Writers & Productivity: The 7 Deadly Do’s & Don’ts of Deadlines

Deadline headerA little over a year ago I wrote a post called How To Stay Motivated Without Deadlines or Money. In it are seven productivity tips (which I still follow today), but of course not one of them is set my own deadlines.” Why? I explained:

…this is my first time writing a novel and I don’t know how long it will or should take me to complete everything. Setting unrealistic deadlines wouldn’t be helpful. Instead, I write a certain number of hours each and every week, and track my progress. That way I get an idea of how long things take, and maybe for the next novel I’ll set deadlines.

So how’d that work out for me? Well, if you read my last post you’ll know that the “certain number of hours” each week was grossly overestimated due to my Internet addiction. Now that I have FREEDOM on my laptop, those hours are devoted to writing only, no surfing allowed. That aside, did I accomplish anything last year?

At first glance, the answer would be “no” because I did not finish a novel. But look again and it’s clear that I did achieve what I set out to do:

  • I wrote a lot.
  • I now have an idea of how long it takes me to complete various writing stages.
  • I’m ready to set deadlines.

The word “ready” is important, and hopefully the following list articulates why…

The 7 Deadly Do’s and Don’ts of Deadlines

1) Don’t set uninformed deadlines.

We hear a lot about “unrealistic” deadlines, ones that don’t leave enough time to finish the project, or don’t take into consideration revisions, or are overwhelmingly big instead of manageably small. But I think the root of unrealistic deadlines is that they are uninformed. If you’ve never written a novel, you don’t know how long it will take, and at this stage setting deadlines you probably won’t achieve will just kill your willpower. So on that note…

2) Do take the time to learn what works for you.

Record every minute you spend writing and what exactly you wrote (a story premise, five scenes of an outline, ten pages, whatever), and after a while you’ll get a feel for how long everything takes. You can also look for ways to be more efficient and adjust accordingly.

3) Don’t copy your friends.

Everybody’s different. Just because your friend wrote a book in a weekend, doesn’t mean you should. Don’t kill yourself trying to mimic her! Familiarize yourself with how you write – speed, stages, breaks – and create deadlines that fit your style. 

4) Do push yourself.

The magic of deadlines is they often make us work faster. So if it usually takes you two weeks to flush out a basic beat sheet of your story, set your deadline for a week and a half. Leave yourself a couple days of wiggle room just in case you don’t make the expedited deadline, but go for it anyway. If you make it you can reward yourself with a day off or use the extra time to work on a fun side project.

5) Don’t dwell on missed deadlines.

This will happen. Maybe you got stuck on a scene that just wasn’t working, or you got sick, or your laptop died. No use in beating yourself up over it. Slay that demon, adjust your deadline calendar and move on.

6) Do make yourself accountable to someone else.

Self-appointed deadlines are the hardest to keep, so make arrangements to send stuff to trusted critique partners and stick to it, even if you didn’t finish. Getting in the habit of delivering something is an invaluable skill to have.

7) Don’t set deadlines if they don’t help you write.

Finally, I know deadlines are supposed to be the holy grail of getting sh*t done, but if they make you anxious or stressed or inhibit your process, scrap ‘em! 

There you have it. Deadlines. I’m ready.

Are deadlines important to your writing process? What do’s and don’ts do you follow?


Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

6 thoughts on “Writers & Productivity: The 7 Deadly Do’s & Don’ts of Deadlines”

      1. Yay. I am counting nine blogs other than the three I am involved with in the first 150. Luther got in at 142 and the Somber Scribbler, who you might have seen around the coffee share, is also there. That’s very sweet. Enough to make all that blogging and sharing worth it. (And now I will return you to your regular programming!)

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