I used to think there were two types of writers: those who could meet their self-imposed deadlines and then me, who’s reach always seemed to exceed my grasp.
It’s not that I’ve never had any discipline with my writing (I did graduate with a B.A in creative writing which, surprise, surprise, requires no small amount of meeting deadlines), but when it comes to setting my own deadlines, I’m typically about as successful as a two-legged chair.
For me, the fun is in the planning. I love writing down what I’m going to do, making lists, envisioning the end reward. But when it comes to carrying everything out… my deadline gradually is pushed further and further into the future, or merely fizzles out as I become overwhelmed by the task I set for myself.
I’m not alone, am I?
Over time, I’ve discovered that it wasn’t laziness, apathy or some personal deficiency that made it so hard to meet my deadlines, but a lack of support, accountability and clear direction. When it comes to meeting your deadlines, your approach is key.
And with all of that said, I thought I’d share a few of my tips and tricks for how I managed to actually meet my big 2015 goal of finishing my novel by the end of the year. I hope this proves useful to some of you (I’m looking at you my fellow overreaching New Years Resolutioners). If you really desperately don’t want to give up on your goals, but are feeling rather directionless when it comes to actually getting started, then hopefully some of this will help you.
1. Always on My Mind.
When I was writing my novel, I opened the document on my computer and NEVER closed the tab, except for when I needed to do routine backups or shut down and restart my computer. The doc was always there, on my screen, glaring at me until I would add at least a few words to it. None of the weak excuses I’d used in the past (such as my computer takes too long to open the doc…) were valid because I never closed it. Even if there was a day when I didn’t write, the option to do so was always there, waiting for me when I opened my laptop.
I became a big fan of post-it notes that I’d scatter around my house always with the command to write. It was a constant to-d0. I’d also sometimes write my deadline down, circle it in red and then put it in various places around my house to remind me, which proved to be either foreboding or inspiring depending on the day. But hey, whatever works.
Doing this erased the tendency I have to “forget” about my goals and their deadlines in lieu of the everyday things. If you haven’t already, I suggest doing this or something similar. I believe that the more you’re reminded of your goals and deadlines, the less you’ll be able to push them aside until it becomes convenient to remember them again.
2. Talk about it, talk about it, talk about, talk about it.
Tell everyone you know about it.
Family. Friends. Co-workers. The internet. The guy you see at the bus stop every morning. Seriously. Let EVERYONE know about whatever writing project you’re working on and either have them routinely ask you about it or routinely update them with your progress (you know, assuming they’re receptive). Just going up to someone and saying “I’m going to write a novel by the end of this year,” is sure to prompt some kind of response. Not everyone will have a favorable response. But that comes with the territory.
There’s being accountable to yourself, which can work if you have a lot of discipline. And then there’s being accountable to others which seems to work better if you don’t have a lot of discipline. Trust me, once you find someone who is as invested in your work as you are (my someone happens to be my boyfriend who was able to handle my many nights of writerly woes like a champ), then you’ll find it that much more enjoyable to do you work and actually stick to your deadline.
3. You’re Not A Lonely Island
You probably can’t do this alone. I mean, you can if you want to, but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. Sure, writing is a solitary event, but that doesn’t mean every part of it has to be.
So join writing events. There’s a very specific event I’m talking about when I say you need to join events of this type, and if you haven’t guessed what this event is by now it’s likely because you’ve never participated in it and if you haven’t participated in it then I am telling you right now. You NEED to sign up.
I’m talking about NanoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated).
Of the 160,000 words I wrote for my novel, about 130,000 of those words were written during NanoWrimo. So yes, I will definitely swear by NanoWrimo.
It’s great, it’s free, and it happens 3 times a year (I’m counting the CampNanos typically in the spring/summer as well here). The forums are open all year round and you can browse them for advice, resources, plot trouble, ideas, prompts, industry updates, finding writing buddies and much, much more. I firmly believe that if you are looking to meet a writing deadline, particularly for a novel, you should 100% give NanoWrimo a try. It can be hard to pick up motivation when it seems like you’re the only one working… but when you look around and see hundreds and thousands of other writings working toward the same goal you are and with a set deadline… that’s going to make you want to move.
