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Deadlines and Dead Ends

If you’ve ever written a whole entire book, you know it’s a process–one that takes days, weeks, months, even years. You also know that not every stage of the process has the same fire fueling it. There may be parts of the book that you fly through in a happy rush of creativity, eager to get to the page every day and put down words, and find out what happens next. Other parts are like slogging through drying cement. They’re just huge hills to get over so you can hopefully, eventually see the end. There are days you turn out tons of words and then stretches of days where you don’t write at all.

However, if you finished writing a whole entire book, you know the effort such a thing takes, all total, is enormous. It also has to have some motivation behind it at all times, no matter how small that motivation is. Many things can move a writer to keep writing: desire to tell a story, hope for the future, wanting to see your work finished and complete. Those are internal reasons and they’re unique to each person. But today, we’re going to talk about one particular, outer motivation that can move you as well.

Deadlines.

Some writers shrink from the word. They hate the idea of putting a “due date” on their work. Other writers love deadlines, because they light a fire under them that they would otherwise have trouble kindling. Personally, I like deadlines. I like knowing I have to get things done, and that there are consequences for slacking, because it keeps me disciplined. As much as I want to screw around–and I love screwing around–I can’t, because I have a deadline.

There are two types of deadlines: external (someone else sets it, such as a publisher) and self-imposed (“I will get X done by DATE”). Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

External Deadlines:

PROS:

  • Give you a clear date and time to finish something. This gives you a target, and you can adjust your writing schedule leading up to the deadline to make sure you hit it.
  • There are real-world consequences for not making your deadline–losing work, not getting a publication, not being able to enter a contest–and that keeps you focused.
  • Helps you take the writing and the task of finishing seriously. It feels more like a “real job” you have to perform for.

CONS:

  • The pressure to achieve something in a set period of time can actually paralyze you with anxiety, and you don’t get anything done as a result. Too much stress kills your creativity.
  • The work may be rushed and not the best you could do if you had as much time as you needed.
  • Repeated failures to hit deadlines can leave you feeling crushed and like you’re worthless and lazy, and make you reluctant to try again.

Self-Imposed Deadlines:

PROS:

  • Give you more time to do your best work and write carefully. Much more relaxing, much less stress.
  • Are flexible and can be changed if you need more time.
  • Can be tailor-made to fit your abilities and the pace you’re used to working at.

CONS:

  • Since no one but you is holding you responsible, it’s easy to go off track, not take it seriously, and not meet the deadline.
  • There is little challenge, since you can just change the deadline if you want. No need to push or stretch yourself, or sharpen your skills to get faster and better.
  • Just like there is no real consequence for failure, there’s no external reward for accomplishment, either.

Deadlines can be good or bad, depending on how you choose to utilize them. Some of us need structure, while some of us are just trying to do our best for ourselves. What about you? Do you like deadlines? Do you make your own, or seek ones outside you, such as submission deadlines, on-spec work, and contests? Tell us about it in the comments!

Megan Morgan View All

Paranormal and contemporary romance author.

13 thoughts on “Deadlines and Dead Ends Leave a comment

  1. I think deadlines are necessary for writers to move forward, although I know I’ve been putting off returning to my memoir until I can finish this one last short story for submission, which in turn keeps getting postponed because of other deadlines, and family crises, and… Well you get the idea. All best to you Megan!

    http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com

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  2. Deadlines are great motivators — though, sometimes I have to wave at them as they pass. I’m learning how to use them effectively and not to allow them to paralyze met with anxiety (setting unrealistic deadlines usually causes this). I’ve been much more productive since creating reasonable deadlines for projects and, of course, using external deadlines (competitions, etc.) to get a project done when the fun parts are over.

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  3. I sort of like deadlines, because if they’re external, I will always meet them, even if it makes me crazy. (Crazier?)
    I’m getting better about meeting my self-imposed deadlines, because as you noted, it’s all too easy to ignore ourselves. I cut me a lot of slack when I whine to myself. But I’m trying VERY hard to make my self-imposed deadlines reasonable and to honor them as if they were external. The more I practice this, the better I’m getting about seeing all the deadlines as valid, so I guess I must be getting better about being firm with myself.

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  4. I’m the type of person who needs deadlines, otherwise nothing gets done. I posted a deadline on my blog when I would have a draft ready for beta readers and it really did the trick in lighting a fire underneath me and getting it done.

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