Writers often think that a lack of time is the problem, but, as Duke Ellington noted, what’s needed is a deadline.
A good deadline can take an aimless, undisciplined writer and hone her into lean, mean writing machine: productive, professional, and poised. The trouble is most people see deadlines as torture rather than tools.
Deadline dread is the status quo for anyone who’s writing seriously. The ticking clock has the power to transform a mild-mannered word nerd into a flustered cranky-pants. But correctly used, deadlines hold a dynamic power for good.
Deadlines as a Harness
Without a deadline, some big projects are like wild horses running amok–or running away. See the deadline as your harness to rein that baby in. By assigning a start and finish time, you are bracketing a project. It takes on the characteristics of a good goal, becoming concrete, time-bound, and achievable–more than it ever was as a rearing, neighing, stomping idea in your head.
Deadlines as a Hallmark of a Pro
A pro is someone who gets things done on time. Late dentists and tardy lawyers don’t inspire confidence. They’re professionals, after all. To upgrade your status of writer from “aspiring” or “hobbyist” or (God forbid) dilettante, make yourself work to deadlines. Be a pro.
Deadlines As Inspiration
It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Deadlines inspire creativity. A blank page and oodles of time–these are the culprits of procrastination. But a looming deadline forces people to think smart and work smart. Even Neil Gaiman uses deadlines as inspiration.
“Real” Deadline or Dummy Deadline
Real deadlines are handed down from editors, clients, and contracts. Dummy deadlines are ones we concoct. We tap into our latent sadism, and we hand ourselves a nice, hard deadline. We do this to move forward, to break out of the fear that freezes us or the Resistance that hamstrings us. A dummy deadline is a choice arrow in the writer’s quiver.
Dummies that Deliver
In order to be effective, a dummy deadline has to mean something–to you. A real deadline works because it’s attached to money or prestige or both. Meet the deadline and you get paid. Or your name appears in lights on a big-shot blog. Give your dummy deadlines some wallop by making it meaningful.
How do you do this? A couple of ways, but the important thing is to make yourself feel the consequences of not making your deadline.
Go public–set a deadline and publicise it on your blog. “I post every week on Tuesday and Thursday.” “A PDF of the newsletter will arrive in your inbox every Saturday.” These expectations give the deadline some oomph. If you miss it, you might not lose your job (because you’re a nice boss of yourself, right?) But you will look like a dill to everyone on your mailing list or to all your readers. And nobody wants to look like a dill, right?
Hit your hip pocket— set a deadline and when you miss it, make yourself pay an amount to a charity of your choice. There are lots of excellent literary charities out there, like The Pyjama Foundation or The Indigenous Literacy Foundation. For fun, you could make yourself pay on a random Donate Now button so many blogs have–or pay a donation to Wikipedia!
Healthy and Unhealthy Pressure
Deadlines can do a lot for us, but it’s worth noting that pressure is a double-edged sword. One blade motivates while the other stymies. Elite athletes know this well: some pressure can make them perform optimally, but too much and they flub things up. Finding the right balance is important. It’s like caffeine: a cup of coffee in the morning perks us up, but a pot of coffee at night overstimulates. One is reasonably healthy; the other is stupid.
Procrastination, poor time management, and taking on more work than you can handle are problematic. It’s important to use wisdom and to be centred enough to know your motives. If you find yourself constantly procrastinating or saying Yes to your own detriment, try journalling to sort out what’s happening on an emotional level. A Life Coach or counsellor can help with this too.
Dread Deadlines No More
The thing to remember is that you choose how you will frame the deadline: an implement of torture devised to make your life hell…or a tool in your writing kit.
Have you got any tips to share about deadlines? Leave a comment!