Meet Deadlines with Simple Math

During your publishing journey you may have the delightful problem of too many deadlines. You may have to ask yourself if you can accept another contract because you’re so busy. I’ve advised many clients about this over the years, taking them from panic to peace. Simple math can help.

Determine time

Look at all your contracts and how much time you have to write the books.

Calculate how many days you have to conclude all the contracts. For example, if you will turn in your last manuscript a year from now, you have 365 days to finish contracted works.

Designate days

Refer to a calendar. Mark out any time for vacations and family commitments. I suggest you also cross off weekends or the equivalent of weekends to give yourself time away from writing each week. The key to this step is to be realistic. Don’t shortchange yourself on the time you need to be away from writing. Also add some cushion days for the unexpected happening that will eat up needed time.

Add words

Add the total number of words you need to write to complete the contract and keep that figure in mind.

Consider editing

For each book, add two weeks for revising.


Now you have your outline for how to calculate meeting your deadlines. And you can be flexible because every writer is different.

Using the example of a writer with three deadlines of two 90,000-word books and a 20,000-word novella, we see that the writer needs to write 200,000 words in 365 days. Basic math says that this writer needs to write 548 words every day to meet this goal. Feeling better already?

At this point, you may feel comfortable stopping and saying, “Okay, I can write 2,000 words a day or more and know I’m good.”

If you’re more of a planner, you can say, 365 days, minus weekends (104 days), equals 261. Two weeks for vacation and family commitments brings the total to 247. This figure brings a writer’s needed total to 809 words per day.

But what about the editing and revisions? If you allow 30 days for edits and revisions, your new daily word count only adds up to 922 words a day.

Of  course, your actual workdays won’t mean sitting down and writing 922 words a day. You’ll want to write several thousand some days, and none on other days when you need to be editing and revising. But my hope is that when you see this simple math, you’ll be much less alarmed by the prospect of whether or not you are able to tackle multiple deadlines.

Your turn:

Have you ever needed to turn down a contract because you feared meeting a deadline?

How many words do you write on a normal business day?

What can you suggest to help writers with this process?

20 Responses to Meet Deadlines with Simple Math

  1. Jackie Layton January 21, 2016 at 7:56 am #

    NaNO has been a good experience for me on calculating fitting a goal into a time frame. Because I have a weird work schedule, I look at the calendar and make a goal for each day based on my schedule. I know a thirty day block is different than a year though. Thanks for walking us through the math of writing.

    I hope everybody stays safe in the winter storms.

  2. Tamela Hancock Murray January 21, 2016 at 8:04 am #

    Jackie, you’re so right that NaNO is a great experience. It can really help writers start a routine. For those who aren’t familiar with this challenge, it happens in November and writers are tasked to write a novel that month. Here is a link:

    But at this point, why wait until November? You can certainly do this on your own as well, or with a writing buddy.

    We are supposed to get two feet of snow tomorrow, but I hope we don’t get quite that much!

  3. Jackie Layton January 21, 2016 at 9:28 am #

    Two feet? I hope you don’t get that much. Take care!

  4. Carol Ashby January 21, 2016 at 10:43 am #

    Tamela, this is a great post. I always told my kids that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Any big task gets easier when you look at it as many small tasks added together.

    I’d add one more word of advice I learned through years of rigidly fixed deadlines. The last 10% of any task takes up to 30% of the time. If you plan ahead for that, it destresses the final rush to completion.

    (I write between 500 and 3000 most days. I probably average 1500 or so. That’s the beauty of being retired so you can work into the wee hours of the morning when you’re in the flow.)

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 21, 2016 at 10:46 am #

      Carol, thanks for the tip!

      • Carol January 21, 2016 at 11:03 am #

        I have another tip for you. A full-sized 4×4 pickup can push through 2 feet of fresh snow easily. I wish we were about to get another 2-footer instead of you. We need the snow, and I already have the truck.

        • Tamela Hancock Murray January 21, 2016 at 11:04 am #

          Thanks for the chuckle! I’ll remember this while I’m shoveling tomorrow.

  5. Lynette Eason January 21, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    I always do the math, then scramble like mad at the end because even though I factor in “life days” – i.e. – sick days, kid days, don’t feel like working today days, etc, I still always get behind. But I have to say I’ve never missed a deadline (changed a few with editor approval, but never actually missed one) so whatever my crazy process is, it seems to work for me. I don’t recommend it though. Ha.

    On the weather front, we’re not supposed to get two feet, but we are supposed to get a wintry mix. Sleet/snow/freezing rain. Starting tonight and going til Sunday. I’m thinking there will be no school tomorrow! YAY! I love when my kids get to stay home and sleep in. It makes them so happy. Which makes me happy!! But it can’t last longer than two days because then people just get cranky and that makes me cranky.

    Stay warm!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 21, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

      Lynette, I can’t imagine you being cranky. You’re always a ray of sunshine! Thanks for making the point that hey, some days aren’t conducive to writing. Well taken. Thanks for stopping by.

      Enjoy your holiday!

  6. Martha Rogers January 21, 2016 at 4:53 pm #

    Great advice, Tamela. This is what I always do with each book deadline. I have a notebook in which I record how many words I write each day as well. That way I can see at a glance whether or not I’m on track to finish on time. Also have to calculate in some time in case you become ill or a family emergency occurs. That happened with me, and my editor graciously extended the deadline one week. Don’t let deadlines keep you from accepting that contract unless you do the math first and see that it isn’t doable.

    Hope the storm doesn’t dump that much snow on you. Keep warm.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 21, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

      Martha, keeping a notebook is a fantastic idea! I’m sure writing the number of words also gives you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Thanks for sharing such a great tip.

      As of now we’re still in the 24-inch band for snow but a foot or so is more than enough. I’ll do my best to stay warm!

  7. Janetta January 21, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

    Must set a goal of how many words to write. If I don’t reach it, guilt sets in.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 21, 2016 at 6:43 pm #

      Janetta, try not to let guilt bring you down. Everyone has days of missing the mark. Keep at it!

  8. Carrie Turansky January 21, 2016 at 5:46 pm #

    I have been using My Book Progress for my current book. You install it on your website or blog, and it lets visitors know how far you are on your next book. The best feature for the author is that I can check in each day and keep track of my word count there. It also estimates how many words I need to write each day, each week, and each month to meet my goal/deadline. It has a nice graph that shows you your progress. It’s been motivating and stress-relieving. Thomas Umstattd is the creator of My Book Progress.

  9. Vannetta Chapman January 21, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

    Great post! I.m a big fan of excel. I do exactly what you describe here, put it in the chart … And it works! I have a full length do every 3-4 months, and it.s very doable!

  10. Christine Henderson January 22, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

    I agree with the first reply about NaNo. I have done it for the past 3 years. At first, I thought it couldn’t be done in November with the holiday and getting started for Christmas, but I did push through to completion. It shows what you can do when you are motivated by a deadline.

    One of the best suggestions I have ever heard about creating a writing schedule is to consider it your second job. Punch in (sit in front of your computer without distractions) and do the work time allotted. You wouldn’t call your boss to say you can’t come in because you’re tired or want to watch a TV show. Writing is your work, so take responsibility and do it!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 25, 2016 at 9:44 am #

      Exactly, Christine. The more seriously you take your writing, the better your chances for success. Thanks for the advice.

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