Writing Tip of the Week: Setting Writing Deadlines

Deadlines.  We have them at work, and our kids have them for school projects, and the government gives us one to pay our taxes.  Having a set, definite date to aim for with something major can be a great motivator for getting things done.

But are you setting deadlines for your writing?

Even if you’re not planning to publish or send your work to contest, giving yourself a deadline can be a great way to get things in gear and get the writing done.  This milestone can be a moment of celebration and excitement; the novel is done, and I can move forward with my next writing project.

Some people may prefer not to have deadlines.  They allow the Muse to decide when they write and when the project is done.  That’s all well and good.  However, if you want to write a lot and get a lot done and off your To-Do List, I recommend creating deadlines for your projects.

Here are some things to consider when setting deadlines.

Be Reasonable

If you are working on your first novel, setting a deadline of one month maybe a little too intense (unless you’re into that sort of high-octane writing thrill).  Creating a reasonable deadline that is manageable but not ridiculous is the key to making the deadline work.

Maybe you plan to have a six-month deadline for your first novel.  Then once you’ve seen what you can do with six months, shave a month off for the next one.  

I’m sure you’ve seen stories and videos of people who wrote a screenplay in 48 hours or a novel in two weeks, and if you want to aim for that as a personal goal, go for it.  But if you have a day job, kids, a family, and other obligations don’t add to your plate writing a 65,000-word novel in a month.

No one wins in that scenario.

Write It Down

It may sound silly, but writing a deadline down in a notebook, a journal, on a calendar, or on a whiteboard where you can see it as a reminder is useful to keep you mindful of the chosen deadline date.

It is better to have it written down than to make a mental note and forget it.  

You can also use this as a way to mark smaller milestones on your way to the big deadline by establishing smaller goals in the larger timeline. If your goal is to write a first draft of your novel in six months, breakdown ideally where you want to be in the process at the end of months 1, 3, and 5. Fragmenting the larger goal can help make it less daunting.

Beat the Clock

Let’s say you set a deadline of three months to write a play.  Can you finish a day early?  A week early?  Giving yourself personal competition can be a great motivator.  It always feels good to get something done before it’s due, and this is one way to see how much faster you can get the project done before your stated deadline.

Reward Yourself

You finished the novel early!  You did it!  Give yourself time for a reward.  It can be going to a movie, buying a book you wanted, or getting dinner out.  This is another great way to incentivize yourself to set and keep your writing deadlines.

In our world of instant gratification, delaying getting what you want by completing a major writing task first can make receiving that reward all the better.

Stay Positive

Life happens.  If your deadline has to change or you miss it by a week or two, it’s okay.  Keep going and still work to get the project done.  The key is the complete the project.  While the deadline is nice to have, if things prevent you from writing, sometimes there’s not much you can do.

Stay persistent and keep writing.

Have Fun

Writing should be fun, and getting a writing project done should also be a fun process.  Remember that you want to get this novel done to move on to the next one.

Give yourself permission to enjoy the process and the creative aspects of the writing.  You’ll be grateful that you did.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip #5: Writing Goals

What are your writing goals? Do you have any?  Should you?  In my view, it’s always good to set some sort of goal for yourself when you sit down to write.  For example, I’m writing this article on Saturday evening and you’re reading it on a Friday.  I set a goal to write up all five posts and schedule them ahead of time to avoid panicking last minute because I forgot to post something.  I set a writing goal, and once I post and schedule this I will have achieved my goal for the day.  Yay me!

But along with the blog posts I’m also getting down to business with writing my second novel that follows my first novel, The Field.  Writing a novel is a much larger task than mere blog posts, but the basics of setting a writing goal for the day still apply.  I may set a goal of writing a big action sequence, or maybe an emotional scene, or maybe draft the ending or even the beginning of the novel.  Breaking it up into easily workable pieces is much easier than sitting down and thinking: “There’s no way I can write this novel in one sitting!”

You don’t have to.

A novel is made of chapters. Each chapter can be written on its own. Giving yourself a little perspective by breaking the magnitude of a novel into its smaller components can quell your anxiety and get you writing.  Even a screenplay is one scene at a time that build upon each other to create a full film script.

If page or chapter goals aren’t your thing, set a timer.  Sit down and write for 15 minutes.  Still going strong?  Go for 30. Still good?  Keep writing.  You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish and get on the page in 15 minutes, and will be motivated to keep going.  I’ve found that if I’ve still got half a blank page left I will keep going until I fill it.  Then I’ll have another idea and keep going. 

Just like running, the first few minutes are the hardest part.  Your body is still getting used to it.  Your mind is still getting engaged.  But after a few minutes, your endorphins kick in.  Your body becomes attuned to the rhythm of your stride.  And what was supposed to be a 30-minute run becomes a 45- or 60-minute run. 

Writing is the same way: the first few minutes can be hard, but once your mind and body find the right rhythm, and the creative endorphins kick in, you’ll be on a full sprint to the finish line before you know it.

Find a goal-setting mechanism that works best for you and don’t forget to reward yourself with something, even if it’s small.  Maybe treat yourself to a meal at your favorite restaurant, or go to a movie you’ve wanted to see. 

Setting smaller goals with your writing can and will help you achieve your larger writing goals over time.  And you’ll be in a better creative place in the long run.