Deadlines–Big & Small

I met a deadline yesterday. I sent a chunk of chapters, the first big set from The Critiquer’s Survival Guide, off to my own critique group. (Yes, I really do practice what I preach!) I had checked with them ahead of time and found out they were okay with reading these pages over the T’giving holiday. I knew I wouldn’t get much writing done myself, with traveling and school being out, so this was great news. I told them I’d get them the files by Tuesday noon.

But…yesterday was Sunday.

Yep. I HATE deadlines. I have, ever since college, when I found out how much I stressed when papers were due or tests were looming. Way back then, I had friends who thrived on those last-minute all-nighters; they just sent me into a world of headaches and sore stomachs. So I learned a way to deal with those deadlines.

I set my own. Early. After the first year of school, I had every paper finished at least 24 hours ahead of time, and studied hard enough for tests to be able to put the books away just when a lot of other kids were pulling theirs out.

I still use this trick. Sure I still end up running on adrenaline for a while. I still have to push myself to add more hours, stick with it, get the work done. It’s just a mind game I play with myself. Except…this mind game has some real pluses.

Here’s what happens when I set (and meet) my own deadlines:

  • I end up with free time. There’s always another project waiting, more work to be done. If you don’t finish until the last minute, you often have no choice but to leap right back into the fray.
  • I use this free time to reward myself. Remember free2cr8’s Rewardathon Box? Today, I spent extra time on the treadmill, then relaxed with a book for a while. I’m sitting quietly in a quiet house, sipping my tea. I’ll probably do the dishes SOMETIME today, but I’m not rushing there, I can tell you that. And I won’t have to rush when I DO get to them.
  • I get to recharge. As much as we love writing, we can’t do it day in and day out without a breather. At least I can’t. Not for hours at a time. We have to let our finger, eyes, and brains relax. For a little bit.
  • I get to look at my project from a little further out. I know where I’m going next on this book, but I need some time to let it simmer. If I had to jump back in NOW, I’d write garbage and spend more time deleting paragraphs than producing them. I barely have to think about what’s coming; I just have to NOT think about what’s just gone. For a day. My brain will do the rest.

The Tuesday deadline was self-imposed, but it was real. If I didn’t get the files finished by then, it wouldn’t happen until after Thanksgiving. And the big deadline for this book doesn’t really leave me that kind of leeway. So, yes, Tuesday counted. And if I’d waited for them, I’d have found myself clicking Send, then spinning in a quick whirlwind, doing a complete 180 and spiraling instantly into laundry, packing, cooking, and cleaning for the holiday.

No break. No reward.

If you’re writing fiction, this technique works, too. You may or may not have an official deadline for a novel, for a draft, but you can set them up for yourselves. Look ahead on the calendar. What’s coming–say, in December. What do you want to have done by the time school lets out, or its time to wrap presents for whichever holiday you might celebrate? Now–what if you push that deadline back, just a day or two? You’ll have quiet time, for yourself, before those wonderful children are with you 24/7. You’ll have time to finish that book you’ve been reading, time to putter around the house with your music on, time to let your brain chill.

And something that can be done in twenty-one days can, I very much believe, be done in nineteen.

Like I said, it’s a mind game. And I know that there are times when the game is not possible–when the workload is too big and the timeline is too short.

But if you get a chance, give the game a try. Remember, you’re the one making the rules.

How do you handle deadlines, official or otherwise? What tricks do you play on your brain to make it happen?


  1. free2cr8 says:

    I work well under pressure like when I have to turn in an assignment within a few days. It’s the longer term assignment that gets me – the one that seems so faraway, months really. That’s when the Rewardathon Box really helps. To make sure I’m on track and diligent in my work, I create my own deadlines even when there aren’t any.

    I am working on my first novel and without having my own schedule it would be hard for me to get through it without a timeline. A big part of it is being realistic and taking into consideration everything else I have going on in my life. And that means I also set time for breaks, holiday fun, family, and other writing tasks (i.e. querying, writing workshops).

    My goal is to bring in the New Year with a completed first draft. I’m using First Draft in 30 Days to keep me on track. And so far I am.


  2. I definitely work best under the pressure of others.. not me. I can lie to my self, make excuses, with scary ease!!!


  3. I once figured out that–although we say “a year of school,” those darlings are only really gone for 37 weeks. So, yes, I’m a planner too. Unfortunately, I find that I always think I’ll get more done than I do. I had planned to be done with my second book by the end of the year. I’m only a third of the way through. I guess something could be said for aiming high. But I’d like to learn to reach…someday.


  4. beckylevine says:

    Free2cr8, Yes–the long deadlines are the ones that get me. They both frighten me & don’t quite motivate me enough. That’s why the smaller deadlines, seem to work for me. Plus the rewards! Today has been a great, relaxing day.


  5. beckylevine says:

    Gottawrite Girl. Other people’s deadlines, even the ones that are VERY real, I guess seem random to me–and often, like free2cr8 says, too far away. I do better setting little chunks of doable work for myself.

    Although, if someone were to pop up and give me a deadline for my fiction, I’d welcome THAT problem with open arms! 🙂


  6. beckylevine says:

    Jana, it is good to reach high. Life does get in the way. Don’t forget, you HAVE a book (a really good book!) published–so you have reached. And you’ll do it again.


  7. Sonya says:

    This is a good post. I’ve certainly gained some excellent advice on setting my own deadlines. I agree it is a mindgame! I hope to win this game. 🙂

    From a non-fiction writer,


  8. beckylevine says:

    Sonya–great! Yeah, let’s win this thing!


  9. Andra M. says:

    Working for an engineering firm, I face deadlines daily. Gotta have them. I also thrive on them. In fact, when a client approaches me with a project and says, “No hurry. You can get it to me whenever.”

    I say every time, “Nope. I need a deadline otherwise it’ll never get done. I don’t care if it’s in a week or a month, you need to give me a date.”

    They usually come up with one.

    I’m not a self-motivator (surprising for a writer?), so someone else needs to hold me accountable for my personal deadlines. That person is usually my husband or a fellow writer.


  10. Carol says:

    Deadlines are necessary evils. I think they help provide structure. Meeting them gives us character. Of course we hate them.

    I find that if I’m not given a deadline, I create my own. It is a game we play with ourselves — part of our competitive nature.

    I also find that working under pressure is much more productive, and often times produces a better result.


  11. beckylevine says:

    That’s another good reason to have other writers around us, Andra. And supportive husbands! 🙂


  12. beckylevine says:

    Carol, Don’t we always hate things that give us character?! 🙂 I think I need more of that competitive streak–maybe I’ll try and pull it up out of me in 2009!


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