Deadlines & the Fiction Writer: How to turn Emotional Issues into Motivational Tools

I need deadlines. Without them I will wander around aimlessly, accomplishing nothing, thinking about what to have for lunch. I will call my sister. I will read a book. I will spend whole days looking at pretty pictures on pinterest (Click here) to see my boards but don’t blame me if you get sucked in over there and fail to accomplish another thing all day. But if I know someone is counting on me to be finished by such and such a time, I will be finished. Come hell, high water, or a plague rat where the mouse should be. No exceptions, no excuses. I’ll be done.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams

Traditionally self imposed deadlines haven’t been nearly as effective for me. That’s probably because without the (nearly paralyzing) fear of disappointing someone hanging over my head, I don’t feel as much pressure to perform. (Readers, these are my staggering emotional problems. Staggering emotional problems, these are my readers. There. Now we all know each other.). But as I’m working on book 2 of the Princess of Twilight and Dawn series,  (Click here for a sneak peak at Chapter 1) of Tab Bennett and the Underneath) I find myself sticking to my schedule, meeting my writing goals (665 words a night), and getting shit done even though there’s no one standing behind me, looking at me with sad puppy eyes and saying things like “I’m not mad; I’m just disappointed.” Do you want to know why? Because of the readers. Because they’re out there in the world waiting to find out what happens to Tab next and because only I can tell them. And I really don’t want to let them – you – down.

“But what about me?” you ask. “Unlike you Jes, I’m well-adjusted and I refuse to be manipulated by guilt. What tools can I use to help me meet my deadlines?” I’m so very glad you asked. When the psychological scars of your childhood won’t get the job done, meeting deadlines comes down to four important rules:

1. Be aware of the deadline: It will sneak up on you if it can. Mark it on the calendar. Circle it. Write it on the ceiling above your bed. Make acknowledging its approach an inescapable part of your day. Whatever you do, don’t lose sight of it.

2. Celebrate small successes: I like to break a project up into pieces so I have lots of little goals to meet. Lots of little goals to meet mean lots of chances to celebrate how competent and trustworthy I am when I actually meet them. (As an aside, there’s a potty training method that works on basically the same principal. It involves letting your child eat lots of pretzels and chips while drinking coke and hanging around the house without wearing any pants. Like toddlers, writers love to do well and be patted on the back for it. Coincidentally, they will also work for salty foods.)

3. Prepare for the other thing: Build a cushion into your schedule. That’s right; I’m telling you to plan for failure. Look, things come up. Life comes up. Sometimes you just can’t get to it. It’s not the end of the world if you’ve planned for it. That’s why I have a cushion. To catch my lazy butt when I fall.

4. No Sleep til Brooklyn: In this case, Brooklyn is your deadline and the one getting the no sleep is you. Stay up late. Get up early. Finish when you said you would.

But what about you? Do you work best with a deadline or do you prefer a more open ended schedule? Do you find those countdown clocks to be an awesome motivator or a terrifying reminder that time is shooting by you at the speed of light. Were you a Beastie Boys fan or was Vanilla Ice more your speed? Tell me all about it in the comments. Maybe we can help each other out.

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