When is your next deadline? What? You don’t have one? Why not? Aren’t you a writer?
I know some writers create fine prose or poetry without deadlines—I just don’t know how they do it.
“But,” you may protest, “I don’t have a contract yet. How can I have a deadline?”
I suggest you always have a deadline, whether a publisher imposes it or not. No one is preventing you from making—and meeting—your own deadlines.
Many years ago, after years of high-intensity pastoral ministry (is there any other kind?), I found myself in a desk job as a magazine editor. Having been a pastor, I was accustomed to juggling multiple deadlines, so that was nothing new, but this was also the first time in my adult life when my job wasn’t 24/7, so to speak. So, I thought this would be a fine time to try to fulfill my dream of writing a book.
It wouldn’t have been kosher to work on my book project during office hours, so I decided to work on it for a couple hours each workday evening after my two school-age children were in bed. I planned for the book to be fourteen chapters long, so I broke the work into fourteen weekly deadlines. I promised myself (and told my wife) that if each week’s chapter wasn’t written by bedtime Saturday evening, I would not go to bed until it was done. I don’t think I pulled any “all-nighters,” but I did work well into the night several times to meet that week’s deadline (and, since I wasn’t a pastor at the time, I calculated that I could catch up on sleep a little during the sermon the next morning—hey, don’t pretend you’ve never done it!). But after fourteen weeks of typing each chapter on a manual typewriter (those were the days) and then scanning the pages into a prehistoric word processing program each Monday morning at the office, I had a completed first draft.
I realize that not everyone is as obsessive-compulsive as I am. But I still think deadlines are your friends, not your nemeses. A deadline can help you to focus and sort out what is most important to you. A self-made deadline can help you to practice for the day when you must fulfill a contractual. A deadline can keep your eyes on the prize, measure your progress, and impart a sense of accomplishment when you reach your finish line. A deadline can shape your future and breathe life into your dreams.
So, don’t wait to be assigned an article or offered a book contract to start working toward a deadline. Setting your own deadlines may actually help to bring such things to pass.
I love a good deadline. Otherwise I will spend two days contemplating a single word (that will likely get cut eventually anyway).
A deadline does tend to increase focus, doesn’t it? 🙂
Thank you for your post! I am currently avoiding my daily writing deadline by reading your blog.
I require myself to write for an hour each morning, after my kids go to school and before I go off to work at 10 am. Currently, I am averaging 1300 words during that time. I aim to also write on the weekends in the morning, but with three children in the home, sometimes, that just doesn’t happen. However, when my writing flows quickly, I can write as many as 1900 words in that time frame, which more than makes up for the days when the children simply do not allow for writing.
I make writing once a day in the mornings a requirement after devotion time with God and even before exercise. I remind myself that this is my ministry, and that there IS a deadline, because each day on this earth is not guaranteed.
Wow, Julie, I don’t think I’ve ever managed 1900 words in an hour! With or without kids!
I love deadlines. Especially the part about self-imposed deadlines where I can move it a week if something unexpected happens and I’m not able to write as much as normal. But I set myself a mental deadline (and sometimes a written one) for almost everything I write and even for what I need to get done through the day. It helps keep me focused.
Yes, exactly, Hope Ann!
Giving myself a deadline has been very helpful. 🙂
Yes, and a familiarity with working on deadline helps when an editor suggests a deadline. “How can I know if I can meet it?” Well, if I’ve met similar deadlines of my own making, I know whether or not this particular is too tight.
Damon J. Gray
It is a self-accountability decision. It is similar to having a brutal workout partner at the gym. “Come on! Just five more … five more … you can do it!”
Our lives are inundated with deadlines, schedules, commitments, responsibilities. Imposing the same on our writing activities should meet us as no stranger.
True dat, Damon.
Deadline is part of the genius and popularity of NaNoWriMo, by the way.
Practicing the keeping of writing deadlines is good discipline, like staying qualified on your sidearm. It may seem that getting into a close-range gunfight’s unlikely, but when it comes (as with book contracts, unexpectedly) you can rely on muscle memory to win the day.
I love deadlines…if my MS didn’t have somewhere to be, it would never go anywhere. It would just sit around in its bathrobe all day eating leftover Halloween candy.
