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Do Deadlines Hurt Us or Help Us?

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Let me just say this upfront: I don’t like deadlines. 

I hate the creepiness of having something looming over my head like a grizzly hand waiting to snatch me and devour me if I don’t finish. 

And I don’t like the pressure of having to complete something too quickly. I’m always afraid that if I have to rush, then I won’t have the time to make it as excellent as I’d like it to be.

I also don’t like deadlines because I fear that I might freeze under the pressure, that I won’t be able to think of anything to say, that the words won’t flow, that I’ll be left with a blank page—which is every author’s nightmare.

So often we think deadlines are restrictive. For us creative, working-from-home types who like the freedom of setting our own schedules and plans, deadlines tend to put a crimp in our style.

Yes, the word deadline has become a “dirty” word.

But I’ve learned that all writers who are serious about publication need deadlines of one kind or another. As much as I shudder at the thought of deadlines, I’ve come to realize that they can be very helpful, especially ones we impose upon ourselves.

Now I fully realize every person is wired differently. We operate at our maximum potential under varying circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all way of writing.

Nevertheless, as much as I detest deadlines, I’ve also come to realize how beneficial setting our own deadlines can be:

Self-imposed deadlines help us stay focused.

As writers working from home, (like any person with a home-based business), we face special challenges. And one of those is that we’re our own boss. No one is hovering over making sure we’re clocking in. In fact, if we want to browse the internet for an hour instead of working, no one will dock our paycheck or fire us for fooling around on company time.

It’s especially tempting, when we hit a hard spot while writing our books, to stop, take a break, and tell ourselves that we’ll get back to our writing later. And if we’re in the middle of writing a blog post and get interrupted by one of the kids, it’s all too easy to decide to write the post on another day.

Yes, one of the benefits of working from home IS the flexibility.

But all too often, we let ourselves wander aimlessly, shifting from one thing to the next without any real direction. And our times of writing become hit or miss.

When we establish tangible goals, dates, and time frames within which we work, we can reduce the tendency to flounder, get distracted, or put projects off. Those goals give us something to shoot for. 

Even if we fall short, at least we’ve shot at something rather than nothing at all.

Self-imposed deadlines can help increase our productivity.

I’ve found that when I give myself deadlines, I don’t freeze or lose my creativity, but rather my production actually increases.

Before I write the first draft of a book, I decide how much time I think it will take. Since my books are about 100K in length, I divide that amount out over a span of 4 to 5 months and then give myself a weekly word count goal to meet the deadline I'm setting for myself. Then I take my planning a step further and give myself a daily goal so that I can hopefully meet my weekly goal. If something comes up one day that prevents me from meeting the goal, then I try to make it up by the end of the week.

The more regularly we keep our writing muscles working, the more productive we are.

Self-imposed deadlines prepare us for being a professional.

If we begin to establish deadlines before publication, then we’ll be much better prepared for the deadlines that come later, particularly for those who aspire to work with a traditional publisher.

If we want industry professionals to take us seriously, then we need to start taking ourselves seriously first. One way to do that is to approach our self-imposed deadlines the way we would approach deadlines at any other job.

For example, I write my blog posts the week before they go live. I schedule “blog writing time” into two afternoons a week. And I don’t let that particular afternoon go by without writing a post. I approach that time with tenacity, seeing it as something that is part of that day’s routine. It’s not optional and I don’t leave it to chance.

But that’s because I view my blog with the mindset of a professional. I want to post regularly, on time, with the best possible content.  

Meeting self-imposed deadlines allows us to present ourselves as professionals.

How do you feel about deadlines? Do they stifle your creativity, give you writer’s block, and zap the joy out of writing? Or, like me, have you learned to find some benefits in establishing personal deadlines?

23 comments:

  1. The only time I've had to set deadlines for my writing is when I'm doing it for a school assessment under test conditions, or something that has to be handed in at the end of class... or a project; I wrote my first manuscript as a self-directed project through the school and I had to have the first draft done by the end of the year. It worked.

    Deadlines are good. For me, they tend to kick my butt into gear and make me JUST DO IT, even if it ends up being at the last minute. But it's not usually for creative writing purposes; these deadlines will usually be for my homework. And they're not usually self-imposed. But they're definitely good.

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  2. Yes -- I'm guilty of allowing my mind to wander, taking care of all the "little" things so they won't bug me while I'm writing, spending time with my kids/dogs/friends because I've been or are about to be writing and feel like I've neglected them .... so many excuses! I force myself into deadlines, then give myself grace when I miss them by a week or two...or four. The bigger the project, the more grace. But I work hard to mostly stick to those deadlines because I know my propensity to wander.

    A deadline and a good priority list (versus To Do list) make a huge difference -- in my writing and in my life. I either write it out the night before each day, or first thing (after caffeine) in the morning.

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  3. As an unpublished author, I don't have a formal dealine, but sometimes I wish I did. It's too easy to use all my precious writing time blog hopping or checking Facebook or looking at Pinterest. Even though I don't have a formal deadline, I need to make one for myself. Figure out a realistic plan and stick to it. Maybe I'm not working on a publisher's deadline, but maybe my deadline should be the Genesis Comptetion or the writer's retreat I'm planning on attending in October.

    Great insight, as always, Jody!

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  4. I do use self-imposed deadlines. I dedicate a certain amount of time in the mornings to social media, afternoons to writing, and evenings to family.

