“The deadline is your friend.” When a scrap of paper with this sentence scrawled on it turned up in my office, I flipped it over. On the other side, I’d scrawled a quote from William Goldman: “The easiest thing on earth to do is not to write.” In my mind, these two thoughts are connected and I saw this as a message from the universe. This scrap of paper – and believe me, I have a lot of them scattered around! – prompted me to think about deadlines and their value.
In my days as a full-time worker, I was subject to many deadlines. I was in marketing and had projects that needed to be completed on time and on budget. Later, when I began freelancing and built a thriving home-based business, deadlines were even more important to my livelihood. And that was fine with me – in fact, I enjoyed and valued them. I know many people hate deadlines – they find them restricting and stress-producing. But I’ve never felt that way – I’ve generally seen them as a challenge and a mobilizing tool – a target to aim for.
In a world with a lot of confusion and projects that never get finished, deadlines helped me and kept me on track. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about working with a deadline that may be helpful, whether you’re targeting submission entries for publications or contests, or simply managing a writing project where you have to self-motivate:
Keep it reasonable: In my marketing job I’d sometimes be tossed a deadline that I knew was impossible to meet. When this happened, I took action to get it shifted. A deadline should push you and stretch you, but an impossible deadline just sets you up for failure. When you don’t meet it, it just erodes your confidence. So avoid setting deadlines for projects or submissions that really don’t make sense – it’s a losing proposition, a waste of time and energy.
See it as a mobilizing tool: As writers, when it comes to motivating ourselves, we need all the help we can get! Most of the time, there’s no one looking over our shoulders and goosing us on. This is why it really helps to see a deadline as a friend, not an enemy. In my job, I found that having a target to aim at energized me. It forced me to focus and gather myself, to make a plan and stick to it, to marshal the resources and help I needed. It’s the same for me today.
See it as sacred: I built a very successful freelancing career by meeting deadlines. I gained a reputation for always, always delivering on commitments I made to clients. They knew they could count on me – I wasn’t some “flaky writer,” I was a professional. This was a source of pride and purpose for me. Come hell or high water, I would meet my deadlines. I’ve used this same approach in my creative writing, only now, I make the commitment to myself – not to clients. I think this attitude is essential to making deadlines work for you. If there is a lot of slippage, you defeat the whole purpose. So don’t commit unless you’re committed. Otherwise, you’re just cheating yourself.
Reward yourself for a job well-done: When you meet a deadline, self-imposed or submission-based, treat yourself! Give yourself a pat on the back, order a new book, make yourself a nice lunch. Do something to mark the moment – to show yourself that you appreciate your effort.
I just met my deadline! I set my cell-phone timer while writing this post and beat the clock by 54 seconds! Yay! Time for a social-distancing nature walk! Are there any techniques for meeting deadlines you find helpful? I’d love to hear about them as we all write on!
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