The Pressure of Performance-Enhancing Deadlines


I don’t know much about esteemed author George R.R. Martin, and I’ve never read or watched Game of Thrones, but I did come across a post of his from a while back that caught my interest. In it, Martin writes about his disdain for deadlines, and shares his thoughts about having missed a couple for his highly anticipated but yet-to-be-published novel, The Winds of Winter.

“Here it is the first of January. The book is not done, not delivered. No words can change that,” he writes. “I tried, I promise you. I failed. I blew the Halloween deadline, and I’ve now blown the end of the year deadline.”

Martin refused to blame anyone but himself for failing to finish his work on time, which is both mature and admirable given his stature as an author, the successes of his past books and the excitement around this one’s release. Criticize his “failure” if you wish to do so, but Martin’s admission serves as an important but often overlooked reminder that even the most accomplished writers sometimes struggle to get words down on the page. Writing, whether you do it for a living or purely for pleasure, is hard work.

“The deadlines just stress me out,” Martin writes, echoing the thoughts of just about any other writer I’ve ever met, myself included. Three years ago, while writing The Official Rock ’n’ Roll Guide to Marathon and Half-Marathon Training, I was stressed out every night for about eight months straight. Most of it was self-imposed and I still haven’t fully recovered. As a first-time author, I was horrified at the thought of missing even the most trivial of deadlines or revisions, resulting in a lot of late nights and even a panicked call to my editor offering to return my advance in exchange for scrapping the book (a big thank you to Casey Blaine at VeloPress for not letting me quit). Given my background as a newspaper editor, where multiple nightly deadlines were the norm, you’d think far-off deadlines that were many weeks (and in some cases, months) out would be easy to deal with, but alas I let them torture me into the wee hours of the morning.

Lost sleep and persistent stress aside, the pressure of meeting those deadlines ultimately helped me produce some of my best work and a finished product I’m proud to call my own. Everyone works differently—Martin prefers to write at his own pace and deliver the manuscript when he’s done—but deadlines can be one of a writer’s best performance aids. Crunch time can squeeze out some of your best creative juices. Just make sure you’re ready to deal with a little pressure.

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