It happens every single time. Despite years of having to meet deadlines, despite months of work on a project, and despite many hours of effort, I always try to sabotage myself right before I complete a task.
My process runs thus:
• I begin a project – an article, a query, a piece of fiction, a paper, a school year – in fits and starts.
• Once the project shudders to life, I get really into it. Momentum takes over and I become a woman obsessed. I work day and night. I tell people all about what I’m doing. I dream about it.
• Once I get the bulk of the work done, I notice that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and my enthusiasm suddenly wanes. I start slowing down. And then, finally, just before I’m done, I coast to a complete halt. And getting up enough steam to finish that one page, or those revisions, or to write that new lede, feels almost impossible.
Here’s an example. I have one page to write, and my first draft of the third semester project will be complete. One page and I ship it off to my professor. One page and a few citations stand between me and relative freedom. Just one. If this were one of the pages in the middle of the project it would have been done hours ago. But I’m crawling through the work. I stopped and stared at it for a while. I had a cup of coffee and looked out the window. Now I’m blogging about it.
It’s a good thing I never decided to take up track. I would have dropped to my knees and started crawling just before finishing every race.
Why don’t I want to finish things? No idea. But this is the way I’ve handled every piece of writing I’ve ever done since I was assigned my first book report in the third grade. I remember one of the things that attracted me to journalism was the deadline aspect of writing for a newspaper. I remember thinking “Wow, I’ll have to finish things.” Until this morning I thought that was sort of lame. But then I looked through my notes and noticed that Hunter S. Thompson had the same problem.
“I couldn’t, and I don’t say this with any pride, but I really couldn’t imagine without a desperate deadline,” he told the Paris Review interviewers in 2000. You tell ’em, Hunter, you crazy doctor of journalism, you. I can’t imagine writing without a deadline either. And I do have one.
In fact, if you’re reading this post now, I have met that deadline. Because I’m not planning to post this until my pages are done.