Care and Feeding of the Deadline Writer

I’m currently in Deadline Hell and wrote this handy little list of things to keep in mind when you (read: Future Me who is looking in the blog archives for this) need it.

  • Hydrate – I have a glass bottle I know I need to drink two of a day to stay hydrated. Today I’ve only drank 1.5 of them. (Drinks more water)
  • Eat Protein and Complex Carbs – The days of being able to subsist on junk food alone are long behind me. To keep my energy up and my mental focus, I need to eat good lean proteins. Some foods that work for me are: nut butter on whole wheat waffle with fresh berries, laughing cow cheese and triscuits, lowfat cottage cheese and fruit with honey, yogurt and granola, those pre-packaged snack things with nuts dried fruit and cheese or bits of meat, chia pudding parfaits, hummus and a veggie patty in a tortilla.
  • Stretch – This is a big one. Be sure to stretch out your back, hands, shoulders, and neck. To quote Margaret Atwood: Back pain is distracting.
  • Comfortable Clothes – It is hard to stay focused when your pants are trying to kill you. I hated skirts as a kid, but now as I’m pushing four decades on earth I’ve found that you can wear shorts or leggings underneath them for comfort and warmth and it pretty much the most comfortable thing ever. I’m still not sure they have a high enough armor class for all of my adventuring needs… maybe I should get a leather armor skirt. Hmm. Maybe with little chainmail accents…
  • Sleep Enough – I can’t pull all nighters and function like a reasonable human being anymore. I absolutely can’t do it two nights in a row. If you can, super. Just know your limits. I find 16 hours a day of writing stuff is about all my brain will do no matter how long I stay up. I’m much better off if I start that as early as humanly possible and then go to bed by around midnight to repeat it the next day than to try and push for an extra hour or two of half-ass productivity when I can sleep 8 hours and do 16 again the next day. If I DO push for that extra hour or two I will lose twice as much time the next day. It just isn’t worth it.
  • Medications – I have asthma and arthritis in my hands and back. I’m currently in depression remission. I have a pretty good handle on my various health problems, but I know I need to be extremely proactive to keep them this way when I’m under stress and deadline. I need to take all of my preventative medications and treat any symptoms immediately rather than wait for them to get “bad enough”.
  • Calendar – speaking of medical things. If you have hormone fluctuations either due to biology or treatments—Track your productivity and general well-being against your cycles/levels. I know for me, I found that there are about 4-5 days I am useless for fiction composition due to hormonal brain fog (also where I have the worst arthritis and depression symptoms). I absolutely need to take that into consideration when I’m looking at deadlines and project work-rates.
  • Shower – There is a tendency to put off showering when you know you won’t be leaving the house or seeing anyone outside your nearest and dearest. It seems like you are saving time, but you aren’t. Shower. You will feel better and you will get that time back in higher productivity because you don’t feel as gross. Seriously, I’m an adult; you’d think I’d remember that showers feel awesome especially when I’m stressed by now.
  • Smells – I like to use scents to help put me in a mind frame for different stories. It’s just a little extra trick to help me get my focus. Sometimes it is very specific to the story (I use cherry-scented ink when I write Hannah’s chapters for example). Other times I just want to fill my space with a scent I don’t smell when I’m not writing. It’s just an environmental cue to remind my brain that I’m focusing.
  • Sounds – I used to work for a .com that data entered and digitized information and track samples for online CD retailers back before retailers sold digital content. One of the perks of that job was that we had access to pretty much every music CD that existed in the world and we could check them out and listen to them whenever we wanted. And believe me when you’re data entering all the performers for each track of the third copy of Der Ring des Nibelungen of the week, you want to be listening to anything BUT Wagner. So it turns out because that job happened at a very formative time in my working career I have a super hard time focusing if there’s no sound around me. Sometimes I need white noise, other times music, sometimes I make whole soundtracks for particular projects. This particular deadline has had a soundtrack of Chillstep mixes from YouTube.
  • Morning Pep-Talk – This is a new thing. I’ve started writing myself a pep-talk every morning when I sit down to work. Basically I write out how I am feeling and the things I am worried about and all the things I know I’m capable of and how I imagine the day’s work going well. I… I started this out of frustration of not being able to focus, so I wrote myself a note about how I couldn’t focus but I really needed to and wanted to and how much I could get done if I could just focus… and it was freaking magical, so I’ve kept doing it. I dunno. Don’t ask me. I’m just rolling with it.
  • Scene Outline – I also pick the next scene or two I know I need to write and I just write a list of the things that need to be conveyed to the reader in those scenes to connect scenes or move the plot along. This is super easy and I really doubt I’ve spent more than 2 or 3 min per scene doing this, but it really helps because then I have a record of what I knew needed to happen going into the scene when I am actually knee-deep in it and can’t remember where I was going next.
  • Love and Support – I don’t think anyone can ever get through a major deadline without some form of love and support from others. It doesn’t matter if that’s online, on the phone, seeing people for a quick lunch, or loving partners who help carry the weight of other tasks. No writer is an island. Don’t try to do it all yourself. It’s OK to take time to get that love and support when you need it. It’s also super helpful to have the kind of friends who understand that a quick lunch and a squishy hug will help you refill the energies you need without trying to push you for more. Or understand when you cancel lunch because you finally figured out Chapter 12 and need that time to write.
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