Deadlines…love ‘em or hate ‘em, we all live by them. From my earliest days of writing a “Teen Talk” column in my hometown newspaper when I was fourteen years old, putting words on paper always had a due date. I didn’t grow up writing long, tortured Dear Diary entries, which I lamented over for hours on end. My terms papers were typically written the night before they were due—effective, but not something I’d recommend.
I find I still work best under a deadline, sometimes external deadlines, sometimes self-imposed ones. Many of my clients and students are writing their stories for events such as family reunions, anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas gifts and so forth. This past Friday, my client, Marcie Little of Franklin, Louisiana, received her book, Truly Blessed¸ on her ninetieth birthday in time for a family celebration.
With writing, I’m all about taking something large and breaking it into bite-sized pieces, hence the title, Eating an Elephant: Write Your Life One Bite at a Time. Stories and books are finished when we give ourselves reasonable deadlines and set goals to meet them.
One time, I received a call from a woman named Eunice who had been in a workshop I taught several years before. She re-introduced herself and told me, “I did what you said.”
With flashbacks of the many not-so-great things I’ve said to people flitting across my brain, I asked, “Oh yeah? What was that?”
“You told me to write for ten minutes every day,” she responded. “I did just that, and I want to invite you to my book launch next week.” Wow! I was amazed. She disciplined herself to write ten minutes every day, and she had a book to show for it.
Here are a few suggestions on how to make writing deadlines work for you:
- Make them reasonable – Don’t say I’m going to finish this book in a month when you haven’t yet written the first word. You might be able to do it, and if you can, by all means, go for it, but chances are, if you set an unreasonable goal, you’re going to fail. Missing deadlines repeatedly is a sure way to give up your project altogether.
Try this…for the next week, give yourself a goal. Just for one week, commit to writing a certain number of minutes or hours per day or for the week, or give yourself a word or page-count deadline. I am going to write 500 words every day. That’s two double-spaced pages. Instead, maybe you commit to five pages for the week. Make this week’s goal something you can easily accomplish. Don’t worry about next week right now. Just focus on what you can do in the next seven days.
- Seek out external deadlines – Commit to writing an article for your neighborhood or club newsletter, a community newspaper, someone’s blog, a genealogy group publication, a writing contest or any outlet you can think of that gives a due date for the story. My fingers tend to get moving faster when I can hear a ticking clock.
Try this…OakTara Publishers is looking for great love stories, and I bet you have one to write. The deadline for submission is June 15th. That gives both of us two weeks to pull a story together and make it ready for prime time. It needs to be 1200-1500 words. I’m going to work on the story of how my parents met and married. What are you going to write about? Post your idea in the comments section below.
- Share your goals – Make yourself accountable to someone who expects you to fulfill your commitment and reach your goal. This person doesn’t need to be Nurse Ratched, but a sweet, everything-is-wonderful Mary Poppins won’t work either. Ask for help from someone who loves you enough to know writing is important and deserves your time.
Try this…declare this week’s writing goal to the world and write your intent in the comment section below, and we’ll help each other.
- Make your goal a priority – On any given day, we have at least a thousand things that knock us off track and derail our good intentions. That’s life. I have someone who always asks me, “Is it important, or is it urgent?” I tend to make so many things in life urgent—answer that email, return that phone call, clean out the refrigerator, etc.—and what gets left behind are the truly important things, like writing.
Try this…look at your schedule, block out one time period this week and declare this sacred time. It doesn’t have to be a long, maybe ten or fifteen minutes. Go the bathroom, get something to drink, gather up your writing tools and so forth. Now, for this allotted time, write, without exception. Do not move from the page unless the house is on fire or blood is flooding, and even then, it must be a significant amount of blood.
- Keep track of your progress – This works for some people and others, not so much. I love scratching out items on my to-list. Likewise, it helps me to record the time I spent working on a particular project. I use log sheets that detail the story I’m working on, the date, my start/finish times, total hours and words/pages written.
Try this…use this Project Time Sheet to record your writing accomplishments this week.
So what are you doing still reading this article? Get busy writing. Let me know how you do this week. Good luck!