Breaking up BAD: The Big Amorphous Deadline

This is a guest post by Kristie Lewis

Today we’re going to talk about a worst-case scenario for writing productivity, a perfect storm we can dub the Big Amorphous Deadline.

Big, because it’s not a manageable “if I have to, I can just sit down and write this tonight” size.

Amorphous because, well, it’s so far in the future (at first) that it seems vague, unreal, an abstraction.

Yet still a Deadline, because even if it’s rough like “next February,” even if you can fudge it somehow, beg extensions, etc., the day will come when you need to have written it.

And as we all know, the only feeling worse than “I need to write this by tomorrow” is “I need to have written this like last freakin’ week, and yet here I am still, dusting my work area, sharpening my pencils, checking Facebook until my eyes glaze over and the last thing I want to do is tab over to Word and face this mess, this thing I have left undone, along with all its terrible ramifications as an indicator of my goodness as a human being and the value of my immortal soul.”

The BAD could be a novella or novel, a business plan, an academic manuscript, the constitution of a fledgling republic, whatever. It lives for one purpose: to hover over your head like a 16-ton cartoon anvil and ruin your days with dread and guilt.

It’s the reason you meet people who left a PhD unfinished, even though they finished the coursework 15-year- ago. It plagues lawyers, authors, students, anyone who has a huge project due with minimal day-to-day accountability.

In the most extreme of cases, the BAD can metastasize, inviting along its evil cousin, Brutal Alcohol Dependency. So be careful, budding Hemingways, and remember these two important suggestions:

1.    Break it down

If you’ve reached the point where you’re writing a long-form piece of some kind, remember: you’re not a schoolboy anymore (even if you are). So maybe all-nighters were fine for that five-paragraph essay in Mrs. Newcomb’s Language Arts class. Maybe you even finished it on the school bus, against the back of the seat as you hopped speed bumps, leaving pleather-grain rubbings on your looseleaf. And with a little assist from nasty taurine beverages and roommates’ Rx scripts, it might even have sufficed in college.

But you can’t do it in one sitting anymore.

So you don’t. Do it. At all. It just sits there patiently on your desk, a demon with a smug smile.

Don’t let this happen. Set regular, un-threatening, mini-deadlines of manageable size.

But if you set them for yourself, will you obey them?

2.    External accountability

This can be in the form of an editor, a faculty advisor or maybe most promisingly, a support group made up of other people facing similar challenges. The latter is a great way to have some non-authoritarian social pressure, and not have to rely completely on your self-discipline—which we all know is not so strong.

Yeah, you with the doughnut, I’m talking to you. You’re getting crumbs on the keyboard.

Check to see if some such thing exists in your circle of colleagues already. If not, start one!

In the group setting, progress can be monitored and reinforced with simple rewards like a gold star sticker. Or a doughnut. Mmm…doughnuts.

About the Author: This is a guest post by Kristie Lewis from construction management degree. You can reach her at:

Photo courtesy of wrestlingentropy

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