Monday, April 9, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Deadlines

October 31st is an extra special day for me. It’s not because it’s Halloween, though that is an awesome holiday. It’s because I’ve looked over the revisions I need to make to Sacred Fire, and I’ve decided to try and get it agent-ready by November so I can do Nano. This will be the third year in a row I query agents on October 31st.

What an awful tradition.

October 31st is an eternity away so it might seem silly to say, “I shall be done on this exact day.” But I need deadlines, and I need incentives for keeping those deadlines.

I wasn’t always this way. In fact, there were times in my life when a deadline was the worst possible thing for me. Having been on both sides of the spectrum, I’ve learned some of the pros and cons of having deadlines. Without further ado...


Pressure: Nothing kills creativity like guilt. I’ve tried putting pressure on myself to get work done, and it only fills me with dread. Using pressure and guilt makes me produce less than if I only work when I feel like it.

Meaninglessness: Let’s say you miss your deadline. Who cares? A deadline is supposed to help you kick things in gear, but if you just pick a random date and have no incentive for meeting that date, it won't change a thing.

Rushing: Writing novels takes a loooooong time. If you focus too much on getting things done instead of getting things right, you might not improve your novel as much as you need to.

Difficulty planning ahead: Sometimes it’s impossible to know how much work a novel needs and how long it’ll take you to complete that work. I made the decision to revise my book in January, but I did not make a deadline until now because it took me two months to figure out what all needs to be changed. I only know how long it'll take me this time around because I've revised my book before; when I did my first revision, there's no way I could have picked a deadline.

Skipping thinking time: I’m learning more and more the value of giving yourself time to think. I hate putting my book away for months at a time, but every time I do, I come back to the book with a fresh perspective. Occasionally you’ll need time to let your novel simmer, and you can’t put a deadline on that.


Structure: The best way to make your deadline affective is to break down what you need to do into sizable chunks and set goals for finishing each one. When you do this, you won’t sit at the computer thinking, “What should I do today?” because you’ve already planned out what you’ll work on this week. This will help you from feeling overwhelmed.

Direction: When you plan out the changes you’re going to make, you can take a step back and look at everything you plan on doing. You can picture what your novel will look like once it’s done. This helps you keep track of everything, and it helps you focus on what needs to be done.

Habits: To meet a deadline, you need to not only plan out what you’re going to do; you also plan out the time you’re going to spend on it. You might decide the only way to meet your goal is to write an hour every day, every other day, or every week. You can’t just say, “I don’t feel like writing today” because then you know it’ll put you behind and make you sad. It’s a great way to build a habit.

Results: When you effectively work towards a deadline, the work actually gets done!

Satisfaction: Meeting a deadline feels amazing. I can’t tell you how awesome it felt last year when I publically announced I would finish my revision on October 31st, and I did!


Here’s what you can take away from all of this:

Incentives are important. Maybe you could plan on swapping books with your beta reader on a certain day, finish before a writing conference, finish before Nano, or tell your deadline to your blog followers so that not meeting your goal brings you public shame. Whatever works for you.

Make a plan. You can’t set a deadline without knowing what changes you need to make, approximately how long it will take you to make them, and how much time your schedule will allow. If you try to set a deadline without a plan, you might as well just pick a random date out of a hat.

One last thing: remember, the quality of the book is more important than the deadline.


  1. I'm rubbish at self-imposing deadlines - I just don't take any notice. With other deadlines, I'm much more on the ball. I like the incentive idea for making them more real.

  2. When I was a painter I would start a picture, run out of steam and toss the canvas in a closet. The unfinished paintings started to stack up. Then I became an illustrator, which meant pictures needed to be completed on time. No point delivering one after the magazine went to press. I discovered that I loved deadlines. In fifteen years of producing hundreds of illustrations, I never missed a deadline once.

  3. I love a good deadline. Sometimes it's the only way to make me finish...or at least come close to it. But how right your are about incentives. Self-imposed deadlines mean nothing unless there's either an incentive or a consequence! Another great post, Teralyn. :)

  4. Goals are the best thing you can have as a writer (I'll also throw perseverance in there as well: )). Best of luck with getting to the end!

  5. I love deadlines for myself! They really help keep me motivated. These are good points about the pluses and minuses of deadlines, though.


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