Deadlines. The bane of every writer’s existence. “A necessary evil.” “My nemesis.”
I talked to an author who changed the internal time clock on his computer just so he could have three extra hours, claiming he was writing on the West coast (USA) instead of where his office was (East coast USA).
Writing Without a Deadline (Deadlines Born)
Not everyone, however, is writing under a deadline. How does an unpublished or uncontracted author write without a deadline?
This takes discipline. An unnatural discipline for some creatives. I’ve heard of authors using their friends as accountability partners. Or their spouse (be careful with that technique…) Or an incentive like food or fun.
An Indie author (publishing independently) is technically without a deadline. So how do you go about it?
(Feel free to comment below with your methods)
Writing WITH a Deadline (Deadlines Made)
I’ve read many writers who eschew deadlines or simply ignore them saying that “one cannot rush art.” At the same time a contractual agreement, with a deadline, is just that; an agreement. You are responsible to meet your obligations. Of course if there are circumstances that change, most publishers are willing to extend. But there are limits to that grace period.
At the very least, try not to have a cavalier attitude toward a deadline. Not everyone can be George R. R. Martin who said, “If the novels are still being read in 50 years, no one is ever going to say: ‘What’s great about that sixth book is that he met his deadline!’ It will be about how the whole thing stands up.”
Discipline, planning, situational awareness, fasting from social media, scheduled writing retreats, daily word count goals, and more are all methods that I’ve had writers tell me about.
What methods do you use to make your deadlines?
Quotes about Deadlines
“A goal is a dream with a deadline” Napolean Hill
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Douglas Adams
“Deadlines just aren’t real to me until I’m staring one in the face.” Rick Riordan
“I am one of those people who thrive on deadlines, nothing brings on inspiration more readily than desperation.” Harry Shearer
“Deadlines aren’t bad. They help you organize your time. They help you set priorities. They make you get going when you might not feel like it.” Harvey Mackay
Thanks for this short but informative post, Steve. Don’t tell me … you were on a deadline with it.
I use handwritten lists to keep me on track with deadlines. Each item has its own hierarchy. I love the thrill of striking a line through each task I complete.
If I have an important deadline such as submitting a proposal, I will post the task on my website so I am accountable to more than just one person. Here, I am held accountable to my readers which is the best kind of motivation for an unagented (yet) and unpublished (yet) author. For me it’s the first step in being held accountable to a lot more people than just blog readers.
Speaking of deadlines, I’m off to create another deadline for the website because I have one more proposal to send.
Yes. I was on “deadline” for the blog! However, since we’ve written about deadlines in previous posts I wanted to be careful not to repeat information, which made it short and “sweet.”
I’m trying to get used to deadlines by creating my own in my planner. I make small goals each week. I’ve been doing this for two weeks now, and it’s made a huge difference. I get more done. I’ve never been a procrastinator, so by writing it down, I can’t help but do it.
I know there will be up times and down times where deadlines are more difficult, but I’m enjoying the process.
Damon J. Gray
The thing about deadlines is that most of them are not really deadlines. They are target dates, and we have a tendency to move those targets. I worked a brief stint as a newspaper editor, and in that business, a deadline is a DEADline. If your copy is not in when the deadline passes, there will be a story about the middle-school ballet recital where your story about the fire that consumed City
Hall was supposed to be.
Yeah, Damon, but just think of how happy the dancers and parents will be to see their names and pictures in print…and poring over the ashes of City Hall won’t bring it back.
Hi Steve, thanks for the great post. I am excited to glean from everyone’s tips.
What keeps me writing more than any goal setting strategy (which is absolutely necessary) is knowing I am called to write. Knowing that fact unequivocally helps me see the act of writing and meeting my deadlines as an act of obedience. It is not optional any longer.
That is really encouraging, I never thought of deadlines as acts of obedience. Looking at them that way makes them seem less stressful to me now. Thank you for your insight.
Thanks J.D. This was a life changing, or should I say career changing truth for me. I am so glad it helped you.
Given that I have a more-than -full-time job, I have had to find several techniques to keep me on track. I’ve only had non-fiction and short stories published, so self-motivation is necessary if I’m ever to get an agent and a publishing deal!
First of all, I plan to work a certain number of hours on certain days, and I’m very strict with myself on keeping to the plan.
Second, and probably most important, as I write the second book in a series, I’m so excited about the research and the story I’m writing that I can’t wait to see what happens next! I know it sounds silly, but I spent a lot of time writing the biographies of my characters and so I sometimes find they don’t react to situations as the outline may dictate. Who wouldn’t want to find out what happens in the next exciting instalment?!
For the contracted writer, who may be working in full-time isolation, deadlines are a way to practice workplace courtesy.