Your MS and I have a lot in common.
Then my MS is in good company. 🙂
I wouldn’t get any writing done without deadlines, especially during this season of full time college and part time work! Same with blogging–without promising myself and my followers that a post will go up every Saturday, I know I would slack off.
Joyce K. Ellis
Great words of wisdom, Bob. For years I have used my regular critique group get-togethers as a type of self-imposed deadline to finish various projects. It adds the accountability factor.
Robin E. Mason
I’m Indie but I do seem to work better under a deadline! my first three books I had (took) the luxury of a year with each one. no hard and fast deadlines, more of goal-line i hoped to reach. (which i did)
new series, Seasons, requires a new books for each, well, season – 90 days per manuscript! hard and fast deadline! and i’m managing fairly well not i’m getting caught up! (was sick early this year, threw everything way off)
with or without deadlines, i love what i’m doing!
Deadlines do help with the juggle. I’m retired from my day job and writing full time, but even being able to write 12 hours a day doesn’t mean that deadlines aren’t a useful, if painful, challenge. My publisher is flexible about my deadlines slipping and simply shifts the timeline when one does. (Yes, I admit that, as an indie author/publisher, I have a self-imposed multiple personality syndrome.) But I know that I can’t release the next highly polished, proud-to-offer-to-God novel in my series on my self-imposed publishing schedule if I don’t flog myself to meet the necessary deadlines.
Add to that the need to write articles for my history site and blogs for my blog site, and I too often meet only one or two of the three sets of deadlines. Maybe that’s another good thing about deadlines. They keep us humble when we accidentaly let one or more of the balls in the juggle hit the floor.
Of course, one should never miss a deadline defined by a contract. My word given in writing like that should always be kept because it would hurt others if I didn’t.
I love deadlines! They give me the squeeze to get serious, that pressure to get busy and do the work. I’ve got deadlines for daily/weekly chores and weekly blog posts with the strictest deadlines reserved for the book I’m almost done revising. (Finally!) I told my husband I will NOT go to bed until I’ve worked on it at least a few hours every day. So far I’m not sleep deprived. 😉 And the latest deadline: I will finish it by next week. Or else. Or else what? I’m not sure but it won’t be pretty.
Thanks for this post, Bob. My deadline is tapping me on the shoulder, clearing his throat, and pointing at his watch. I better get busy. As always, God bless you.
I set deadlines for myself all the time. My problem is accountability. I need someone to check on me and give me a nudge if I am slacking off.
Deadlines are nothing more than a restriction, a time restriction. Restrictions can be very beneficial even though they may be resented. Many times they make us better when we are impelled to learn how to successfully incorporate them while still achieving a triumphant result.
Christian life is full of them, publishing is as well, self discipline is one of a number of integral elements for success in this area.
Deadline, schmedline, no problem with the right tools.
Thank you for this, Bob! It was funny and inspiring to me as I write and await word of whether or not an agent is going to contract with me. Deadlines are good things. Indeed.
Brennan S. McPherson
Amen. Creativity doesn’t exist without boundaries. Paintings and books are defined both by their restrictions and their liberties. A color used is every other color rejected. A word chosen is every other word denied. Without an end, you have no story. Deadlines are just one more restriction to inspire creativity.
Wonderful article. I love deadlines and don’t work well without them. That is probably due to my formative years as a broadcast journalist where, if a story wasn’t complete by the rigid deadline, it did not get in the newscast. When I moved to the anchor desk (this was overseas with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network), I loves them even more because at the end of the news day, there was nothing left to do but come in and do it all again the next day.
I’ve retired from the military and have many volunteer and personal projects. My writing is in between all of these, and very few things have a firm deadline. My writing is stalling. Self imposed deadlines are artificial.
I appreciate your post. It is like God telling me to get going. Thank you.
Typo: I loved them, not loves them. Rats, shouldn’t be careless with this group, although I think I am among friendly folks.
I liked “I loves them even more” better, myself. Sounds Gollumish.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Didn’t someone once say that not having a deadline was like playing tennis without a net? (Nope, I guess that was a discussion of blank verse!)
I am obsessive-compulsive enough to give myslef deadlines…..guess we are alike in that sense, Bob! Great posting.