I've always had a crush on deadlines. I mean, they're so sleek. So clean and sharp and clear and definite. Whenever I can, I'm all "yes, yes, by all means, let's add deadlines!" I'll fling them anywhere, and that's 100% what I did at the start of planning this project:
I sprinkled those beauties everywhere I could. Novel-prep milestone? Let's seal it with a deadline. Mwah!!
They're so pretty.
But when I shifted from planner to novel-plot-thinker-upper, the deadlines all grew fangs and basilisk eyes and I got all petrified.
I kept thinking that I was the problem, and that I just needed to put my head down and work, because all those pretty deadlines have to be right, with their perfect knifelike edges and slick certainty.
Oh, but knifelike has never been the key descriptor of how my imagination works. *insert laugh-till-the-tears-come face*
Nope, my imagination is much more like a strange old lady wearing a huge rumpled cardigan with dozens of pockets, and her tangled flyaway hair may or may not hold pencils and bird nests and yesterday's lost set of keys.
She is AMAZING at her job when I don't insist that she be sleek and clean and knifelike, because knives aren't her style. (If she needs something cut, she'll just bite it, no prob. Very stubborn teeth she has.)
Once I remembered who she is and how she works, I went back to all those deadlines and set them free. No more aiming at calendars and timetables and specifics, not during the precious planning and dreaming-up stages at least.
Instead, my imagination loves three things. Well, more than three, but there are three specialties she needs to thrive. And if I aim at these three, then I happen to be productive (and get awfully close to the original deadlines), almost by accident.
Nourishment. Immersion. Momentum.
Nourish: Keep feeding the imagination, keep playing, keep adding those amino acids of creativity into the stew.
Immerse: Keep diving into the story, keep believing in the characters, keep seeing and smelling and sensing the settings in surround sound.
Pursue momentum: And finally, keep moving toward the story—deeper and deeper—until it begins to pick up its feet, and move faster, pulling me along with it, tangling me up in it.
Give her these things, and the imagination chuckles and settles right into work. She doesn't need everything neat and pretty and clean and perfect. She wants food, she wants depth, and she wants movement.
That's how she works best.
(Though she'll also accept the odd bits of knitting, fancy chocolates, old spiderwebs, half-forgotten songs, used books, overheard conversations, the sound of rain . . . )