    Concerning my writing, I'm very driven and probably harder on myself than I need to be, but that's what keeps me on target with my daily, weekly, & monthly goals.

    Great post, Jody!

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  5. I have just started setting goals for myself in preparation for a contest -- 10,000 words each week or 2,000 words each day. I knew ahead of time that was quite ambitious, but I also decided I would not deal harshly with myself if I didn't meet it. A few days I have made it; most days I have not, but come close. I've found that I really thrive under a deadline, and I love the feeling of accomplishment!

    Now I just need to get the blog posts under a deadline....

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  6. As a self-published author, I'm the
    only one providing the deadlines and
    I like that flexibility. I find the reluctance
    revolves around getting started on a
    major re-write. Once fifteen minutes
    have passed, I'm engrossed in the
    process and everything's fine.

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  7. Ida, you brought up a great point! I think putting deadlines upon ourselves helps us prepare for self-publishing in which we must set our own time tables. While the flexibility of self-publishing is a benefit, if we hope for success, then we need to be timely with the releases of our books.

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  9. "Even if we fall short, at least we’ve shot at something rather than nothing at all."

    That's my philosophy for goals in a nutshell. If no one is driving me, I have to do it myself. Especially if I want to squeeze in writing while working full-time. (Which I REALLY do.)

    I love this post! It encouraged me to treat my writing and blogging as professionally as my job. Thanks for the kick in the pants. I needed it. :)

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  10. I have a self-imposed deadline for querying two novels in time to try and get one of them accepted in time to come out in 2013 to follow up my first novel.

    Sometimes, especially over the last few days, pressure builds up and I lose my focus completely.

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  11. I love deadlines. I love having goals, which is essentially what deadlines are in my mind. I want to achieve X by X time...and that will require X.

    I'm also an editor in my day job, so I'm used to deadline pressure. It IS different, but then again, I've told another writer my self-imposed writing deadlines so we can keep each other accountable with our goals. We email each other once a week to check in. It's worked great so far and is motivation to keep going, knowing I'll have to report my progress to someone else.

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  12. Deadlines are both good and bad. For the good, deadlines keep my writing moving forward instead of relegated to the back burner for "when I get around to it." For the bad, too many deadlines at once can be all-consuming, to the exclusion of family, friends, and sometimes even God. Balance is a wonderful thing.

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  13. Ah, I'm not a fan of publisher deadlines in the least, though I understand why publishers need to use them. :-) But I'm always one to give myself personal deadlines. I just know that my personal deadlines have some flexibility built in, which isn't always the case with publisher deadlines.

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  14. I don't enjoy having my day's activities too regimented, but deadlines are different. I work well under pressure of a deadline, whether it's getting the housework done prior to someone's visit, handing in assignments for a course, or finishing articles for publication.

    Life's full of deadlines -- arriving at a meeting on time, or getting an order out when promised, for instance -- so for me, writing commitments aren't any different. I think one of the secrets to meeting deadlines is to ensure I have a realistic amount of time planned for the task. If I short-change myself, I can work harder or faster on that occasion, but doing it too often leaves me frazzled.

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  15. Whew, I have to give myself deadlines or I'll drift off into the ether. Working as a full time teacher makes it hard to stick to the deadlines, but they are great at driving my pace.

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  16. So, so true! I think that's the difference between those who want to be writers and those who *are*. The latter actually write, even when it's hard, because they're determined. And, hey, having a chocolate reward at the end of a day of writing always helps...

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  17. Deadlines are hard to adhere to, especially when the work just seems so overwhelming; it's often so much easier just to spend hours surfing the Internet instead (which I admit I've done more than once). Sometimes I wish that I could use a typewriter because then the Internet wouldn't be readily available. But deadlines, like you said, are necessary. Otherwise it'd be even more difficult to get everything done.

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  18. I self-impose deadlines all the time. If I don't, how will I get used to working under real deadlines when the time comes?

    Actually, when I have a sense of the time I need to get something finished, I'm much better about allotting my time and spending it wisely. Whereas if I allow myself to take my time, I dither, or over-plot. Deadlines work for me because they force me to think critically about the work that must be done.

    So I think deadlines work really well to keep me motivated and on the right course.

    Great post!

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  19. I don't like deadlines, but I probably wouldn't get my work done without them.

    Now that I'm getting ready to turn in book 3, with a June 1st deadline, I want more time to make it great! But I'll turn it in and hope that the book is good. At this point in time I eat and sleep the book and start thinking stuff like, "Maybe I should have done this instead of that with the plot twist." It goes on and on. I've decided I'm a one book a year kind of girl, at least while I'm working a full time day job.

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  20. Even though most of my deadlines are self-imposed, I still have that feeling you describe. It's all psychological, I know, but I can't help it.

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  21. I make my self-imposed deadlines public. Not only do I have to hold myself accountable, but I have other people to do so as well. Peer pressure and the possibility of embarrassment are great motivators.

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  22. Jason, I love having accountability partners, especially when I'm writing the first draft. Occasionally, I've even exchanged accountability for weekly goals on Twitter. It helps a lot!

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  23. I kinda like deadlines... I'm one of those people who rushed home from school on the day I got a project in high school and stayed up late to finish it on the FIRST night, even if it wasn't due for three weeks. I'm the opposite of a procrastinator... so a deadline works for me. It gives me a cut-off point where I can stop worrying and just send my writing out.

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