The Deadline Is My Watermark.

Source: www.fromoldbooks.org

One of the advantages professional writers have is the deadline. I think that’s true, anyway. I’ve never been a professional writer, at least in the sense that I’ve never gotten a steady paycheck for writing. I have written a few pieces for magazines that needed me to turn in my work by a specific time, but they didn’t pay me, but most of my writing has been done without a specific publication or even necessarily a specific market in mind, which explains why, among my collection of rejection letters, is a really nice one that said, “Thank you for your astronomy-themed poems. We enjoyed them a lot and wish you the best of luck but we don’t feel they’d be right for our publication. Sincerely, the editors of Trout Fishing Monthly.”

I realize deadlines can cause a lot of anxiety, especially for anyone experiencing writer’s block, even if it’s self-imposed. But the advantage of a deadline is that facing the empty page can be really scary, even for those of us who want to write. The impulse to write stems from an inner voice that says, “I have something to say!” Which is fine as long as it’s drowning out that other inner voice that’s saying, “Who cares?” and “Why do you think you’re special?” and, occasionally, “What is reality?” In fact I believe it’s the desire to turn up the volume on the former and try and drown out the latter that motivates all writers, or at least all who want to write for an audience other than themselves—even those who pursue careers as ghostwriters or doing low level journalism like obituaries, although in their case the voice they’re trying to amplify seems to be saying, “I have something to say! I just have no idea what it is and I don’t care if I get credit for it!” but that’s another story.

And the other advantage of a deadline, one that’s externally imposed by an editor or publisher, is you have someone outside of you saying, “Okay, you have something to say, so let’s hear it!” And occasionally adding, “By Monday at the latest or we’re going to ask you to pay back that advance we sent you and that you’ve already blown on coffee, rent, and a really expensive nose hair trimmer which you bought even though it didn’t seem like a good idea even at two a.m. when you were hopped up on allergy medication.”

So anyway the Manuscript Writing Café just opened in Tokyo, Japan, and I want to go there even though I already had plenty of reasons for wanting to visit Tokyo, because I’m fan of cafes, coffee shops, or other places that offer a space to write or work on other creative projects with the added benefit of having food and beverages that I don’t have to worry about preparing myself. If you recognized the reference to Henry Miller’s essay “The Angel Is My Watermark”, in which, overcome by a vague but insistent inspiration, he went out to a café determined to just sit and drink quietly and ended up writing all over the tablecloth, give yourself five bonus points. If you didn’t give yourself ten bonus points because, well, who would recognize that?

The Manuscript Writing Café offers writers and other artists an extra bonus: you have to book time there, you have to come in with a specific goal, and you can request “verbal pressure” from the staff—they even have different levels, and you can’t leave until you’ve finished your writing goal. Or until the place closes which does take some of the pressure off no matter how much you’ve asked the staff to come out and yell at you.

It’s a funny idea but I also like that it was very likely started by, I’d even say inspired by, someone who felt the pressure but was still struggling to write and who said, “There’s a need for a place like this!” and they were heard.

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6 Comments

  1. mydangblog

    That’s such a fun idea for people who need pressure to get things done. Personally, I can’t write in public spaces–I need quiet and no distractions because I’m so easily distracted! Even sitting at my computer, I have to constantly stop myself from surfing the web instead of writing. But I set myself very stringent deadlines and my own pressure on myself usually helps!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I feel like I write better rough drafts in public spaces, incorporating elements of what’s going on around me into whatever I’m writing and the distractions help me avoid loss of confidence. But the rewriting definitely depends on solitude because that’s where the real work gets done. And it’s admirable that you’re able to put the necessary pressure on yourself to get the writing done.

      Reply
  2. markbialczak

    Sometimes I wonder why I wake up so often in the middle of the night seemingly for no reason at all, Chris, and then I recall I was a deadline-facing newspaper writer for many decades of my life.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Oh, that would give me nightmares too. Although one of my favorite stories is about a cub reporter whose first assignment was to write obituaries. The first one he filed was a thousand words. The editor told him to cut it down. He cut it to five hundred words. The editor told him to cut it more. He cut it to two-hundred and fifty. The editor told him to cut it even more. Finally what he turned in was, “George Mason looked up the shaft to see if the elevator was coming. It was. He was forty-seven.”

      Reply
  3. ANN J KOPLOW

    I don’t know if you had a self-imposed deadline for writing this post, Chris, but I really enjoyed it because you always have something to say.
    ANN J KOPLOW recently posted…Day 3397: What I have to do todayMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      As a matter of fact I did have a self-imposed deadline here, just as I try to keep to a regular posting schedule, but I’m really glad, and always impressed, that you have something to say every day.

      Reply

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