My Necessary Evil . . . IS IT YOURS?

I wish company was coming! (But not for the reason you may think . . .) Papers are stacking—spilling—off the dining room table, again. . . The potted plants are dying—dead . . . I still haven’t sewn the tassel back on that throw pillow.

Come visit! 

Not because I like or miss you--which I may or may not--but because:  I NEED A DEADLINE!

My friend Shona Skyped me last week. I could hardly understand her because she had pins in her mouth and one foot on the sewing machine pedal. I told her I couldn’t hear her for all the noise, but she didn’t stop sewing. She couldn’t; she was on a deadline. She just had to get those new shades made "Today!" (No matter that they’d needed making for months already, or that the windows were curtained) I didn’t fuss, "Shut that thing off and talk to me!” I turned up my volume and carried on while she sewed. 


Were you one of those who did your homework right after school? In the bus on the way home? Typed and proofread your term papers weeks before they were due? Studied a-little-every-day instead of cramming? If you are, click off NOW! This post is not for you.

Admittedly, not all deadlines carry the same heft. A deadline is, after all, just a date on the calendar. A “suggestion.” Less significant perhaps, than the suggested sell-by date on milk cartons.  

Gulping sour milk is one consequence I won't risk again.

Gulping sour milk is one consequence I won't risk again.

For a deadline to count it must carry CONSEQUENCES!!!!!!!

For the past while or so, for the first time in forever, I haven't had a writing deadline. I was free! Free! Free! to write what I wanted, when I wanted.

No one to answer to.

No one waiting, wanting, needing—expecting a word from me. No guilt over not writing what I was “supposed to be” writing.         


What joy!

What a joke!

All that writing freedom, what did it get me? NOTHING!

I’m A Deadline Junkie.

I LOVE DEADLINES! I NEED DEADLINES! (Didn’t know how much until they were gone Whoa-ohh-o-ohhhh...)

Sure, Deadlines are stressful. Deadlines make us crazy. But, having a deadline is better than NOTHING . . . 


 I comfort myself with the thought that I'm not alone in my need.

Paula Danziger, beloved author of such perennial favorites as The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, The Amber Brown series (ongoing, thanks to her close friends, Elizabeth Levy and Bruce Coville, who channel Paula as they write new books), and The United Tates of America—my personal favorite because it reminds me of the punster-scrap booker, Paula. 

Paula—was a self-professed DEADLINE PUSHER-AVOIDER!

Maybe it was the rebel in Paula. Maybe it was the kid in Paula. But, she would do almost anything to avoid writing. Yet, in spite of herself, Paula wrote and published more than 30 books, with more in the works when she died. 

How did Paula make herself sit down and write???

By setting “mini” deadlines with consequences & rewards!

However it came to pass, pre-Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Paula and Bruce Coville, devised the Phone-A-Friend Method to hold each other accountable. (Maybe, like Paula, prolific award-winning author Bruce Coville is a Deadline Avoider. Hopefully I’ll get to ask him one day.)

We’d always call each other and read what we were working on.
— Bruce on their "Phone-A-Friend" Method

What Bruce didn’t say in that article, but Paula shared, is that the consequence she and Bruce set each other was a fine. Not just any piddly fine either. They set a fine that hit both die-hard Democrats where it hurt. The fine for not meeting their daily writing goal was a donation payable to the Republican Party. (Read more in the Bruce said in the Publisher’s Weekly article announcing the revival of Amber Brown. )

They set a fine that hit both die-hard Democrats where it hurt. 

They set a fine that hit both die-hard Democrats where it hurt. 

Beyond these daily deadlines, Paula dangled proverbial carrots to give her something, beyond the satisfaction of words on the page, to strive toward. Paula’s favorite brand of carrot was amber, as in amber jewelry. She’d spot a bracelet or ring she liked, buy it for herself and then give it to her editor, the late Margaret Frith, to “hold” under strict orders NOT TO RETURN IT until Paula met her deadline. Judging by the number of gorgeous amber pieces Paula wore, it worked—most of the time . . . prior to writing this, I asked Susan Kochan, Senior Editor at Putnam, who worked with both Margaret and Paula about this. Margaret Firth confirmed adding, “It didn't always work - they were often late - but who knows how late they would have been without that carrot dangling”

It didn’t always work - they were often late - but who knows how late they would have been without that carrot dangling
— Margaret Firth on Paula's "Reward" Method

Don’t ask me why it’s taken me this long to realize it, but, now I know: Deadlines were my necessary evil. 

So, in keeping with Paula & Bruce's Phone-A-Friend, I've I partnered up with my writing pal, Marty to devise our own "Dangling Carrot" Method: . Each Thursday we set ourselves an assignment and a deadline by which it must be completed—Or Else . . .  (Fill in your own blank, Dear Reader. Our consequence is of no consequence to you.)

Oh sure, we tried to cheat. What self-respecting Deadline Pusher wouldn’t? We had to test the boundaries:

 Marty sent me a whinny note about how busy she was, blah, blah, blah….

I sent her one back, sort of letting her off the hook, but not, buy saying, the assignment didn't have to be good, it just had to be sent… (Okay, so maybe in it I did try to lay groundwork for Deadline Delay by mentioning Internet connectivity issues and blackouts we’d been having.)

Marty and I both called “bull” and held ourselves and each other accountable. And it worked.  So far, we’ve met our Deadlines. And, we’re tickled pink* with the results. 

Deadlines: Love um! Hate um! Need um!

Set One! You might be glad you did . . . 

“The Necessary Evil” Playlist:

 “Amber Brown is Tickled Pink  is one of the new Amber Browns by Liz & Bruce channeling Paula.

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