A very merry unbirthday to you, to you…

junior high birthday
junior high birthday

“Happy Birthday,” my students shouted when I walked into the room. I turned around, confused, wondering if they were talking to me. On the chalkboard I saw a birthday message with lots of smileys around my name.

But it was April. A coworker had told all the students it was my birthday even though he knew it wasn’t. All day long students wished me a happy birthday and I had to explain that, no, it wasn’t my birthday. My birthday was in October.

A few days later I told students to congratulate my coworker on his engagement–that he had finally asked his girlfriend to marry him because of the baby. Even the students who knew it was a payback joke, decided to pretend it was true.

Do you have some sort of birthday deadline? You know, the by-the-time-I’m-(insert magical age here)-I will-have-published-my-first-novel deadline. Or maybe not a birthday, but a magical date? By-the-year-(insert magical year here)-I-will-have-an-agent date.

Do deadlines help or get in the way? Do you set your own deadlines? Does the sound of the clock ticking spur you on or stop you in your tracks?

Then there is that ultimate deadline. You know, the line that when you cross it, you are, well, dead. How much does that day loom in your writing? How important is it to you have your work live on after you?

12 thoughts on “A very merry unbirthday to you, to you…

  1. My deadlines stop me. Other people’s deadlines spur me on.

    I worry about dying before I’m published. All I want to do is get my kids raised and get a book published. That’s it.

    Glad you were born. 🙂

  2. I worry about publishing before I drop, and I’ve missed every significant deadline I’ve ever established for myself along the way. I suppose that doesn’t bode well for meeting that last one either.

    Oh well. I have no one to blame but myself at this point. Whether I work to achieve my deadlines or not, that last day is coming. It’s up to me to make sure I do what I can to make my goals before it arrives. Unless, you know … no one picks up my book and I die while waiting, which I can’t control.

    Still … doesn’t bode well. Not well at all.

  3. Miriam

    I didn’t have a child by the age of 30, but I had one by 34. I didn’t get rid of social anxiety by the age of 50, but I came to the conclusion that that’s never going to happen. I haven’t fixed a deadline for getting published, except that every January 1 I say this is the year. Dying? That’ll never happen either. Or at least I’ll never know about it.

  4. My deadline is to have a published novel by the time I am 30. I will be 39 next month. No published novel.

    Oh well.

    What’s a number? What’s a deadline? Do we set up unrealistic deadlines? I wanted to be precocious. I wanted to be a superstar. I wanted to be young and fabulous. But you know what? I’m a better writer now.

    Of course, I am afraid that without deadlines, I will slack and never finish, I will allow my fear to distract me from what i really want.

    I think deadlines are most effective when they incorporate small, easily digestible goals. Not getting published by 30, which ignores all the hard work that has to come before the goal is achieved, but perhaps “one finished chapter by 2010.” Maybe that’s what I need to do… rather than the humungous goal of revising my novel, just go chapter by chapter… focus on the small goal rather than the frightening (for me) one of revision. It’s small steps that make the journey, right?

  5. I work pretty good to somebody else’s deadlines. 🙂 (Especially somebody else’s WRITING deadlines!) For myself, though, other than on the day job I don’t work much or at all on deadline. (Unless you count having a vague sense of wanting to write N words a week as having a deadline.)

    In the words of the other comments I found a LOT which made me nod in agreement. Especially (predictably) Rowena’s: “I think deadlines are most effective when they incorporate small, easily digestible goals… It’s small steps that make the journey.” My own unoriginal way of applying this to writing is that every sentence ever written — ever writeable — begins with a word… followed by another word… and another… and so on. Heck, you can even micromanage it down to the individual letter or keystroke: if I’d never hit the capital H, I’d never get to the period that this sentence ends with.

    As for the big-D Deadline, I don’t know. Maybe it’s something I should blog about myself (in which case, thanks for the idea!). Or maybe I should avoid it altogether (in which case, thanks for inspiring any decision at all!).

    I don’t think it’s coincidence, though, that I started the WIP (most of whose main characters are elderly) when I was barely in my 40s; set it aside after a year or two; and finally picked it up again — to finish, I hope — in my late 50s. Whenever it will happen, and however, it’s certainly true that on a given today I’m always closer to the Deadline than I was on the corresponding yesterday. And my sense of that reality is certainly sharper now with 15(ish) more years of life behind me, which may make it easier to put myself inside my characters’ heads, y’know?

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