Friday, April 27, 2018

Why Writers Need Deadlines (And How to Set Them Up)

Note: If this post seems familiar, it's because it's an expansion of a newsletter I sent out a while ago. Cheating? Maybe. But I spent about 30 minutes yesterday writing a blog post only to realize I'd already written on one the exact same topic over a year ago (this one, in case you care). So I'm re-purposing a newsletter article to save my time and sanity. Sue me. 

As a creative, got-no-strings-on-me, hippy type of person, deadlines weren’t really something I’d ever considered setting on purpose. They just…happened. I have a weekly deadline for my blog posts. A monthly deadline for my Youtube channel. Deadlines for WriteOnCon work. I didn’t notice I’d set them up until they were entrenched in my brain. By the time I finally took notice of them, I realized: These deadline things are actually really helpful.

So I decided to try it for my daily writing life.

I set a deadline for my completion of The Stump of the Terebinth Tree, a project that I couldn’t ever seem to complete. And you know what? I finished it two days before my deadline. I set a deadline for Colors of Fear and I actually finished it on time rather than completing it two days before the set release date (because yes, that’s the type of thing I do….It’s hard being me).

In short, deadlines have been amazing for me. I think they'd help you, too. Not convinced? Here are 4 reasons you should set deadlines:
Why Writers Need Deadlines (And How to Set Them Up)
1. It increases productivity. I know what you're thinking. "But Hannah. I'm already fairly productive." So? Just because something works doesn't mean it can't be improved. Deadlines allow you to write consistently. Even if you don't feel "inspired." Even if you're sick. Before you know it, you'll be able to write whenever you want. All those stories you never thought you'd never get around to? Well...Honestly, you'll probably never be able to get to all of them. But at least you'll be able to complete more of them than before. How cool is that?

2. It leads to some great ideas. "But forcing myself to write means that my writing is forced and stilted and just no good," you whine. Shush. Just....Shush. When you have to write by a deadline you're force to just put anything on the page. Anything. This somewhat panicked, just-get-something-down state leads to less inhibition. You write down things that you generally wouldn't allow yourself to. Sometimes these ideas suck. Which is totally fine because that's what editing is for. But other times? You spit out crazy cool ideas that you'd never have thought possible before. It's awesome.

3. It prepares you for the publishing industry. When you traditionally publish, publishers and agents and editors want you to stay on the shelves. They want you to stay relevant. To do that, they need you to keep cranking out books. Yep. That's how traditional publishing works. Sure, you don't have to follow those rules, but your second publishing will be a lot harder if you don't. And if you indie publish? You don't absolutely need to crank a new book out every 18 months (which is standard for traditionally published authors), but you do need to continue to write something in order to keep eyes on you. That means you'll be having to write newsletters, blog posts, short stories, etc on a fairly regular basis. Yep. Publication is hard. Start training for it now so you can go all Rocky Balboa on the publishing world when your time comes:
It has just occurred to me that a decent portion of
my followers probably haven't seen this movie. Now I'm sad.
Have I convinced you to give deadlines a shot? I hope so. Let's move on and talk about game plans:

1. Be realistic. But also harsh. You need your deadlines to take everything into account: How much time you have, how fast of a writer you are, what your day job is like, etc. If you get sick a lot, know that your kids are starting soccer next month, or have a stressful transition going on at work, add that into the equation. Don’t overburden yourself. But then again…do put yourself under some pressure. You want your goal to be attainable, but also rigorous enough to force yourself into being structured about your writing process.

2. Don't set too many deadlines. Let's say you have three writing projects going. Choose the most important and set a hard deadline for that one. Under no circumstances are you do move this one (Unless the zombie apocalypse starts or something equally horrendous happens, in which case: Dude. You do you. Take care of yourself.) What about the other two? You're probably better off setting soft deadlines or no deadlines at all. Deadlines can be hard to balance, so unless you have experience with them and know that you're good at them, start out with only one or two. Do you hear me? Don't over do it.

3. Schedule your writing time. Yep. I’m harping on this again. Schedule a time to write each day/every other day/week/whatever-you-can-pull-off and stick with it. This is really, really important.

4. Keep track. Set a goal and then figure out what you have to do each day to meet it. How many words do you have to write? How much time do you have to carve out? Do the math and then stick to the numbers. Yeah, numbers. We're writer, but we can't avoid numbers completely. That'd be nice, though, wouldn't it?

5. Reward yourself. Every day that you stay on track, give yourself a little treat. Me? When I have a deadline to meet, I choose to allow myself to watch Netflix a bit each night if I write that day. Yes, that means I don't get to watch anything if I don't write, so it is also a bit of a punishment. But it works.

6. Give yourself breaks. What? Isn't this counter to everything I just said? Kind of. But not really. While deadlines are good, they can also be stressful if you had to set up something super rigorous, if you're not used to working by deadlines, or if you're doing them wrong. Give yourself days where you don't write at all. Give yourself the wiggle room to push your soft deadlines back a few weeks. And absolutely don't feel like you always need to have deadlines. It's healthy to have stretches of time when you have zero.

As scary and non-creative as deadlines seem, they are very important if you want to make healthy progress in your writing life. So here’s my challenge to you: Pick a writing project. Give it a deadline. Even if it’s just: "I’ll complete three chapters this week." Now stick to it.

Go on. Confront the problem. Fight! Win! And get in touch with me when you complete it. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Have writing, reading, or writer's life questions? Use the hashtag #ChatWithHannah below or on social media to have them answered on my Youtube channel!

9 Tips for Dealing With Writer's Burnout

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  1. Yes!! Deadlines have also become a super important part of my writing life over the last year. It seems counter intuitive, but the busier I am in life, the more important my writing deadlines are. I think it would be too easy to let my writing take back burner when there is so much going on in life. When I put deadlines on myself, it is like I am taking my writing as seriously as everything else in my life.

  2. Thanks for this post. It's been a while since I set a writing deadline for myself. I should probably do one again soon...

  3. Such a sound post. Working to a deadline is something I must do. Problem is in the past, they have been very unrealistic. You have given heart to try again.

  4. I'd be totally fine with setting a deadline... if only I could start my book.

    I have this really cool plot, awesome characters, and a pretty cool villain. But I serious cannot think of a good opening line to save my life.

    I need help. I was looking around on your blog for something like this, but I didn't see anything. I'd love to hear your thoughts on opening lines. Many other writing sources are unreliable/unhelpful. If you don't want to, that's fine, just wondering


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