Writing Under Pressure

Some of us work very well under pressure. I never thought I fit into that category, but I’m beginning to feel differently now.

I’m not the sporty type. My idea of an outdoor activity is having a picnic outside, and I’d much prefer to have that picnic without someone (Ted) pestering me to play horseshoes or bocce ball. (The last time we had an outdoor barbeque, my husband had to literally pull me from my chair to get me to join in a game.) A few years ago, when Ted and I spent our vacation at an all-inclusive Jamaican resort, I had hoped to spend our time eating, drinking, and laying around on the beach. But I should have known that my loving spouse had other ideas.

Ted wanted to go kayaking, and this was one activity I actually welcomed–mostly because it seemed a great deal more doable than deep sea diving or hang gliding. The instructor allowed us to sign out a kayak, but warned us not to stray too far from the shore because the waters were a bit choppy. No problem, we said, as all we wanted to do was paddle around the beach for a while. If I remember correctly, Ted let me have the front of the kayak; I think he assumed that the person in back would have the slightly more arduous job.

Out on the water, the wind felt like nothing on land, and began to take us farther and farther out to sea. Deciding that this might not be the best day for kayaking after all, we attempted to paddle back to the beach. Imagine our chagrin, therefore, when the beach only continued to shrink before us.

“This is harder than I thought it would be,” Ted said. I could hear that he was already tired. We’d been swimming and snorkeling earlier in the day, so by the time we’d climbed into the kayak, much of his energy had already been spent.

“I’m not sure I can get us back to shore,” he said. “We might have to wave someone down, see if they can help bring us in.”

Something within me snapped. “We’ll make it.”

“The wind’s stronger than I thought, and we’re pretty far out now–”

“I said, we’ll make it.” I spoke calmly, but dug my paddle in furiously. “Come on, don’t give up.”

When we did make it back to shore–without help from a lifeguard–we both took a moment to marvel. Of the two of us, what are the chances I’d be the one to take charge of the kayak?

More recently, I’ve been writing my Magnificent Nose articles under more pressure than I used to. My deadline is typically Tuesday night for a Wednesday posting, and for two or three weeks in a row I’ve put off starting altogether until Monday. This week, the pressure is especially high, as I forgot to take into account that I have particularly busy work days on both Monday and Tuesday, as well as evening classes to attend on both of those nights. Add to that a host of other things on my to do list, and the result: panic.

Well, a few minutes of panic–but that’s all I will allow myself before I buckle down and get to work. And look, I’m already almost through with this post about pressure. As I said, some of us work very well under these conditions.

Because I never thought that I was one of those people, I used give myself a lot of leeway when it came to writing projects. Back when I used to start a blog post on Thursday afternoon, for example, I’d end up writing in circles and obsessing until Monday, when I’d finally end up spitting out the post under pressure anyway. At least nowadays, I’ve learned to skip the first few (unnecessary) steps.

If you’re not sure whether or not you are a person who works well under pressure, keep track of your behavior. This was easy for me; I could only watch myself flounder on weekends (with so much to do and so much time to do it all in) for so long before I began to get a clue, and I imagine you’ll feel the same way.

And if you do, indeed, conclude that you flourish when things get tough, find ways to use that to your writing advantage. Instead of holding out for long, uninterrupted hours in which to get your writing done, try pounding out a chapter or two while dinner’s in the oven. If one writing project isn’t taking up enough of your time, consider adding another. Most importantly, if you have no one to set your deadlines, set your own or ask a friend to set them for you.

This all may seem counterproductive at first, but give it some time. You just might get more writing done than ever before.


“It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about, watching some good friends scream ‘Let me out.’ Pray tomorrow gets me higher; pressure on people–people on streets.”

Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work. Also, Sara’s editor would be okay with her posting on Fridays instead.

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3 thoughts on “Writing Under Pressure

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  1. I’ve found that writing under pressure makes you get to the point with your writing. You stop thinking about needless things and work to get to your main idea. In so many words, you stop decorating your ideas with unnecessary words and similes. It teaches you economy of writing, if it’s possible to call it that.

    At least that’s what I feel I’ve been able to learn whilst keeping my blog. I try to reblog and comment as much as possible, but I make it a point to write “main entries” (articles, short fiction, etc.) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

  2. Work in advertising like I have and writing under pressure becomes a non issue. Having to juggle multiple projects, new briefs to tackle and revisions on older jobs — all under impossibly tight timelines is an every day occurance. But none of that even closely resembles your Jamaica experience. I think I would have been paralyzed with fear! I’ll take the deadlines.

  3. I believe we create our own pressure. We set bars too high and don’t take easy options with anything we do. Recently, I’ve started a blog and at first I made a commitment to myself that it would get posted once a week.

    The reality is that sometimes it’s more than a week between posts and sometimes I manage two in one week. I also had to remember that I was doing the blog for me and for fun and there wasn’t anyone other than ME dictating the how and when.

    We battle with ourselves a lot because we try to do to much. As with all battles, you have to pick the ones that are important. This is a lesson I have learned along the way and so now I am passing it on to you. Relax. If you enjoy what you do; you will do it and it will be done without pressure.

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