gebhart Uhl says:

    Genevieve and Kevin: The first thing I read in any magazine? The Contributors page. The first thing I read in any book? The bio page. Often this is followed by some Google searching. You’re not alone.

  4. Kevin Alexander says:

    Sharon,
    I completely understand the "who am i" factor… I think what helps me with that is I think about writing for a certain person. In almost all of my work, I write to someone specific who I’m trying to impress, who I want to show my best stuff to, who I want to say, "I really liked __". And if you just focus on pleasing that one specific person, it’s not quite as overwhelming as "oh God. I’m putting this in the public sphere." Thoughts like that will make anyone freeze up. Good luck.

    New Guy Dave: I like the AT&T cell phone commercial style reference in the comment. Glad you’re reading. My dad also lives about 2000 miles away, but I guilt him into paying for my flights. Have you tried guilt, Dave? Dads love it. Ps- Next time you comment, you don’t have to call yourself, "New Guy". Now someone just has to teach you the handshake.

    And Pat, i’m all about the avoidance. Why do you think I’m responding to each specific comment right here? It’s not like I have a deadline in less than 18 hours.

    And finally, sweet, sweet Maria: Aren’t you glad it’s not a deadline for you? :)

    Time to get back to work. Good talk.

  5. Kevin Alexander says:

    Ok, wow. Genevieve–first of all, I completely relate to the pseudo-competition with other writers. I have an entirely imagined one with a kid named David Amsden who is a contributing editor at New York Magazine. I think he’s 2 years older than me, but he’s had a novel published, he freelances for a lot of places, he writes the stories I wish I was writing…and he’s a contributing editor at New York. I’ve mentioned him before. That sort of stuff can drive you mad, trust me, but it can also motivate you… and I’m sure plenty of people would laugh at the fact that at 32 you think you might be over some proverbial writing hill… that’s when I imagine you finally start hitting your stride. When I interviewd Tom Perrotta he said something to the effect of, "Thank God I didn’t make it big with my first book, or my second book, or even my third… I wasn’t ready then to handle either the criticism, or the publicity or anything that comes with it. And neither was my work." And i just thought that was so right on…

  6. Pat Marin says:

    Frist let me say that I always make my deadlines. I’m a commitment perfectionist.

    I call my form of procrastination avoidence. If I find myself cleaning for no reason, I know I’m doing it but I never thought of the why?

    Gee fear of failure, fear of success, doubts my in ability? The one I don’t have is fear of someone reading my work, all the people who have read it rave about my characters and story plots.
    Nice to know the real pros suffer from these problems also.

  7. NewGuyDave says:

    Kevin,
    It sounds like I could have written that article, only not nearly as well. I suffer from unfocusfearfulprocrastilaziness as well to a certain degree. It is quite enlightening to know that I am not alone.
    Actually, I am a little new to the WD magazine and I want to tell you how much your section keeps me going. Keep them coming, it is nice to be able to read them in every issue.

    I have not tried locking myself up at my dad’s place lately to finish my novel, but then he lives about 1500 miles away and flights are a little more than my writing budget will allow?

    Thanks again,

  8. Sharon says:

    It’s comforting to hear that someone so accomplished experiences fear and self-doubt. I’ve been writing a book for ? years (in my head) but find it very difficult to sit and actually put the pen to paper. I’ve focused on many different things including returning to college and establishing a home business. Friends encourage me constantly (for some reason they see a gift that seems hidden from me). Will anyone REALLY want to read something I’ve written? Most of my family, friends, coworkers, say "most definitely". I say, who am I………

    I say to you, "thank you".

  9. Leah says:

    I have the exact same problem, and I’m with you on reasons 1 through 3. I do not think that reason 4 applies; it sounds like you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire and that’s a good thing for a writer!

  10. I agree with your Mom and Dad (see reason 4).

  11. Genevieve Cancienne says:

    Man, I REALLY understand the self-doubt. Even though this is my fourth book (the other three are in my closet, a space which has become literary purgatory) I’m still worried that I won’t finish this one. This is the first book I’ve written that I feel really works, like that someone could read it from beginning to end and understand the whole thing, but I still worry that I have no idea what I’m talking about and that my mother will think that the main character’s neurotic mother is modeled after her (which she is). And I’ve got every distraction possible to keep me from working. My house is a disaster, my kids are probably squirting Go-Gurt on each other in the backyard, my boss wants me to learn In Design and I should be working on that right now, my friends are talking about having an Alfred Hitchcock movie fest soon and I simply must be there, and I haven’t called my grandmother in two weeks so I should give her a ring. Do I think she’ll live forever? Do I?!

    The other thing that makes me doubt myself is that I compare myself too much with other writers. Every time I find a writer I like I automatically try to figure out how old they were when they were first published and if it’s younger than 32 (my ripened old age) I feel like I’ve passed some sort of expiration date and that I’ll never, ever publish fiction. In fact, sometimes when I read good writing I’m not able to enjoy it. I’m just jealous. The way I handle slef-doubt, jealousy, and procrastination is through the support of my writer’s group. They really help keep me going, and allow me to vent my worries and irrational fears.

    Good luck with your deadline, Kevin. Criss Cross’ll make ya jump jump

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