Recently, I finished a month-long sabbatical from work. I had several weeks to myself to travel, relax, or do whatever. It’s a rare and awesome gift I feel very lucky to have experienced. I knew it would go by quickly, so I started thinking about how I could use that time effectively. I wanted some kind of project that could be practically managed in 30 days. Something with a deadline. It’s something that we thrive on here at the office--a vital part of an e-learning development process--so I was counting on a deadline to give my time off some purpose, structure, and momentum.
I decided to write a full-length play. I like writing, so it would theoretically be enjoyable. I like theater, so cool there too. I added some constraints, thinking that could refine my focus further: write a play designed for high-school age performers. So a large cast with roles that can be double-cast, gender-flexible, or combined into fewer as needed. I also knew I needed a theme and tone that felt appropriate without being overly tame or dated.
DEADLINES TETHER YOUR CREATIVE ENDEAVOR TO THE GROUND.
When you add constraints to a deadline, things become more exciting. You need to generate and define ideas quickly. You need to weed out the features or themes that don’t fit your needs or that exceed your limitations. You need to get stuff done and iterate as you go, rather than endlessly speculate, because time is ticking down. And you need a general process that is intended to bring you to the deadline with your vision and sanity intact.
I realized that a lot of the same practical things that benefit our custom e-learning development process also seemed to work for this play idea. I decided to start at the beginning and write in order with a rough word count goal for each day. I tried to score the best spot at the library as early in the morning as I could, which has an outlet nearby and a pastoral view of the courtyard. Then, I tried to write for as long as I could before getting too hungry or needing to use the restroom. Which, sure, sounds like a strange constraint, but it’s a real pain to pack up all your stuff at the library just to use the bathroom for a minute. Would I rather just tough it out, and then go home? Look, it worked for me.
Thirty days did in fact go by fast, and I’m happy to say I finished the play. Seriously totally mostly all the way actually did it. The truth is there is no way I’d have even come close if I didn’t create some kind of schedule and feel the pressure of the approaching deadline. Any vendor making software or a training product should feel the same way--setting deadlines to make sure all their intentions and efforts become something tangible and useful. Doesn’t mean you can't start with your ideas in the clouds, but deadlines are the things that tether your creative endeavor to the ground.