The freelance world is feast or famine. No matter how hard I try to space things out, I occasionally run into what I call a harmonic convergence of deadlines.
You know how it is. You book some author events months in advance. You have several ongoing projects and an unpredictable production and marketing schedule for an upcoming book release. You think everything is spaced out so that you can meet all your deadlines. You organize and prioritize using fancy software or color-coded lists on your whiteboard.
Then there are unexpected delays in one project or another. Or there is a glitch that requires additional attention. Then the page proofs arrive when you are deep into another project with a looming deadline. Throw in some family crisis or health issue and you have a disaster in the making.
For me, deadline stress starts with a dream. I arrive at a test and realize that I have not studied, or even attended any of the classes. As the deadline creeps closer, the stakes in the dream get higher. It’s not just any test; it’s the final. For a class I need to pass to graduate. And I am in my pajamas. Or naked.
When my deadlines are weeks away, I manage to find time to get to the gym most days. As the weeks pass, the gym becomes a distant memory. I start to count walking to the bathroom as cardio and lifting my coffee cup as a bicep curl.
Posture takes a hit.
And haircuts, and fashion, and personal hygiene.
As I devote more and more brain cells to writing, with an equal portion to stress, the number of cells devoted to memory falls below a critical level.
First I don’t remember to buy anything at the grocery store if it’s not written down.
Then I forget my grocery list.
Then I forget to go grocery shopping at all.
Some days I forget to eat. Or if it’s not going well, I eat constantly—to keep my strength up. As to feeding the rest of the family, I begin to rely on pizza delivery. Or I delegate.
“What’s for dinner, Mom?”
“There’s a packet of ramen* in the cabinet. Make me a bowl, will you?”
*If the child is less than ten years old, substitute cold cereal.
“You need four dozen cupcakes for the bake sale? Sorry, I’m on a deadline.”
What about you? How do deadlines affect you?
Jacqueline Houtman forgot to include this blog post on her to-do list. Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle, and Michael G. Long (2014 Quaker Press) comes out next month.