For the independent, most self-imposed deadlines are kind of stupid. Granted there is a ‘within reason’ caveat, but writing is not like exercise. The primary goal is exercise is to achieve a ‘condition’, a level of physical fitness that allows us to reach a goal. It’s like the sharpening of a saw blade.
But ‘the goal of writing is the best finished product possible. It’s not a matter of 75,000 words; it’s a matter of heart and story and, for the Christian writer, meet subservience to the Almighty.
What I could still do sheet-metal work for aeroplanes, I often did one-off parts, and learned that I could only afford, when pressed for a date for completion, “It will be done when it is done.” The client knew I would do the job, but the quality of work was my calling-card, and to skimp to meet a deadline was unacceptable. Those time-controlled were jobs I could not afford to accept.
Obviously, again, the ‘reasonable man paradigm’ comes into play, because you can’t refuse to set deadlines as a veil for self-indulgence. Doing research by chatting up the barista at Starbucks may sound cool, but it’s rank amateurism.
But the crux is this, and it was pressed home to me over the last twelve hours by a pain that is suspiciously like severe angina: you won’t get back an hour of your life, and tilting at windmills of your own construction, when it leads to frustration and ill-feeling, isn’t Quixotic. It’s foolish and vulgar.
As an unpublished writer, my kids and family life create their own natural “deadlines” in my life. Kids home from school in summer? Better have my manuscript finished by June if I want to take them to the river. Then I can start a new one in the fall after we’re settled back into our school routine.
It’s true on a micro level as well… the school schedule, my daughter’s nap schedule, and the necessary evil of making dinner every day create very specific daily windows for working on my manuscript!
Although I have to confess that sometimes I forget to make dinner when I’m in first draft mode. Ooops. Cereal anyone?
If I don’t keep writing, my mortgage doesn’t get paid. That pretty much explains my 26 books.
Brennan S. McPherson
My problem was always when I had multiple deadlines for very different projects. A devotional due for a publication next week, but a twelve-sermon series to present in front of over a hundred people in three weeks. Of course first thing’s first, but the twelve-part presentation took far more of my focus and stress, making it more difficult to focus on the devotional for the closer deadline.
I am learning, though! I am much better at focusing on what needs to be done now, and keeping a notepad off to the side to jot down any random thoughts that are useful for the next project.
It would be so much easier without that pesky day job taking up so much precious time! Haha!
I don’t mind working under deadlines. They keep me focused. However, they do bring on a lot of stress, I will be honest. So to help relieve that, I’ve learned it’s okay to let some other things go. I can’t do it all and can’t expect myself to. Give yourself grace to skip the vacuuming or dishes until after work.
Also, remember that this is work. This is your job. If you worked at a bank from 9 to 5 you wouldn’t run home to do the vacuuming. So to make those deadlines treat your writing as your profession. Know what you’re productivity needs to be for each day to make those deadlines, and honor it.
I usually meet writing deadlines pretty well. Trying to learn what the deadlines are for AGENTS. Once an agent has expressed an interest in a manuscript, does an author just leave it open-ended, without a contract or plan or anything? For how long? What is the proper etiquette in the industry? Lots of info out there on what authors should do, but can’t find a THING about agents’ obligations in return. Thanks.
Depends on what you are talking about. We state clearly in our guidelines that we try to keep to a 6-8 week turnaround on submissions. But if the writer has not heard anything from us on an email submission, it can be considered rejected.
If we have received a requested full manuscript, that can take awhile, since reading 300+ pages takes a lot longer than normal.
If you are already a client, that is a different situation. We should be in communication with you regarding your proposal in order to set appropriate expectations.
I’m an indie who writes full time because I’m retired. I have target dates, not full-blown deadlines, because no one will have a difficult problem if I fail to deliver something by a specific date at close of business. That said, I treat the targets as deadlines even though nothing will die.
Producing something of the highest quality I can is more important than getting a book to market on a specific date. That’s a big part of why I’m publishing with good sales and reviews that have me thanking God that readers are loving the stories and the spiritual messages of the books.
My first book slipped by 3 months because it wasn’t at maximum quality on the target date, but I learned a lot in the process. The second one was two weeks later than I’d hoped, and that slipped it a month from what I’d been advertising at my websites. For the ones that slipped, I just kept updating the promised month until I actually published. I expect the 3rd will be on target.
Working full time, I can now write a novel and edit and edit and polish and polish (…and polish and…you get the point-lots of effort by myself, my betas, my critique partner, and a partial professional edit) to get it into market in 6 months. Starting well ahead with contracted work, like the cover, helps meet the target without much stress. I requested the cover 4 months early for #3 and 10 months early for #4 since the first draft of #4 is already finished. Getting the cover finished early is important because it’s the clickbait at the websites that starts building interest before the book is actually published. My designer’s (Roseanna White) work is gorgeous and draws click-thrus to Amazon from the history site on a regular basis. I attribute many of the international sales (>10% of total) to those covers. Looking at the cover is also inspiration to finish that book and get it out so others can enjoy it.