4. What’s the Plan, Stan?
If there’s anyone who knows how hard it can be to find time to write, it’s me. I have an insane schedule that changes weekly and so for me, it’s important that I constantly pay attention to what times I will actually have to write. Sometimes it’s in the morning, sometimes it’s the afternoon and sometimes it’s the evening when I can barely keep my eyes open from exhaustion. I have to be sure to anticipate when there’s a day that might leave me a little more exhausted than another, and figure out what days I’ll need rest, and what days I might be able to do a little more than others. I can’t depend on only writing when I feel inspired. That just doesn’t fit into the schedule.
Whether you have a more routine job that allows you to make a more consistent writing schedule or a job as random as mine is, I firmly believe that you need to make the choice to fit writing into what time you have as opposed to the easy move of brushing it aside when you think you’ll have more time (sadly, that day rarely ever comes when you think it will, and when it does, you’ll probably choose sleep instead…not that I’d know anything about that 😉 ) Which leads me to my next point…
5. Get Organized
Buy a planner. Buy a calendar. Litter your house with post-it notes. Make a countdown to the deadline sheet. Buy a journal. Whatever you choose to do just make sure you have a tangible way to plan ahead and hold yourself accountable. This relates back to my first point — if your goal and the deadline is visible to you, it will rise to the top of your important things and you will begin to make time to meet that deadline.
And don’t just organize your time around when you’re going to write but around what you’re going to write, and at what point you aim to be at a specific place in your story. In other words, set mini-goals along the way. I think it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have your entire story looming before you, but if you look at it in chunks, set monthly, weekly or even daily goals, it certainly helps to make things appear more attainable.
When I was writing my novel, I made sure to center my big writing goals around both CampNanoWrimo months and NanoWrimo, as I knew those were the months I was most likely to actually meet my deadlines. The other months I would give myself smaller goals (10,000 words a month here, 5,000 there) and then other months would be dedicated to outlining, worldbuilding or fleshing out my characters.
This isn’t to say you have to plan out every aspect of your writing journey or the story for that matter. I know there are plenty of writers like me who prefer some amount of discovery writing, but that’s no excuse not to set at the very least, word goals. Believe me, come your final month or so of writing when you’re deadline is nearly screaming in your face, you’ll be happy that the amount you have left to write is actually a reasonable one.
6. Try, try, try
I often emphasize this in any post I make about writing because I struggle with it a TON and I know I can’t be the only writer that does. You may not get it all figured out right away. As a matter of fact, you may not get any of this figured out right away. But that’s okay. You’re not perfect and no amount of planning will make you perfect.
It took me three years of tries before I finally figured out what I had to do to get through my novel. I’m just happy that I did it. Would I have been better off had I been able to stick to my deadlines earlier on and finish a novel the first year I planned to? Maybe. But I learned a lot of what not to do in those initial years (namely, say I was going to write a novel and then never open a document or do any novel writing whatsoever), and I don’t think I’d have ended writing Breaking the Curse if I’d written a novel in the earlier years, which makes me sad cause I fuckin’ love that story.
And yet this year, my writing plan is going… the opposite of how last year went ‘^^
But anyway, if nothing else, just remember this:
Putting too much pressure on yourself too soon can cause you to give up too early.
So please don’t do that. Figure out your approach, take it little by little. And you’ll get there eventually. I promise.
But before we end on too happy a note, there is one more thing.
7. Excuse Me
You have to really commit. I can give you all the advice in the world but if you don’t actually commit to doing this, you’re not going to do it. As simple as that.
Passion helps. Working on a project you feel passionate about, something that almost seems like an extension of yourself will help drive you on. You’ll know when it’s there. When I wrote Breaking the Curse, I felt differently about it than I had about anything else I’d ever written. I felt like I could see the end. There were many times when I actually ENJOYED what I was writing, laughed at my own jokes (sigh), and generally felt like I didn’t want someone to come along and stick a pin in my head to end my pain. This is what pushed me on.
So be understanding of your mistakes but don’t let your excuses deter you. Because really, the main thing keeping you from reaching your deadline is the excuse you make not to do it.
Anyway, I know this stuff works because I got a pretty novel out of it. And I’m sure it can work for you too (although I am not saying my method is the only way by any means). As usual, feel free to let me know if you have any additional tips for how to meet deadlines. Otherwise, happy writing!