Crazy-writer deadline syndrome

By Kathryn Lilley

I recently sent a note of apology to someone who had requested information from me. I had been extremely remiss with this person–not sending her info on a timely basis, and forgetting to respond to emails. In my apology note, I lamely mentioned that I’d just emerged from a writing deadline, which to me is the equivalent of a free-diver trying to surface from deep water without blacking out.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you were on a deadline, no problem,” she replied in her gracious response, as if the deadline totally excused my flakiness.

This poor woman has to deal with writers all the time, I realized then. She’s used to us.

Then I started thinking about all my other deadline behaviors that could be considered annoying, or even strange, by family and friends. My crazy-writer deadline behaviors include:

The Big Tune-out

It’s not that I deliberately don’t listen to people (Okay, sometimes it is deliberate), but I frequently tune them out. This mostly happens when I’m on a deadline, which means it happens a lot. I might even respond to someone during a conversation, but not remember it later. It’s kind of like brain on auto-pilot.

To Kill a Magpie

When I’m out and about with my husband, I frequently dive for a pen and write detailed notes about our surroundings: the full moon hovering between two palm trees at night, a bag lady sitting in a bus shelter, the timbre of silverware clatter–I take notes about anything I can use later in my writing. Inevitably, I have left my notepad at home, so I drag home notes scribbled on scraps of things: a napkin, a flyer, even the back of a business card. My husband must think he lives with a magpie.

Hair on Fire

It’s predictable: Six weeks before any deadline, I go on a tear. This means that I’m a) Constantly hunched over the laptop, muttering, b) Setting the alarm for 4 a.m., then groaning my way to wakefulness over the course of several Snooze cycles, and c) Bounding out of bed at odd hours of the night to tap out some problem-solving idea that struck me.

I do not talk very much during this time. And when I do, it’s not pleasant.

So there it is. I could go on, but the length of the list is starting to make me feel bad about myself. I would like to feel that I’m not alone in my crazy-writer deadline syndromes. Have you any to share?

Take the crazy-writer quiz

Just found a fun quiz that tells you what kind of writer you are. (You have to be logged into Twitter) I’m Tom Wolfe, per the quiz.

12 thoughts on “Crazy-writer deadline syndrome

  1. Hilarious, Kathryn. I suspect you’re not only not alone, but a member of very large club. My wife well knows the faraway look in the eye I am prone to, the blank nod at something she says, only to have me clueless later about what it was. Special honor is due those married to writers.

  2. Very funny, Kathryn!

    I’m married to an accountant(you know–very, um, orderly), so it’ll be really interesting when the time comes I actually have a deadline!

  3. Good stuff, Kathryn. I definitely share your symptoms. My wife’s most frequent question when she sees me staring into space: “Is something wrong or are you just thinking?”

  4. Thanks, guys! I think the blank stare and no-listening thing must be universal to writers. My dad is the same way, but we always chalked it up to his being a professor of astrophysics–head in the stars and all that. Now I have a double excuse–genetics and being a writer!

  5. I have a hard time explaining that when I’m on the couch with my eyes closed, I’m really writing. My family just rolls their eyes.

  6. Some of those behaviors (note scribbling, thinking about my story when I should be listening) are a way of life for me, deadline or not.

  7. Karen, I shamelessly use writing as an excuse for many behaviors, including napping on the couch. I recently added forgetting to pay a bill to my list of excused behaviors, although that one was less successful.

    L.J.–okay, you busted me. The truth is, I’m really like that most of the time, too. It was too awful to admit before. But now that I know there are others like me in the world, I will step boldly into the sunshine of truth!

  8. When I’m in that mode I tend to walk along by myself in the park near my day job office, muttering dialogue to myself. If I notice people around I put my sunglasses and headphones from my MP3 player so they think I am singing along or hold my cell phone in one hand so they think I am talking to someone.

    Most common reaction to me staring into space?

    “Acid Flashbacks?”

  9. I’m F. Scott Fitzgerald according to the quiz so apparently I drink a lot when nearing a deadline:) My husband would certainly agree that the angst level is high and that when I’m in that state red wine is certainly appealing to him…

  10. Like Basil, I talk to myself a lot, especially in the morning. I’m always trying out dialogue and conflicts out loud, usually from both point of views in the conversation. It’s lucky I live alone.

    I’ve woke from vivid dreams and immediately begun putting them into a plot framework or scene.

    And finally, I’m always getting in trouble for people-watching during a meal when I’m supposed to be paying attention to my date.

  11. Thanks for all the comments! I’m down with muttering to myself, too, Basil. I’m way too square for anyone to assume it’s an acid flashback, so they probably think I’m simply dotty.

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