Something that provides encouraging feedback as I edit/polish is an Excel file where I have the word count for each chapter in the first draft. As I edit, I enter the new count in an adjacent column. After I complete the first full edit, I do a second edit before sending to by betas and critique partner. After I get their responses folded in and polish some more myself, I get the partial professional edit. A bit more polishing follows that feedback. I watch the word count change as I edit to get it as polished as I can. The changing numbers provide feedback that I’m making progress. Numbers change a lot on the first edit, then less and less. By the time it’s as polished as I’m going to get it, the numbers don’t change at all. Getting to that point is a target itself.
The key to meeting targets is to actually treat writing as if it were a day job. I take the laptop even when we travel and get an hour or so of work done even on vacation days. (Writing is so much fun it would be a painful deprivation not to write some each day. But aren’t most writers a bit obsessive about spending time writing?)
I have a wildlife calendar to track specific tasks and activities with their target dates so something doesn’t slip out of my brain while I’m working on something else. I find it’s too easy for that to happen. I enter what I want to get done each day as well as the longer-term dates. It focuses me and helps it happen.
My husband doesn’t have to remind me to work on the novel or the history website that’s my main platform, but he does remind me to do the marketing. That’s not as much fun so his “Have you sent the emails yet?” is sometimes what I need to stop working on the fun part and work on the work part.
John de Sousa
Love the quotes, especially the “whooshing noise”!
Brennan S. McPherson
If I have a deadline (such as my current Sep 1st deadline to give a final manuscript to my editor), I break down how many days I have left, subtract vacation or family days planned (because I won’t write on those days) and divide the word count by that number. Then, each day that I set aside for writing, I sit down and write until I have hit that pre-determined number of words, or until I’ve gone beyond it.
The Almighty Muse is fickle. Don’t be a slave to it.
You hit deadlines by doing work. Funny enough, you also create Art by doing work. So, you create deadlines so that you will do work and make Art. If you eschew deadlines, you likely won’t get anything done. At least, that’s how it works for me, and pretty much everyone else I’ve ever met.
My first novel took 4 years because I had no deadline. My second took 7 months. If anything, my second book is better. And that’s while working a full-time job. (The first novel was published by a traditional publisher, and I’m publishing the second independently.)
It just takes discipline.
Painters like Michelangelo hit their deadlines. And I’m pretty sure none of us are as artistic as Michelangelo. Though sometimes life intervenes and hitting a deadline is impossible, that’s an outlier, not a rule.
Brennan, I have a newly purchased copy of “Cain” sitting on my desk right now to read as soon as I finish Dr. David Jeremiah’s recent book “Revealing the Mysteries of Heaven”. (You are in great company.)
Just wondering, why you chose to go independent on your second book after going traditional pub on your first? Did you have an agent for your first book? If you did, what are your plans, if any, with them when you go indie?
Keep up the great work.
Wow, thanks so much for purchasing! I hope you like the book. Perhaps this would be more appropriate off the blog comment section, but in short, I went indy because I felt I could be more effective going indy. Time will tell if that’s true. I don’t have an agent, and would love one. (hint hint) There’s a lot more to the story, but BroadStreet is a great publisher and it’s nothing against them. I still have a good relationship with them, and desire to traditionally publish future books with a larger publisher whose expertise is fiction.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Thanks for the great food for thought, Steve. When I was working on my dissertation (which turned out to be 400 pages), I scheduled writing time each day and did not waver from it. Nowadays, I try to keep the same schedule, though it does vary based on circumstances. BUT I do not allow circumstances to interfere unless they are really HUGE.
I like giving myself deadlines. It brings a little sanity to an already crazy schedule.
Not that I’m late to the party… apparently I missed this deadline…
Having a deadline pushes me. Sometimes, well, more than I like, I have to put the MS down to cogitate. Other times, I am watching a good ole British mystery from days gone by (without the fascinating CSI factor). I call that, avoiding.
I am all for strict timelines, and no matter what my job or career has been, these–and busyness improve reaching that goal.
Wearing that other shoe, there are those pesky rewrites, critiques, beta, plot filling, copyediting, editing ‘issues that are time-consuming. Current MS: am editing for awkward sentences and proofing for punctuation (and all the rest of the SPaG we hate). The proofing is a snoozer especially in my case, where apparently I’ve forgotten everything my English teachers taught throughout the years of elementary school to college. If you’ve heard of Namenda, I may need it…