There are deadlines that make it hard not to notice the word ‘dead’ in ‘deadline.’ In the classic movie High Noon, the noon train is coming and Gary Cooper decides to risk his life, and his marriage to meet the train.
Cooper begins the movie by making the career choice of turning in his badge and leaving a dusty, violent cowtown to start a new life as a peaceful shopkeeper with his stunning, blond Quaker wife, Grace Kelly. Most of us would view his choice as no-brainer, but Cooper has unfinished business and a strong sense of duty so he turns back to face his demons in the form of four vengeance seeking outlaws arriving on the noon train. No one else in town has the guts to face the gang, so he has to go it alone, (though his pacifist wife does end up plugging one of the baddies).
While it is true that Cooper’s lead is in a Colt .45 and not a pencil, something about his High Noon predicament speaks to the writer who has unfinished business, a duty to write, and a deadline that can’t be trifled with. It’s crunch time. Like Cooper, when faced with such a deadline, a writer must also make sacrifices and face fear to get the job done.
High Noon deadlines are the ones we can’t walk away from. The motivation could be anything – money, a grade, a job, a book contract, pride, or a commitment to another. Whatever it is, we’d rather face the angst, expenditure of energy, and uncertainty of writing than the ‘death’ of failing to meet the deadline. In a way, these deadlines are a writer’s friend, because you can’t really negotiate, procrastinate, hibernate or prevaricate. The train is coming and you have to meet it, so the writing gets done.
Self-imposed deadlines usually don’t carry the same sense of urgency, and consequently they are often less effective. If you know you are not going to die if you slide the deadline back by an hour, or year, you might just do that. Your resistances feel more empowered to challenge your intention to write.
For most writers, the noon train never comes because there is no abject fear about the consequences of not writing. If your resistances to consistently producing the written word are strong, you can attempt to infuse your self-made deadlines with a touch of High Noon dread by consciously raising the stakes for not writing. Such strategies normally involve harnessing your shame by making public commitments about your writing to others whose opinions mean something to you.
If you don’t need to be motivated by the fear of an incoming train of desperadoes to write, then more power to you. Writing done for the love of the process is far more joyful, but most writers will predictably encounter the occasional patch of high drama where dark forces must be faced.
Face your writing like Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly face the train. Get the job done.