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Sunday, June 20, 2010

DEADLINES--a double-edged sword

I used to enjoy running--in graduate school I would go to the gym during cold months and get extreme satisfaction by running 6 miles on a treadmill. Did I ever really want to? Of course not, I'm no fool. By "enjoy running" I mean the results, not the action of running for an hour and getting nowhere, while undergrads gawk at the color of maroon my face becomes after a certain amount of exertion. I never actually liked riding my bicycle in the icy slush to the gym. But I was always proud of myself afterward. Of course, that phase only lasted a few months--until I got a social life, but it was a good exercise in discipline.

Now writing is different. I actually DO enjoy creating a story in my mind, having the characters dialogue in my mind, and rushing to a computer to record my thoughts when a plot twist occurs to the little voice in my head ("oh, he's actually her Grandfather??? And he's gonna leave her a bunch of money if she refuses to enter the Army/Yale/Roller Derby??? Why didn't you tell me that sooner!). I love the feeling when my fingers are flying off the keyboard and I can't type the scene fast enough.

It's only when I became serious about finishing a manuscript and started setting deadlines that it stopped being fun all the time. Sure, I KNOW that I'll feel good afterward, but it's extremely easy to be undisciplined when there are a million other things to do--like laundry, like grocery shopping, like unloading the dishwasher--that are necessary. With only a limited amount of free time, it's easy to make the excuse that because my writing time isn't bringing in a huge amount of money, it's expendable.

Not to mention that fact that if you do get BIC (Butt-In-Chair), the internet awaits, daring you to browse around a little, which leads to a lot, which leads to you learning new and exciting things about Lindsay Lohan's latest court dates, but little in terms of your manuscript's development.

Deadlines can be a double-edged sword--they make you think of writing as a job which increases your discipline, but, then again, they make you think of writing as a job (and let's face it, a job is called "work" for a reason--it's not always a choice and it's not always fun).

Increasingly, articles are saying that this line of thinking is necessary for unpublished writers--if you don't think of writing as a career, nobody else will ever think of it as your career. It's a hard claim to make for many humble beginners, but taking yourself seriously is a major step in your growth as a writer.

Do you keep deadlines for yourself? Whether it's writing 500 words a day, 2,000 a week, or 50,000 in a month, the importance of making and keeping a writing schedule is more important than you might think. Here's a great article by Leslie Sartor on writing deadlines:

The Importance of Meeting Writing Deadlines

Just How Important Is It To Meet Your Deadlines?

You may think this is a no-brainer question, and I can you hear you right now saying, "Silly woman, of course it's important." Read on and see why I even bother to bring up the question.

Recently, during a BIAY (Book in a Year) progress check-in, a pre-published writer made the comment; "When I'm on the clock, I wouldn't dream of missing a deadline, but I get sloppy when I'm off the clock."

Her comment instantly reminded me of countless other times I've heard or seen variations of deadline sloppiness. So I started questioning why a writing deadline is less important than any other deadline? Isn't this a career?
Again, I'm hearing you say, "But I don't make any money at this...yet, so it's not really a career." Let's see if the definition of career changes your mind. From the Oxford Dictionary: Career >noun 1. An occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person's life, usually with opportunities for progress.

Now are you convinced you're endeavoring in a writing career? I hope the answer is a resounding yes.

It is my strong belief that if you have a page count deadline, a contest to enter or a proposal to send off, your deadline is no less important to meet than a NY Times best-selling author's deadline.
But it isn't only the pre-published writers who can be sloppy with a deadline. You'd imagine a published writer would be crazy to miss any deadline, be it a personal deadline to finish a book so it can boost a career, or a publisher's deadline because the book is under contract. Yet it happens. Careers have stalled or ended because of missed deadlines.

I know life intrudes and even with the best intentions, a deadline can slip away. And that's okay, as long as you meet the next one. WHY am I so emphatic about this? Because if you can't keep to your deadlines now, you'll have a much harder time meeting contractual, career boosting deadlines. By putting word after word on the page so your deadline is met is what gets a book, a proposal, or magazine article DONE. Then you have your next deadline to set, getting your work to a publisher, an agent or critique group. You make progress.

And that's what it's all about.


  1. Excellent post! I have serious issues with BIC at times, but I try setting deadlines. Usually, I shoot for 1,000 words a day. I don't always make it, though. 500 words seem sexier after a while :D

    Three cheers for deadlines! And best of luck with yours!

  2. Great job getting words down each day! I've been a bit lazy lately--summer weather makes it even harder to avoid being naughty and ditching self-imposed deadlines :)

  3. Really interesting post, Jess! I don't have any deadlines set for myself right now. I'm sort of betwee WIPs (that's another story) -- but when I'm working on something seriously it's really helpful to have loose guidelines. It feels so good to make progress!