May 2

How successful writers approach deadlines

Deadlines 14-05-02 share
Here’s a secret for you: Successful writers don’t bend their lives around deadlines; they create their own deadlines that are tighter and harder to meet. Their own internal deadlines drive them so that they never have to worry about meeting anyone else’s deadlines.

When a successful writer wakes up in the morning and looks at her calendar, she doesn’t think, “Oh gosh, how many more days do I have until the deadline on that piece? 45? Good, I can still relax a bit.”

When a successful writer wakes up, she looks at her prioritized list of projects, picks one, and goes to work.

A successful writers doesn’t have to worry as much about deadlines because she’s already working as fast as she can (within reason).

You want to join the ranks of successful writers? Here are some mantras for you to adopt in your own life.

I will schedule time for writing.

Your life is busy. I feel for you – I do! Life always feels like it is already as full as we can manage. Even if you have one of those treasured jobs where writing is part of your job description, chances are that you have so many other responsibilities that you don’t have even a fraction of the time you would like to write.

Life will never hand you free moments to write. Dreaming of the day you’ll go on one of those 30-day writer’s retreats, and then you’ll finally be a real writer? Not going to happen. For most of us, writing happens in the margins of life, in those moments that we painstakingly carve out. You have to take control of your schedule and create time to write. There is no other way around this.

Make it a consistent time. Some people write every day at 5am. Some people write during their lunch break. Some people write Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons during an afternoon lull. Some people write four days a week after the kids are in bed. (Instead of TV?! Yes, instead of TV.) Look at your weekly calendar, find your time, and schedule it. Then you have to stick to it.

I will measure my writing progress.

Anything measured improves. Measure the amount of time you spend writing. I’ve recommended time-tracking software in a previous post, but you can also just use a timer on your phone to track how long you actually spend sitting at your computer, writing – not checking email or social media.

Also, measure the number of words you write each session. Some people aim for 500 words per session, some 1,000. Pick a goal, even if you don’t meet it, just set a goal.

I will review my writing progress every week and month.

Writing is often a grueling process that can sap your energy and your soul. Writers often have really big goals – a lengthy and well-researched article or a book – and we some times have a tendency to downplay or downright ignore the progress we’re making toward that big goal. We rely on our nebulous feelings about how much writing we’ve been doing lately to inform us of how close we’re getting to the goal.

We tend to have thoughts like, “Sheesh. Today was a terrible writing day. So was yesterday. I’m never going to finish this project! I might as well quit.” We feel our energy diminish and our excitement for the project fade, which makes it even more likely that tomorrow’s writing session won’t go well either.

How do you stop this vicious cycle of inner dialogue? The ultimate weapon is having a system in place to record how much time you spend writing and how many words you write every session.

If anything measured improves, then anything measured and reported improves exponentially.

If you have even the most modest of Xcel skills, you can just create a spreadsheet that has three columns: date, time, and word count. At the end of each week or month, you can sum up the totals and literally see your writing progress.

If you have a bad day or two, look back over your previous weeks and remind yourself that you are, in fact, making progress.

If you want even more “qualitative” data about your writing progress, keep a writing log. After each session, jot down a few notes about what you worked on that day and how you felt about it. One of my clients does this, and it’s a fantastic way for her to monitor her own energy throughout the project and keep me informed along the way, as well. As you read back over previous weeks’ entries, you may notice a pattern in your creative spurts and your lulls.

I will reframe how I think of deadlines. I will not allow my writing schedule to be determined by others’ deadlines because I will set my own personal deadlines.

After you have the other three habits in place, you’re ready for the big leagues of successful writing. Now, you start to reframe how you think of deadlines.

At one time, external deadlines were the primary motivator of your writing, but no more. This is your writing career, and you will take control of it.

At one time, you would procrastinate until a deadline was approaching, but no more. You will prioritize your own writing goals, and you will seek to finish the writing project as quickly as your schedule will allow.

At one time, you would see deadlines as the looming enemy, but no more. You set your own deadlines, and you know that your deadlines are the only thing that ensures your success as a writer. Without deadlines you would have no finished projects.

I will set personal deadlines as a way of life for me.

Setting deadlines is a skill, but setting deadlines can become second nature to you with practice. At first, it’s tough to know how long it should take to complete, say, a 2,000 word article. Three days? 14 days? Honestly, it depends on you, your schedule, and your style of writing. Everyone is different. As an editor and writing coach, I constantly have to feel out people’s writing patterns to help them discern appropriate deadlines.

But you’ll never know how to set deadlines for yourself until you start.

If you have a larger project, break it up into smaller chunks. Maybe book chapters, for instance. Set a specific deadline goal: “I will finish this chapter, of roughly 5,000 words, in two weeks. I will write four days per week and aim for 750-1,000 words per session.” That wasn’t so bad, right?

Try it out. Choose a chunk of writing, estimate how many words it might be. Look at your writing schedule, and roughly calculate how many writing sessions you would need to finish that chunk of writing. Circle the deadline on your calendar. Track your progress every writing session and review every week. If you miss the deadline, note it on your calendar, and circle the date that you actually finish the writing chunk.


Setting personal deadlines should become a way of life for you.

And before you know it, being a successful writer will be a way of life for you.

Take these five mantras, write them out, and post them above your writing space:

1. I will schedule time for writing.
2. I will measure my writing progress. (Time, Words, Journal)
3. I will review my writing progress every week and month.
4. I will reframe how I think of deadlines. I will not allow my writing schedule to be determined by others’ deadlines because I will set my own personal deadlines.
5. I will set personal deadlines as a way of life for me.

What about you?

Do any of these mantras hit home for you? Any mantras you would add to the list? Leave a comment below!


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