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The Power of Deadlines

Cheryl's Musings: The Power of Deadlines

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


The Power of Deadlines

Deadlines: the bane of the writer's existence, right? At least, that's what you'd think to hear us complain sometimes...but I think we may be missing an important benefit of the world of deadlines. Deadlines can be a pain, sure, but they can also be a terrific tool to boost your focus and productivity.

BLW Photography

In this way, writing is analogous to running: you can’t improve your speed and stamina by running the same route at the same speed day after day after day. If you want to become stronger, faster, better, you need to do sprints and long distance runs and hill intervals. You need to push yourself.

In the writing world, deadlines give you that extra push.

Here are some benefits of the Dedlinus dreadicus, otherwise known as the common deadline:

1. Increased focus. If you're on a deadline, your sense of urgency increases. Increased urgency activates your fight-or-flight response, which ups your ability to concentrate. Ask any kid with ADHD—heck, ask any college student: it’s a hundred times easier to focus when you’re studying the night before the exam (or writing the paper the night before it’s due) than when it’s still two weeks away.

2. Increased productivity. We tend to work harder when someone else is pushing us—which is why athletes work with coaches and personal trainers. You might think you're working as hard as possible, but a deadline can encourage you to push just a bit harder...rise an hour earlier, work an hour later, or add an evening writing session in lieu of an evening sitcom. 

3. Increased resistance to distractions. This is probably a subset of #1, but I thought it deserved its own mention. When you’re on a deadline, it’s easier to skip that lunch out with friends, postpone that visit to LOLCats, or scribble notes in the doctor's waiting room when you might otherwise spend the time reading one of those shiny magazines. A distraction provides a bit of whip-cracking to keep you on task.

4. It helps you move past writing humps. I’m not sure why this works, but according to my highly scientific poll of writing friends, it does. Maybe it’s that, when you're on a deadline, you don't have time to be stuck—and so even though you still hit those bumps in the road, you tend to push past. I suspect this is a reflection of Anne Lamott’s instructions in Bird by Bird: you have to give yourself permission to write a sh*!y first draft. Once that draft’s in hand, the rest is downhill.

4. It shows you that you can do more than you thought you could do. This is the pot of gold I’ve discovered at the end of my recent deadline: I rewrote a book in less than a month. 80,000 words, changing from first person to third, changing from present tense to past, eliminating a character, adding scenes, clarifying plot points…When I started, truthfully, I didn’t think I could do it. I only started because, well, what else was I going to do? And somehow, at some point, I realized that I was doing it. Really, honestly doing it. And that knowledge gave me the boost I needed to push a little harder and reach the finish line.

When you meet a deadline—especially an impossible-seeming deadline—it wraps you up in confidence. You know your writing has importance, because you made it a priority. You know you can do the impossible, because you did.

And you know you can do it again—and that the next time, it will be a little easier.

What about you? Do you give yourself deadlines? Or do you have deadlines imposed on you externally? Any suggestions for creating effective deadlines?

PS: I wrote the first draft of this post—363 words, to be exact—on the Write or Die website in ten minutes. Thanks, S Wesley Steam, for the recommendation!

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At September 1, 2011 at 7:54 AM , Blogger linda said...

Haha, when I was in school, I always saved writing my papers until the night before it's due and then churning it out in one pass. Now I find it hard not to procrastinate since I no longer have any hard deadlines! The ones I set for myself just don't have the same punch. I guess I need to set up some negative consequences...

At September 1, 2011 at 8:08 AM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Hi Linda, I know! Randy Ingermanson has to pay a friend $10 if he isn't up and writing in the morning...I've considered that!

At September 1, 2011 at 8:17 AM , Blogger Danyelle L. said...

Excellent points! Deadlines are a wonderful tool. I am very deadline oriented, and have my deadlines set out to five years. O:)

At September 1, 2011 at 9:54 AM , Blogger TL Conway said...

I'm not sure if it's a blessing or a curse that I found NaNoWriMo because now, I simply wait to write my next book until November. Then I spend Jan-June editing and rewriting, then July-Oct working on the plans for the next book to push out in 30 days come November.

