Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week Carol Munro challenges us to deal with deadlines…
Dealing With Deadlines
by Carol Munro
Thanks for inviting me, Donna! You’re always such as inspiration to me, and I’m so happy to be your guest today on WRITERLY WISDOM. I’m here to talk about…
Deadlines. *shiver* They sure can make a stomach twist.
I never liked that word much. DEADlines. As though all that writing I agonize over doesn’t mean much of anything once it’s finished. How unkind a word, deadline. Rude even. But alas, I live with this word on nearly a daily basis, as though it’s a room mate ever-yearning for attention.
I’ve been meeting deadlines as a freelance writer for 17 years. Prior to that, I worked in advertising and marketing in the financial services industry. In those days, my co-workers and I rarely lived in the present. Instead, we lost ourselves in projects due by the end of the day, next Friday, in two weeks, next month. Deadlines danced on our desks, whined from our in-boxes, and bumped our elbows as we drafted copy for the deadline most deserving of our attention.
Now, when I’m not on deadline for client work, I’m imposing them on myself in pursuit of getting my own stories and poems written. If you’ve put off your own creative spirit, or you aren’t getting as many manuscripts written as you’d like, start setting – and meeting – deadlines.
First, change your attitude about deadlines. Yes, they’re whiny and rude, but it’s to your benefit to think of them as friends. After all, when you successfully meet them, it means you’ve got writing projects done, right? That’s worth celebrating. Maybe treat yourself to something special like chocolate or a movie or dinner out with a real friend you’ve ignored while working on a deadline.
Got your attitude adjusted? Okay then, let’s move on to what will help you start setting deadlines for yourself. Here are a few ideas.
Join critique groups. This year, I wanted to get back to writing poetry, so I started a crit group that meets twice monthly. It motivates me to have at least one poem polished for critical analysis by my poet friends at each meeting.
Form a weekly review team. For a few years, I met with three other writers every Wednesday evening. Each week we’d set goals for the next – write a new scene for the novel, edit the picture book about bullying, research popular dances of fourteenth century Scotland. Our goals were specific, and we wrote down everyone’s goals, holding them accountable the following week: Did you edit that picture book? Let’s hear it.
Meet regularly to write with friends. I write every Thursday morning with my writing group, River Valley Writers. Sometimes I plan ahead to work on a particular picture book manuscript or my novel. Other times, I simply write from the prompts provided, which often results in new poems or the beginning of picture books I finish later. When RVW breaks for the summer, I reserve a meeting room at the library and invite other writers to join me for four hours of quiet writing time. (I’m writing this blog post there right now with one writer sighing quietly over her poetry, dried maple seeds set in a spiral pattern on the table for inspiration, and another tapping away on her laptop keys, pausing occasionally to stare far off where her imagination is playing something out.) Writing with other writers can be energizing and satisfying, and it helps get the work done.
Join online groups. Sub Six, Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12, PiBoIdMo, and NaNoWriMo are deadline-related groups that motivate you to generate ideas, write, and/or submit your work. In some way, you’re held accountable, and you have the support of other members who are similarly accountable. These are just four examples. There are more. Search for them. Join. You may swear at me at times for getting you into them (yes, deadlines are stressful), but you’ll get over it and get the work done, too.
Okay, so now your attitude’s adjusted, you have some ways to start setting deadlines for yourself, and you have some real live and/or cyber friends to hold you accountable. I have one more thing to share with you about deadlines. Managing them.
Sometimes setting a deadline to, say, write and polish a new picture book manuscript by July 31, isn’t enough. On July 23, you realize it’s already July 23! And you haven’t written a word! It happens to all of us. Again and again.
So if you’re serious about getting the work done, stop setting and forgetting deadlines. Just stop it, okay? Okay.
Here’s what you do instead. Break your writing project down into smaller steps, each with its own deadline. Perhaps like this:
Decide the idea/theme by July 1
Have a story draft completed by July 7
Complete any research needed and begin editing ms by July12
Finish editing ms by July15
Share with trusted first reader (TFR) by July 16
Get feedback from TFR by July 19
Review feedback by July 20 (then let it mull around in your head for another day)
Begin final edits by 22
Have polished ms ready to submit by July 31
Polished? Maybe just super shiny, but even so, a completed manuscript you didn’t have in June.
This type of production schedule can be adapted for any writing project. So pick a project, write out all the smaller steps, get your calendar, and set the mini-deadlines. Be sure to accommodate for holidays, family activities, and other life distractions. Give yourself the time you think you need for each step, but don’t be too lenient. You’ll find yourself thinking, Oh, I’ve got five whole days to get that done, and you’ll beat yourself up on day four when you realize all those days have slipped away. If a step takes less time than you allowed, readjust your remaining mini-deadlines so you don’t slack off or lose motivation because of a gap of free time. (Nothing’s free. You’ll pay for it!) Be accountable to yourself for every mini-deadline as well as the big one at the end.
See? Deadlines don’t have to finish you off or kill your inspiration. Instead, they can be like good friends and meeting them has built-in rewards. But have some chocolate anyway.
Carol owns a freelance writing business, Just Write Words, serving a variety of clients from upstarts to Fortune 500 companies. She teaches writing workshops, provides critique and editing services to professional writers, and creates hand bound books. In November 2012, she completed the Poem-A-Day challenge to benefit the Center For New Americans in Northampton, MA, and was published in their anthology, 30 POEMS IN NOVEMBER. She’s an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is a co-administrator (elf) for Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12 forum.