Thursday, August 28, 2014

Deadlines: Writing Under Pressure

If you have any success in the writing business, especially along the lines of literary agent and book deal, then deadlines will become a certainty. Up until that point, most writers have had it pretty good. They wrote at their own pace, honed their craft, and eventually came up with a novel that someone thought would sell. Often, this process took years.

Once a writer is somewhat established, however, the luxury of free, no-pressure writing time disappears rapidly. There are revisions and copy edits. Deadlines for as-yet-unwritten books. Expectations of future books and/or book proposals. The pressure's on, baby!

Are Deadlines Good or Evil?

In many ways, a deadline can be a good thing. It forces you to buckle down and focus on writing, which usually means putting the kibosh on social media. Which, let's face it, a lot of us probably need to do. Deadlines also force us to prioritize tasks that we ordinarily refuse to prioritize. The most important writing activity becomes far more clear.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, has the benefit of a very clear deadline: November 30th, by which 50,000 words are due. When I first started participating more than 5 years ago, I learned an important lesson about writing deadlines: to meet them you literally have to drop everything. No hobbies, no social media, no social anything. No leisurely lunches. When you have to churn out 1,667 words every single day, something's gotta give.

Then again, deadlines also add to the stress and pull us forcibly away from some of the things we love best. They can also make writers look bad, if those deadlines aren't met.

How Do you Feel About it?

If you've read this far, you obviously have some feeling about deadlines and writing under pressure. You probably have some good ideas to share. So I'd like to ask you these two questions:

  1. Do you write better under pressure (with deadlines) or without? 
  2. When you are on a deadline, what strategies do you use to meet it?

Karlie: I don't work too well under a deadline. Just the knowledge of time running out, that looming due date creeping up on's enough to crush my creativity. 
When I am on a deadline, I like to write in small blocks - say twenty minutes at a time, with a small reward at the end. Like...check Twitter. Or eat chocolate. Or just kick back and relax for a few minutes. Then start the whole process all over again. It actually works pretty well for me!

Lisa: I don't fall apart or stare at deadlines like a deer in the headlights. They work for me. But I also do well without one. What I mean is, I'm disciplined enough (or passionate enough, depends on who you ask) about my projects that a deadline isn't necessary in order to keep me focused and writing. Sorry, Dan. Looks like I won't be offering anything enlightening this week...LOL, obviously I come up with profound things for the blog posts every week. JK.

Seriously, though, my stance on deadlines: I'm good with them and without them--whatever works for you. Probably my laid-back view on deadlines for my own work comes from my newspaper background where you have to be used daily, even hourly, cut-off times. Oh, wait. I actually do have a suggestion. Work or intern for a newspaper or magazine if deadlines freak you out. It's good experience for writing on the fly too.

Caitlin: I give myself deadlines, which I rarely stick to. :) However, if I didn't have the deadline of say, getting my book CP ready by May 1 ( a goal this year), it probably wouldn't have gone out to CPs later that month (which it did). Meaning, with no deadline I tend to wander, so even giving myself flexible deadlines is helpful.

I've actually found the hard set deadlines from an agent or editor to be easier to meet, not so much because I don't take my own deadlines seriously but because other people don't. Meaning, it's hard to say no to friends and family when what they want from you will hurt your personal deadlines, but it's a lot easier to say, "I wish I could meet up for happy hour but I owe my editor something and I have to work on it."

What I'm finding really difficult is just the general pressure that if you want to be a successful author you have to publish a lot. I'm amazed at these authors who publish a book every other month. (Some even publish every month!) I've given myself permission to realize I'm just never going to be that kind of writer, but that level of productivity does make me feel like I should at least be writing a book or two a year, which is definitely still a challenge for me.

1 comment:

  1. I also benefit greatly from the nanowrimo self-imposed deadline for longform writing. I am a self-published author on amazon, however, i have been more actively self-disciplining via blogging, 3-5 days a week. This keeps me writing and publishing almost every day. I do hope some day to have the literary agent and/or editor relationship to push me a little bit more towards the novelist i am already becoming. I look forward to the deadlines and the evolution in process! Very fulfilling! Deadlines do not scare me so long as I am loving the process itself. Thanks for your post.