Deadlines can be a nightmare! Luckily, we've got PHS columnist, Tara Taylor-Quinn, on hand to share how she deals with them and teach us how to engage our senses.
I write five books a year, plus a novella. Meeting deadlines is a way of life. I didn’t come into this with a ‘meet deadline’ talent. Or any tricks or secrets or magic lamp. I learned because I had to. I learned by fire. I learned by missing a deadline.
I approach the meeting of deadlines like I approach my creative endeavors. I look to involve all of the senses. The more senses involved, the more all-in I am to the situation. Think about it. If what I’m listening to, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting are all pointing me to meeting a deadline, I’m going to have no ability to focus on anything else. How could I take anything else in if all of my senses are otherwise engaged? This might seem like a stretch, but that’s how desperate I got. I had to find a way and this way worked. It still works. If I’m struggling to focus, if I can’t access my deepest resources, I know to tend to my five senses. It works every single time.
So how does this work in a practical application sense? I did a lot of research to begin with.
Taste was a stumbling block right off. How do you involve taste in writing a book? I looked for foods that help you focus. Brain foods. And then had to find something on the list that wasn’t going to involve actual eating anytime I was facing a deadline! The perfect solution, for me, presented itself almost immediately.
Peppermint is a brain food! It actually has strong natural properties that help us focus. Don’t get me wrong…I don’t sit at my desk eating peppermints all day. But I always have a roll of them so that if I’m struggling deeply, I can access them. Peppermint tea also works, and I always have that on hand as well – it’s there for me to access if I’m facing the possibility of missing a deadline.
Secondly, sound…every single book I write has a CD that corresponds with it. As I start a book I listen to my music – I have a huge collection of instrumental and soundtrack albums on my computer. Sometimes I know what I need. Sometimes I have to spend an hour sitting and listening until I find something. A desperate time or two, I’ve had to go to YouTube, find something, and then purchase it. Once the notes hit an emotional evocative place deep inside of me, that CD becomes the book. I turn it on the minute I sit down to write, and play it over and over every minute I’m writing, until the book is done. This won’t work for everyone! But tending to your sense of hearing, in your way, could very well be the answer!
Third, sight…this one might seem a given – you’re looking at your computer – but it goes far beyond that for me. My desk space is aesthetically pleasing to me. Every single piece is chosen because it touches a chord within me.
I have two bulletin boards filled with quotes and cards and photos, a beaded crown is up there, a necklace made at camp with my daughter when she was younger…all deep feel goods that sustain me as I work. Anytime I look away from the page, I have positive reinforcement that makes me feel good sitting there. I’ve created I space I want to be in, which keeps me in it. A positive space that helps me remain positive. And there’s added benefit here, too. Eye strain is a huge factor when you spend so much time at the computer. Having pleasing things to look at all around me, to draw my eye, gives me breaks from staring at the computer screen non-stop.
Fourth, touch. Kind of given here. Keyboard is paramount. I switched to ergonomic years ago and all hand and wrist pain disappeared. Letters on my keyboard are rubbed off, but I don’t care. I love it.
My chair has to feel good to me, too. It has to fit my back right, my legs right. I need soft and fluffly, too, so I have a quilt that drapes my chair, and I need to feel the warmth and slight weight of my furry girl so my chair is big enough to accommodate her five pounds. There’s also a padded rug under my chair so she can lay on my feet when she wants to get down. Throughout the day, I pet her. I did a book on pet therapy once and learned a lot about how to turn to animals for stress relief and healing! It’s much easier to focus when you’re relaxed!
Last, smell. This is really a personalized thing. I studied this, too, and learned that we all have scent triggers, dating back to when we were little. Could be the scent a grandmother wore. Something that a room smelled like when something good or bad happened. I have a particularly acute sense of smell and have always reacted to scents. Some make me feel sleepy. Some happy. Some I have to get away from immediately.
So I started paying attention to the smells that invigorated me, made me feel excited, motivated. Those are the scents that I burn when I’m working. Sometimes it’s candles. Sometimes oils. I’ve also used oils I rub on my wrists. Doesn’t really matter – it all works for me. Again, I don’t always burn scents every day. But I always go to them if there’s a chance I might miss a deadline.
All of that said, I don’t just rely on my senses to meet deadlines. I did a lot of time management study, as well. I used to make physical lists of roles and goals, but it’s all become habit to me now so it’s generally just a mental thing. I factor in all of the aspects of who I am…a daughter, a mother, a wife, a writer etc. I know that I have to attend to all of those people if I am to maintain enough emotional homeostasis to be able to focus completely on my creative efforts. As a daughter, I call my mother every day, for example. It’s a given. Every day. I do other things as well, but that’s an example. When I’m in deep deadline mode, that might be all I do as a daughter. I call my mother. But it happens every day, no matter how desperate the time crunch. This allows me to free my mind and give all of my mental resources to the writing.
I also, by habit now, rate the things on my list of to dos by level of importance. When I’m in deep deadline mode all PR efforts, business efforts, even bills to be paid, wait. I stay enough ahead on the bills that the electric doesn’t get shut off on me!! But the point is, I’ve planned. I know I’m on deadline, or going to be on deadline, and I do what I must. I get laundry done, or it waits. I schedule PR efforts ahead of time, or know they can wait. I moved in July and currently have one room completely filled with boxes – wall to wall – that will get unpacked one break at a time, one box at a time, until it’s done. Might take six months. If it does, so it does. I chose the ‘storage’ room based on its location in the back of the house, and the door that closes! Prioritizing is key here. And then trusting that the rest will wait.
I actually have a two-hour workshop that I do on time management, and only a little over a thousand words here, so I’m just skimming the surface on this, but even with just this much, I know I could keep my deadlines. I know it because I have. For many years now.
I discovered, a long time ago, that I was the only one who’d ever make me a writer. Or a failure. Or anything else. My choices define me. My choices. Yes, things out of my control happen to and around me. Yes, I have to deal with them. But ultimately, what I make of things is my choice. How I think, how I react – all my choice. I’ve dealt with some excruciatingly hard things – both personally and professionally. But I choose, through it all, to be a writer. So I create my space, I present myself to it, I bribe myself with scents and tastes and sights and sounds and feels that draw me, I put my fingers on the keyboard, and I type.
Tara's latest release, A Family for Christmas, is out now. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest.