Keeping it real on a deadline

by Kristin on September 9, 2008

in Social media & the writing life

I just found out yesterday that my essay proposal for the book Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Speak Up About Moving On was accepted! (I posted about the book project here, then followed up with some specifics about my proposal here.)

I also just found out that the editor would like the 4,000-word essay, which has yet to be written, by the end of the week. Yikes!

As someone who makes a living putting words together, deadlines are typical fare. I even thrive on them. Maybe that stems from starting my career in newspaper journalism, in an environment that didn’t grasp even the concept of a second draft, let alone a third or fourth. Pound it out. Send it on. Next assignment. Repeat.

As a reporter, facts were important, of course, but they were quantifiable: “The proposed addition to the high school would add 9,600 square feet to the building,” or “The nine-member zoning board heard six appeals last night.” You found out what you needed to know and included it in the story. It was all pretty straight forward.

In my freelance copywriting business, deadlines continue to be key to making clients happy. But I’m the Marketing Expert, the Brand Consultant. I know the objectives and can easily assess what needs to happen to get us from point A to point B. It’s certainly creative, but there’s also a methodical, scientific aspect to it that helps corral everything into a neat, contained area.

But writing about my life? My thoughts and fears and hopes? Not on a blog that maybe 30 people read, but for print, in a book that everyone can order on Amazon? This is different. This throws the idea of a deadline into a much harsher light. I have to say, I’m feeling rather paralyzed right now. Maybe that has something to do with why I’m writing a blog post rather than working on my essay.

Part of the problem is inherent in the beauty of true stories and the nature of memory. They are open-ended, organic, always changing depending on the angle and light. My stories shift every time the person I am changes along with a new experience or perspective on the world. In other words, there are many ways to tell my story. I have four days to nail the BEST way.

Which brings me to the other problem: expectations. They are perhaps my worse enemy. My expectations for myself can paralyze me like nothing else. I want my story to sing and inspire! I want people to laugh and cry, and understand themselves better! I want them to find hope in my story, and to feel less alone!

Unfortunately, on the train to Great Expectations, despair is generally the next stop after paralyzation. Which, I realize, doesn’t help me spread hope to anyone.

So, I’m taking a deep breath. I’m reminding myself what people respond to—what they’re even hungry for: blunt honesty, real details, and even some vulnerable uncertainty and doubt.

Now I’m taking another deep breath, and I’m going to try to forget about those people for a while. It will just be me and my computer and my story. Maybe it’s ironic, but I think that’s the best way to speak to my audience in the end.

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  • Lorna

    Sending you freedom and peace to write what you need to, in the way that you need to, and still meet deadlines and expectations. (not asking for much!)