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.