Whose Deadline is it, Anyway?

As writers we know all about deadlines, don’t we? They are entwined with commitments and are equally unpopular. There’s something about seeing a big circle looming on the calendar that automatically turns off my enthusiasm. At the very time when I need to be productive, I often can’t dredge up the necessary words. As the deadline draws closer I can become panicky. Nothing kills creativity like panic! But we don’t have the luxury of submitting to that panic if an editor is waiting for our work. We must write and we must do it now. So how do we accomplish the seemingly impossible?


William Faulkner once said: “I write only when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” How does a person “get inspired” when the words aren’t coming?


In the book “Take Joy” that I mentioned yesterday, Jane Yolen suggests one way. She speaks of “priming the writing pump”:

     “My late father-in-law had a cabin in the West Virginia woods. There was no running water, only a pump that needed to be primed each morning with river water…. Pouring the river water into the mouth of the pump, I would then lower the handle, lift it, lower it again. The gurgle of the unseen machinery alluded to the sympathetic magic taking place: like calling to like.

     “The pump would wheeze, snort, pull, the handle becoming harder and harder to push. And then suddenly water–not the river water laved into the pump, but fresh, earth-chilled, underground, sweet-as-spring water would gush forth.

     “Everyday writing starts that way. The old river water thrown into the pump is metaphorically your letters, revisions, journal entries… and then that sympathetic magic takes hold. As water calls water, so words call words. Up they come from the unplumbed depths, what some call inspiration and some call talent and some call soul: sweet-as-spring new ideas. Sentences. Paragraphs. Stories. Poems. Gushing, flowing, even overflowing. The writer’s day starts.”


For a Christian writer the added ingredient is prayer. Long before I begin trying to prime the pump I have engaged in conversation with the creator of all creativity. Only then do I check the clock and settle in to write. I haven’t missed a deadline yet.


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

4 thoughts on “Whose Deadline is it, Anyway?

  1. I really only set goals for myself, nobody else deems it necessary. Which is a shame because I work better under pressure. As for prayer, I could write a book on all the prayers I’ve made that were answered. These days, I’m committed to beginning each day by opening my eyes, then giving thanks for all my blessings. It’s a wonderful way to start any day.

  2. I love that “priming the pump” image, because it’s so true for me — a little journaling, blogging, or emailing gets the words flowing (and also helps clear out distracting thoughts!), so when I open my WIP file, I’m ready to go.

  3. Thanks for your comments, everyone. Shari, I’ve referred to Jane’s priming image many times because I love it, too. It so aptly describes the process. Goal-setting can apply to just about anything, Joylene. I sometimes have to set ridiculous ones like “Empty the recycle bin today” because I get so sidetracked by other things I’m doing that my priorities get tangled! I agree with BJ that beginning each day with prayer is THE best way to get started in any endeavour.

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