Monday, March 11, 2013

Running With Your Hair on Fire

by Jennifer AlLee

Many moons ago, when I lived in the wilds of Ohio (not really the wilds... but it was cold during the winter, so the whole experience seems much more primitive than it really was), I worked for a major cable company. My boss was the Director of Tech Ops for the Division. He was a great guy and I loved working with him, but for some reason, lots of other people in the Division ended up calling us for assistance. Either they needed him to do something special (i.e., they needed a technician at an important customer's home in twenty minutes) or they needed my help. Word got around that I was good with words and with design, so I ended up making posters, banners, newsletters... you name it, I got asked to do it. And when the president's secretary calls and requests five posters for tomorrow's meeting, you drop everything and get it done. So there were times when it was a struggle not just to get my own work done on time, but all this other "good will work" that my boss and I did.

One day, I was having a little bit of a melt-down. Monthly reports were due, among other things, and there had been a constant barrage of phone calls from people who needed something. My boss stood in front of my desk and let me vent, then he smiled and said, "I know it's frustrating. But you're like me. You're not happy unless you're running at a hundred miles an hour with your hair on fire."

I never forgot that day because he was right. As much as I disliked having to meet crazy deadlines that resulted from other people not being prepared, I greatly preferred it to sitting around doing nothing.

Flash forward 20-ish years. I'm a full-time writer (notice I didn't say I make a living as a writer, just that I write full-time. LOL)  This means I have almost complete control over my daily schedule. Sounds great, doesn't it? All that freedom to write and create... how could anyone fail to be productive in a situation like that?

Let me tell ya, folks... "freedom" comes with a price. I know there are some writers out there who handle their time beautifully. I am not one of them. I need deadlines. When I'm faced with an expanse of open time and no definite goal in sight, I flounder.

I've been incredibly blessed in my career. My calendar for this year shows book deadlines on February 1st, April 1st, and May 1st. I'm working like crazy. I'm writing just about every minute I can. I'm running a hundred miles an hour with my hair on fire. And I love it. Deadlines don't smother me, they release me. I'm more creative and more productive because I have to be.

What happens when I hit all my deadlines? Then I'm back to motivating myself in a big sea of open space, and praying for new contracts with new deadlines. I used to get irritated with myself, but now I realize it's just how I operate.

And what's the moral to this story? Well, I guess it's that what works for me won't necessarily work for you. We all need to find the way we function best, and roll with it. However, that doesn't mean I'm not interested in pointers. So share with us how YOU do it... what works for you? And if anybody out there is like me, tell me what you do during the times when your hair isn't ablaze.

JENNIFER ALLEE believes the most important thing a woman can do is find her identity in God – a theme that carries throughout her novels. A professional writer for over twenty years, she's done extensive freelance work for Concordia Publishing House, including skits, Bible activity pages, and over 100 contributions to their popular My Devotions series. Her novels include The Love of His Brother (Five Star, 11/07), The Pastor’s Wife (Abingdon Press, 2/10), The Mother Road (Abingdon Press, 4/12) and A Wild Goose Chase Christmas (Abingdon Press, 11/12). She's thrilled to be working on her first historical series with the amazing Lisa Karon Richardson. Diamond in the Rough is the first book in the Charm and Deceit series, to be released May 2013 by Whitaker House. And... as if that's not enough, her novella Comfort and Joy will appear in the Christmas anthology, Mistletoe Memories (Barbour, 9/13) She's a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Christian Authors Network, and the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance.
Visit Jennifer's website at


  1. I'm a little bit different. I do like having deadlines. They are definitely motivational. But I don't like coming anywhere close to the deadline. So if I have a February 1 deadline I want the book done and edited by December. I don't know why, except that I want to move on to the next task. it's kind of like my GPS, the time of arrival is, in my mind, the time to beat.

  2. I should add that with life as it is at the moment. I am coming closer to my deadlines than ever before!

  3. Cute, Jen. I know so many people who work best this way. I'm not sure they all realize it, but I know them edll enough tl know it myself.

    I, however, do not. I melt down, instead. I'm not a good time manager.

  4. I'm with Lisa. I need deadlines or I never get anything done, but I don't want to be rushing to beat them all the time. This past year and a half have been murder. I've done nothing but scramble to meet deadlines, and I hate it. I need some time to take in! I need to read and watch movies and sew and create and absorb creativity. Constant output is draining for me. I need some playtime!!

  5. Loved the post, Jen. At first, I thought you were volunteering to help us with our artistic endeavors. No? No.

    Then, I thought the topic was referring back to Niki's post, Permission to Refuse, and that you were going
    to give your boss a lecture on saying, no. No? No.

    And then as I continued to read about your deadlines, I realized you were just like me. Except if I have too many, I meltdown. NO! Yes.

    I have to admit, I wish I was more like Lisa. Oh, yes.

  6. Good morning, ladies! I wish I didn't get so close to my deadlines, but I do. The good news is, I've never missed a deadline. I will now go find some wood to go knock on :+)

  7. I am more like Lisa and DeAnna. Deadlines are helpful to me, but I don't want to get close to them. In this way, deadlines are more of a comforting boundary.

  8. Jen, I like deadlines too. Except when life gets crazy and the next thing I know my "oh, I've got a month" turns into "oh crap, I've got two weeks."

    My next deadline is Oct 1. But ACFW national is in mid-Sept so I've told myself my deadline is Sept 1. Because I know how long I need to write the manuscript (plus with extra time alloted for craziness), I don't have to start the manuscript until next month. I wanted to get most of my YA written in March. Had some type of stomach flu last week. No writing done. Spent today catching up on email and brainstorming titles for my Heartsong. Tomorrow I MUST MUST MUST start writing chapter two so I can have at least the first 1/4 of book written before the end of the month.

  9. I don't do well with my hair on fire. I can push myself in lots of ways but pushing myself creatively for too long shuts down the system. I don't know how you do it, Jen. But it's not me.

    I like to beat my GPS's time, too, Lisa. Traffic jams really suck the life out of those goals!

    I agree I hate to not be busy, but busy on my terms. If the day ever comes when I have a deadline, we'll talk...

  10. I've noticed that now that I feel like I have the process of writing a novel well in hand, I write the beginning to meet the characters and figure out the story, but once I get the synopsis written, I stop until someone wants to pay me to finish it. Not sure if that's good or not, although my agent seems to support this method. I think it came out of my frustration with writing whole books then waiting years for them to be published. And since I know I can pound out a novel in two to three months, this method seems more emotionally friendly. We'll see once I really do have a deadline and have to finish one quickly.

  11. I like deadlines, because they give me structure, and since I'm not a structured writer I need something to pin my creativity to or it flitters away from my desk.
    Of course, self-imposed deadlines aren't necessarily that effective... I'm looking forward to having "real" ones to work toward.


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