How to Stick to Your Own Deadlines

Write like no one's waiting for it

Hey friends,

Per the request of a lovely reader, even though I’m not sure she needs this specific advice anymore,= lol, I wanted to talk today about how to stick to your own deadlines. (Clients, you are welcome to roast me in the comments for all the self-proclaimed deadlines I’ve missed.)

I hear writers say all the time just give me a deadline and I’ll do it ! I need a deadline!! And yeah, I get it. Pressure works! It’s effective! I’m sure more than half of you did the assignment the night before it was due when you were in school, me included! But when you’re a grown up and have many more responsibilities than Model UN and a calculus test next week, it can be harder to be both self-motivated and self-accountable in writing, especially when you do not have a deadline from an agent or in a book contract. (Or even when you do have a deadline from an agent, but you know they won’t care if you’re late.)

So, here’s how I suggest you approach your self-imposed deadlines so that you can keep your project(s) moving forward and save yourself a lot of 4am angst about what you should have done yesterday when you were fucking around on twitter instead of writing. (Couldn’t me be.)

Sorry, there’s no replacement for actually doing the work.

Yeah, I know. I don’t have a magic tip that makes writing happen without doing the writing. I wish I did! There isn’t anything in this list that is going to make you sit down and write the things that need to be written, sorry. You have to do the writing! It doesn’t get done without that! Make peace with this first. Make peace with how you write and say out loud the things you already know. That you can’t write late at night. That you are just going to have to get up early if it’s going to get done (or vice versa). That you need to turn off the internet, like unplug the router/install Freedom level turning off the internet. That you are motivated by gummi bears or fancy tea or warm socks or whatever it is that brings a little comfort to the uncomfortable process of writing. Yes, you can listen to The Hours soundtrack every time you write. No one will know and no one will judge. Do what you have to do. But do it. There’s no getting around the doing.

Do what motivates you.

Gummi bears or fancy tea? Do it. Gold stars on your calendar every time you hit a word count goal? Do it. Accountability buddies? Ask a friend to check in with you at the end of the week to see how it went. I personally like tracking my word count on spreadsheets that I can turn into charts (easy in Google Sheets!) because uh I like charts and graphs and spreadsheets. Data is fun for me! Find what’s fun for you and do it.

Be honest about how much time you have.

In theory, I can write a book in like three months. It’s not impossible for me to write 1000 words a day, when I know where I’m going and I feel I am an effective self-editor. It’s possible!! But it’s not probable. For one, I have a day job. For two, I have a family. For three, I have limited stamina for writing 1000 words a day. I can do it! But I can’t do it without fail, without a break, without rest, everyday for three months. Be honest about how much rest you need. Rest is not laziness! Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t burn yourself out! Your personal value is not measured by your productivity. Be realistic about your output, and don’t forget to factor in sleep, rest, goofing off on twitter, moving your body, your neurological needs/challenges/realities, eating, seeing other humans, oh and your job and personal/family obligations to the time it takes to finish your writing.

Be honest about the time you need.

Writing is about, well, putting words onto a screen. But it’s also about deleting, rewriting, editing, thinking, and rethinking. You might be able to write 1000 words a day, or not, but it takes time to actually figure out what you’re going to write and then to fix it once you’ve got it down. You might spend several weeks or more plotting, outlining, and thinking, and then speed-write it straight through. Or you might figure out the next day’s path the night before. Either way, part of writing is thinking, and don’t forget to factor that in.

AND EDITING. You need time to edit! You need time for the words to marinate. You need time away from the pages so you can forget what you wrote and read it with fresh eyes. I need a good few weeks to let things rest between writing and editing, but if you don’t have that kind of time, at least try to take a few days off before you dive back in, if you can. And when you’re done, don’t forget to copyedit. Check your your/you’re, there/their/they’re, breath/breathe, advice/advise! (Do as I say not as I do re: copyediting!!!)

Now add 10%, maybe 20%

Whatever you’ve estimated as your daily/weekly/whatever word count, time to think, time to rest, time to revise, time to copyedit—add 10%. Maybe 20%. Give yourself a buffer. You know you’re going to take it anyway. You know you’re going to dilly-dally, you know something is going to pop up and you’re going to need more time. Give it to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Actually hitting a realistic deadline is more satisfying than totally blowing a fast one.

Ask why you need to hit a certain date.

Say you want to have your novel done by the end of the summer. Is there a good reason it has to be the end of the summer? Do you just want to be done with it? Is it a nice round date? Do you have school or a new job starting then? Maybe there is a good reason to pin your completion to big date on the calendar—just make sure, according to all these things here, that you can actually hit that date. When you are fully in control of your own deadline, but still want a deadline, being honest with yourself about why you want it increases your chances of actually hitting it. If you want to say you wrote a whole novel in two months, then, well, great? But if you can’t realistically do that and you exhaust yourself trying, then is it really worth it?

There are realistic soft deadlines that are worth hustling for. Maybe you want to get your agent your book before they go on maternity leave or before the (mythical) summer slow down in publishing. Those aren’t deadlines in the sense that there’s money on the line if you don’t hit them, but they are important markers nonetheless. Those can be worth really hustling for! But if your deadline is solely under your control, use these suggestions here to better plan for what will really happen, not what you wish would happen, and you’ll be much more likely to actually hit your deadlines.

Again, I am sorry to report that there is no One Simple Trick to writing except, well, writing. But if you’re honest with yourself about what you need, want, and are going to do anyway, you’ll be that much more able to reach your goals and complete projects.

Get your vaccinations, friends. Please.