The Writer's Guide to Working With Deadlines | NY Book Editors
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The Beginner’s Guide to Working With Deadlines

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Because you’re the hero of your own story, you need to have a villain. All writers, it seems, have the same villain: The Dreaded Deadline. Unyielding, imposing, and severe, the deadline has thwarted many writers’ attempts at greatness.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that there’s a way to overcome this common foe. In this post, we’ll discuss what you need to know about working with deadlines. Let’s get started!

Be Realistic

Can you meet this deadline on time?

This is a tough but necessary question to answer before accepting a deadline. Think about your unique set of circumstances. Most writers don’t work exclusively as writers. For those of us who work day jobs and moonlight as writers, think about how much time you can actually devote to the process of writing.

Even if you have the ability to devote more time to writing, life has a way of demanding your attention. From social obligations and household chores to family time and quiet time-- you have to find a way to insert “write novel” into your already busy life.

Exit idealism and enter realism. Can you pull this off, realistically? Only you can answer this question accurately, and it’s going to take a harsh dose of honesty to do it.

Start Writing Right Away

What are you waiting for? The time to start writing is right now.

I get it. I’m a procrastinator, too. It’s easy to waste time in writing-related pursuits without actually writing. For example, a lot of writers get bogged down by too much research. Another common time trap is outlining and planning. Although I wholeheartedly recommend that you spend time in preparation, there needs to be a cut off time. Otherwise, before you know it, you’ve spent half a year or longer researching, interviewing, outlining, and world building, but haven’t actually written one usable word.

Your novel won’t write itself. As soon as you finish reading this post, get to work.

Have a Deadline for Research, Too

As mentioned above, research shouldn't be open-ended.

Impose a deadline for how long you’ll spend in research mode. Some topics require more research than others. For example, if you’re writing a historical fiction, you’ll need to spend a lot of time in research to make sure that you recreate a time-appropriate world. On the other hand, a memoir may not require as much time investment into research. However, you should also allot time to fact check your memory (we all know how shaky and selective memory can be).

From choosing names to getting historical events correctly, research can require a lot of hours. Before you start with research, consider setting a deadline so that you’re not trapped in a vicious cycle of reading and learning about the characters, time period, etc.

Take it One Step at a Time

Ahead of you is a daunting task: Write an entire book. For some people, writing a book takes a lifetime. For others, it takes three months. Because we’re talking about deadlines here, you’re probably closer to the three-month end of the spectrum. But no matter how far in the future your deadline is, you need to make an actionable plan for how you’ll meet it, starting today (or tomorrow at the latest).

Let’s say your deadline is three months in the future. If you’re planning to write a generous 90,000 words (word count depends on your genre), then you’ll need to write 1,000 words each day. If you’re new to writing, 1,000 words may sound like a massive amount, but as you get accustomed to the writing process, you may even find yourself exceeding that total each day. However, the point is to make a goal and reach it every day. That way, once your finishing date arrives, you’ll meet your goal.

Impose More Deadlines, Not Less

The answer to meeting deadlines is imposing even more deadlines. Here’s what I mean:

The answer to meeting deadlines is imposing even more deadlines. Here’s what I mean

Piggybacking off of the last tip, consider making several deadlines. The more deadlines that you create and meet, the better your chances of reaching your ultimate deadline.

Here’s a list of deadlines you can set for yourself:

Ideation - Come up with your story idea

Characterization - Choose your main characters and learn about them

Outlining - Plan your story from beginning to end

Word Count - Create a daily word count minimum

Revising - Decide how long you’ll spend shaping your first draft

This is just a starter list of ideas for deadlines. You can go even more in depth if you’re motivated by deadlines.

Reward Yourself for Meeting Deadlines

If you’re not motivated by deadlines, you may be motivated by a simple reward. Consider rewarding yourself every time you reach a specific goal, whether that’s a daily word count or the end of a chapter.

How you reward yourself depends on what you like. I want to be cute by saying that you can reward yourself with a nice bubble bath or a social event with a friend, but for me, nothing’s better than food. In fact, I have a candy bar waiting for me at the end of this article. Make your reward special for you, and it will, in fact, motivate you to reach your deadline on time.

Adopt a Writing Partner

As the saying goes, misery loves company. Sometimes, having another person who's in the process of writing to a deadline can be comforting. You can motivate each other to make it to the finish line on schedule.

Do you have a writing friend that you can partner up with? You don’t have to write the same story or even have the same deadline, but commiserating with another writer can improve your ability to meet your own deadline.

Set Aside Time Every Day to Write

You may be blessed with the talent to write, but remember that writing isn’t magical. Don’t expect to be taken by inspiration every time you sit down to write.

There will be days when you feel uninspired and you don’t want to write. Write anyway. That’s the only way you’ll reach your goal. Eventually, inspiration will come. It always does. Before you hit that daily word limit, you’ll have found some spark that makes your time investment worthwhile.

Remember that the real magic comes in during the editing process. That’s when you shape up your story and make it into something beautiful and compelling.

Get Rid of Distractions

Social media is a time suck. YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram can send you down a rabbit hole.

The solution? Turn off the Internet. Not for good, but when you write. Otherwise, the Internet is always calling you as a siren. An old-school solution is to just unplug your Internet altogether. However, if you don’t want to do that, you can also install a browser extension to block tempting websites.

Don’t forget about your phone. Turn off automated notifications or simply put your phone on silent and hide it in a drawer until you’re ready to re-enter society.

Other distraction can be housework, especially if you’re working from home. It’s hard to not see the pile of laundry or dirty dishes or whatever disaster from your peripheral vision. Do your chores ahead of time so that your writing time isn’t consumed by the constant nag of housework that you need to do.

Additional Resources

Before you go, check out these related posts:

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