This post was written by Mez Blume.
Deadlines. What’s your response to that word?
For many professional writers, the word ‘deadline’ is a curse with the power to induces anxiety attacks and stomach ulcers. For proto-professionals, deadlines are the thing they dread most about finally making it as a published author, a dark cloud eclipsing future glory.
I felt that way myself once, that deadlines were like shackles binding creativity. You can’t put a time limit on creativity… right?
Wrong. Now, a slightly wiser, more seasoned writer, I would argue that we writers need deadlines to reach our creative potential. So even if you’re not yet bound to an Editor who’s holding your paycheck ransom until you meet your deadline, I want to challenge and encourage you to embrace the habit of writing to a self-imposed deadline for these three key reasons:
- Deadlines do away with your excuses
- Deadlines train you to write ‘smarter not harder’
- Deadlines are the key to becoming prolific
Not sold yet? Allow me to elaborate…
Deadlines do away with excuses
Renown writer/teacher Jack M. Bickham outlines the top excuses that inhibit would-be-writers from becoming real writers in his great little guide The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. These include procrastination and “waiting for inspiration,” which are really two sides of the same coin.
How can deadlines help us obliterate these self-inhibiting excuses?
Let’s deal with the issue of not enough time. Consider this: if you give yourself a deadline in one year’s time and commit to writing one page per day, you’ll have a full 365 page draft by the end of it! Just about anybody can squeeze in that kind of time with an ounce of motivation. But step #1 is setting that deadline.
But what about waiting for inspiration? That’s important, right? Let’s look at it this way: Imagine if other professions used this excuse as a reason for not working. What if a surgeon took of her mask and walked out of the surgery because, well, she just wasn’t feeling inspired that day?
We writers need to hold ourselves to the same professional standards as every other professional out there. Deadlines help us do just that by removing the crutch of ‘waiting for inspiration.’ Real writers are those who sit down and get the work done, whether they “feel it” or not. Why? Because they’ve got a deadline and they’re sticking to it!
Deadlines train you to write ‘smarter not harder’
Here’s an example from my own writing history:
My first novel swished around in my head for a decade before I ever started writing it in earnest. Why? Because I never set a deadline, and if you give yourself all the time in the world, hey, you’ll use it!
Then I quit my job to write. I had no more excuses, but what I did have were ten year’s worth of notebooks and ideas to draw from, and still no deadline. A year later, I was still wading through it all… it was a complete mess.
What went wrong? Not having a deadline meant that I didn’t know when to cap off my research. As a result, I had more material than I knew what to do with. It was overwhelming.
What’s more, without a deadline to push me onwards, I dabbed here and there at the story like a bored painter, but never gained the momentum I needed to push the story onward. Consequently, my lack of momentum carried over into my story. The thing just wouldn’t move, all because I was sitting on my brain instead of pushing it forward.
Fast forward to my next novel. Discouraged from my first attempt, I signed up for NaNoWriMo, determined to write an entire 50,000 words in 30 days.
The experience transformed me as a writer.
I planned smarter. I got the bare bones of my story down so I knew where I was going & could get there quickly.
I researched smarter. With only a couple weeks before the writing marathon, I only researched what I knew I needed for the story so I didn’t end up wading through oceans of useless material!
And most importantly, writing at a high rate meant I didn’t have time to constantly criticise my own work. I had to keep going, and that urgency put my creative flow into fifth gear. Having a deadline released me from nagging perfectionism so that I wrote more freely. (more on this below!)
Sure, there was editing to do at the end, but my story had movement. It flowed.
Deadlines are the key to become prolific
Like many writers, I’m a self-proclaimed perfectionist, which means I can labour one sentence forever until it’s just perfect. Meanwhile, my face turns blue and I forget what my story was about in the first place!
Perfectionism is the enemy of Prolific Creativity.
Having a deadline that puts you the writer under pressure removes the luxury perfectionism. In my own experience, killing my inner perfectionist was a Good Thing.
You may want to push back at that idea. But let me challenge you: would you rather be the writer who wrote a perfect sentence, then burnt out? Or the writer who captivated people with good stories?
If you’re trying to write the perfect novel, stop. Don’t torture yourself. There is no such thing, and the pressure you’re putting on yourself will kill your creativity and your joy.
Instead, embrace deadlines! Write your best within the limits of those deadlines. Consider them a licence to let your creativity go wild for X number of days. You can always fix it later, but you can’t fix words you’ve not written. Deadlines will help you get those words down quickly. A finished story, however messy, is better than a couple of over-laboured lines.
To sum up why I’m a Cheerleader for Deadlines:
- Deadlines don’t leave room for excuses – rather than waiting for inspiration, you learn the discipline it takes to become a pro.
- Deadlines prevent over-thinking, over-researching, and over-critiquing your story ideas… and encourage you to plan smartly & succinctly.
- Deadlines tackle your inner perfectionist that prevents you from accomplishing anything and robs you of the joy of writing!
- Deadlines are the key to keeping creativity fresh and in motion.
*Tip: Ready to embrace deadlines? I recommend MyWriteClub.com. It allows you to keep track of your goals, & tells your friends when you’ve made progress so they can help you meet your deadlines.