One of the challenges of creating my own work schedule is to determine how much time I need for a particular project. There's nothing like an impending deadline to speed that process up. This picture is from the publication party for EYES ON THE GOAL at the Red Balloon in St. Paul last Friday. We had enough people there that we ate the whole cake that covered the table. It was a fun celebration and I needed deadlines to get there.
Ten writers for children. All with something to say.
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” - Douglas Adams
When I first heard this quote, I agreed with it whole-heartedly! As a visual artist for most of my formative years (20s to mid-30s) I understood the deadline of a show. The work had to be done, or the show wouldn't open and the opening with all the wine and all your friends wouldn't be much fun. However, if I was short one piece of work, I could always frame up a sketch or a watercolor study, and the exhibition would be complete. This does not work with picture books. If there is a deadline and I am short one or two illustrations, I can't very well substitute an earlier one, nor could I suddenly have the reader turn the page from a finished color illustration to a quick pencil sketch. Picture books are complete entities-- complete "bodies of work" unto themselves and there is no substitution or quick-fixes allowed.
On the other hand, I have worked with the same editor for 16 years now and from the very beginning she has said she would rather put a book off and miss a deadline than rush it and publish a mediocre book. This philosophy has allowed me to put off a deadline more than once. In fact, I have bumped many of my books to the next list in order to do more research, or start fresh with a new approach to the text. I know this has frustrated more than one impatient author, but the final outcome is always better for the added time. And when meeting the deadline for the art, I have more often been a month or two late, but not without a lot of stress and anxiety. Usually I have all but two illustrations finished and they just aren't cooperating with the rest of the flow of the book-- or perhaps I have sent all of the art, but there is a hold-up from marketing on the cover-- (Usually I send in three to five suggestions for a cover and getting the OK to proceed depends on feed-back from my editor, the art director, marketing, etc.- this can take a very long time, especially because my deadline is usually the same as every other artist's deadline, so there is a backlog!)
My favorite time in writing or painting a book is in the beginning when deadlines are something faraway and abstract. This is my time for reverie- a time to live with the text, play with images, dream, imagine, take long walks, visit museums. It is quite the opposite from the real-life deadline time when every waking moment is the intention of finishing the work. Just thinking about it makes my heart beat faster!
Like others, I have traditionally used deadlines for motivation to finish a project. As I’ve grown older, though, I have found that waiting till the last minute does not always produce the best results. So what I’ll do, sometimes, is impose an “artificial” deadline earlier than the real one. This way, I still have time to make more revisions between my self-imposed deadline and the real one. Of course, I’m aware that my own deadline is arbitrary and so procrastination is still a very real possibility, but knowing from experience how much better my work will be without the last-minute pressure usually works to keep me focused and motivated.