“–30–. Slug it.”
I love old black-and-white movies about newspaper reporters, the guy with a hat tipped back on his head and a cigarette dangling from his mouth who grabs a candlestick phone and says, “Give me copy.”
–30– means the end of a story and a slug was a line of hot metal linotype. To slug a story was to send it to the linotyper to be set. [As an aside, if you ever have a chance to watch Farewell Etaoin Shrdlu, don’t miss it. This documentary tells the story of the last day the New York Times printed on hot type and the first day it printed with computer-generated type. Farewell was on YouTube in the past, but it seems to have been removed. There is a new documentary, Linotype, about efforts to recover the remaining linotype machines and the skills of hot type operators. As you can tell, I’m a big linotype fan, too.]
In any case, you’re done. Deadline met. Story/article/book winging its way, probably electronically, to its destination. Now what? In this third blog about the kinds of time a writer needs, I’m writing about the time a writer needs after finishing a huge project.
You are in shock. Not “shock” neatly enclosed in quotation marks as in sort of like shock. You are in real shock. Run through this list: anxiety or agitation/restlessness; confusion; disorientation; dizziness, lightheadedness, or faintness; pale, cool, clammy skin; sweating, moist skin; rapid pulse, and shallow breathing. Yep, that pretty much the way I feel on Deadline Day +1.
While you’re not leaking blood—at least I hope you’re not. I assume you already poured all you could spare into those final pages—other shock biochemical reactions such as not enough oxygen in the cells, lactic acid accumulation, changes in blood pH, electrolyte imbalance, catecholamine depletion, and disturbances in blood circulation actually exist after several days/weeks of intense periods of sitting, creating at a computer. If you’ve been consuming prodigious amounts of caffeinated drinks and less than the recommended quota of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, add caffein overload and constipation to the list.
Way back in nursing school [Florence Nightingale was in the class just ahead of me] the watchwords for treating shock were quiet and warm. Maintain a quiet environment and keep the patient, er writer, warm. Recent research coming out of Texas is now indicating that if someone is in shock in a hot environment, it’s more beneficial to cool them rather than warm them. See, nothing stays the same.
So, Deadline Day +1(the ideal): breathe, sip water, take a walk, stay quiet, and cool down if it’s hot, stay warm if it’s cold.
Deadline Day +1 (the actual): attend an all-morning meeting for your day job, bake 3 dozen cupcakes for the class Halloween party, wash seven loads of laundry, grocery shop, cook a real meal instead of ordering pizza again, clear the e-mail backlog (home and day-job), take the dog to the vet, and take the kids to soccer practice.
Guilt. My boss has been so understanding about me needing to meet this deadline. Ditto my significant other. Ditto my kids. Ditto my friends. They have ALLOWED me to be a writer. I OWE them. I can’t BE PERMITTED to take one minute more than that needed to meet the deadline because if I do I will be A BAD PERSON. After all, it’s not like writing is a REAL THING, or a writer is a person with REAL NEEDS.
Can we rethink that?
Remember last week when I suggested lying on your voice mail about when your real deadline was. It’s really October 22, but you say it’s the 31st. We need to realize that Deadline Day isn’t the day we hit send or frantically rush to catch the last Purolator pick-up. Real Deadline Day is that day plus at least three, if we can swing it, plus seven.
If you’ve got a day job, don’t rush back to work. Use vacation time, or flex days, or mental health days. In the grand scheme of things it will not matter if you miss an important presentation, no matter what your boss says to the contrary. If you’re not fortunate enough to have any vacation, flex, or mental health days, call in sick, because if you aren’t now, and you race back to work, you will be sick within a week. “Life isn’t fair. I finished this horrendous deadline last week, and now I have a terrible cold.” Duh!
Deadline Day +1: breathe, sip water, take a walk (maybe take two walks), and stay quiet. Cool down if it’s hot, stay warm if it’s cold.
Deadline Day +2: take another walk, pick one undone task you really like to do. Since I love playing in warm, soapy water, my thing is usually to do the dishes. Also, pick one thing that’s fun. This might be a good day to take the kids to something you all enjoy, or cook supper for the sig. other.
Deadline Day +3: start easing back into a regular schedule. If three days are all you can manage, regretfully so be it, but at least you’ve had three days.
Deadline Day +4 to +7: if you’re fortunate to have this kind of time, go for it. Build yourself a recuperate and recover ramp back into real life. You've worked hard. You deserve it.
Quote for the week:
A big piece of writing is a little like a big storm. It leaves you shaken and disoriented and things need time to settle down. You don’t want to talk with your friends and sound like you just went through an alien abductions. … You don’t want to reenter the world until the world has more in it than you and your capital-A Art. I like [a few days transition] to let the dust settle.
~Julia Cameron, Walking in This World