At this point, I need a HUGE deadline and goal like NaNo or else I find I just putz around with my story. Makes for some frustrating writing sessions!

At September 1, 2011 at 10:06 AM , Blogger Loree Huebner said...

This great post.

Thanks for your very useful tips.

I do set deadlines. It helps get the job done. I think I work best under a bit of pressure.

At September 1, 2011 at 11:05 AM , Blogger Juliana L. Brandt said...

Usually, I have to have someone else looking over my shoulder for a deadline to work (such as a crit partner or a work deadline) otherwise self-imposed deadlines are usually doomed to fail, lol.

I definitely need to do this to get my WIP done.

Hello from the campaign trail!!

At September 1, 2011 at 11:11 AM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

@Danyelle 5 years--I'm impressed! Do you meet them?

@TL Ha! I know what you mean. I've done that--postponed a book until NaNo so I'd have something to write. I can only postpone it a month or so, though, or I get too antsy and start writing :)

@Juliana--I know, I have a hard time with deadlines unless I've shared them with someone else. Even then, they have to be remotely realistic...and I do tend toward HUGE deadlines that are too big to accomplish. @Loree, do you need external accountability or do your own deadlines motivate you?

Thanks for stopping by, all!

At September 1, 2011 at 1:46 PM , Blogger Julia Munroe Martin said...

I love deadlines at least the kind from external forces. They are so helpful with productivity. For blogs I can easily set and stick to deadlines, but for fiction/WIPs, I'm terrible at setting them or at least at sticking to them. Definitely something that would help my productivity but it's one of my biggest challenges.

At September 1, 2011 at 2:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Cheryl. Deadlines certainly motivate, but I wonder sometimes if I do my best work when I'm dead against them.

BTW, I can be very slow, but you changed your blog's background & style, right? It probably happened months ago and my non-ADHD missed it. I like it.

At September 1, 2011 at 2:34 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

@Julia~I'm the opposite; when my WIP calls, my blog tends to suffer. Maybe that's something the Platform-Building campaign will provide--challenges and deadlines to encourage sticking to self-imposed deadlines!

@artistsroad Hi Patrick--Yep, I did change the blog's layout, but it's been a slooooow process. Plus I tried to go with a general color scheme similar to the one I used before. This template gives me a lot more functionality, though. I have intentions of combining my much-outdated website and my blog and moving both to a wordpress server, but that will be a while....

At September 1, 2011 at 4:41 PM , Blogger Sarah Tokeley said...

I'm with Linda. I was very much a 'finish the night before' student. The only time I planned and wrote an essay early I had so much time to mess about with it that I ruined it.

Now I have no deadlines, there's a lot of screen-staring!

At September 1, 2011 at 6:33 PM , Blogger The East Coaster said...

At this point in my life deadlines (self imposed or otherwise) keep me on task. Writing is as much business as art and things have to be done, when they HAVE to be done.

At September 2, 2011 at 10:14 AM , Blogger Margo Berendsen said...

These are all the reasons why I love NaNoWriMo. I'd add one more potential benefit of delinus dreadicus (grin): writer's high (similiar feeling to runner's high but even better!)

I forgot about Write or Die! What a fun tool that is - I'll start using it again, thanks for the reminder! (new follower/Campaigner visiting you back)

At September 2, 2011 at 10:33 AM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Hi Sarah, East Coaster, and Margo! Sarah, I feel your pain--it's hard to move forward when I'm the only one cracking the whip. Luckily, I have some externally-imposed deadlines, too :). East Coaster--yep, if we take our writing seriously, it IS a business. Margo, right! Writer's high! Yes, I LOVE when I'm in flow and the story just pours out at high velocity...and that definitely happens more often when I'm pushing.

Thanks everyone for stopping by!

At September 4, 2011 at 8:02 PM , Blogger erica and christy said...

love comparing running to writing! my own deadlines for each don't always help, but i'll continue to set them and try my best to meet them! christy (love your avatar!)

At September 8, 2011 at 6:26 AM , Blogger TheUrbanMum said...

All brilliant points. The Write or Die website stands out. Love this.
hmmmm - NaNoWrMo - repeat after me "I can do it, I can"".
Your posts are really great. Thank you.x


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