There is a mental shift that happens for us when we are on a deadline. It may be like running a race. You are in it for this moment, this road surface, these fellow runners, this day, this weather. But my comparison is about writing, creativity. We need bounds and limits, a kind of humility. A framework that reminds us to do what we can now. That is all we can ask of ourselves, but oh how we tempted when we have no deadline to ask more of ourselves than is possible. This may be love, a passion for growth, or a hobbling perfectionism. Here are some tips to set a deadline effectively:
Figure out how much time you can give to the project each day
Figure out in a general sense how much time you need to do what you are planning to do. Now give yourself just that much time and maybe a few days or a week of cushion, and then fix your deadline. You want to be working pretty fast, feeling the wind in your hair, the finish line looming, but you do not want to be falling behind from the very beginning.
Tell someone about your deadline and your goals
Commit yourself and this person that you must carry out. There should be no flexibility built into this arrangement. You are making a promise, to yourself, to your deadline and to working itself. If you do not take your effective deadline, the whole project will fail.
Keep the deadline in mind
Work steadily, do not hurry, do not rest. This requires discipline. Sometimes you will feel tired, worn out, spent. You will doubt that you are doing your best work. That doubt attacks us whenever we write. Here at least you can dismiss the thought. You are not trying to do your best work. You are trying to do what you can within the imposed limits of your deadline. Carry on.
Meeting your deadline and take action to let go of this draft
Turn in the work to a reader, email your deadline buddy a copy, post your accomplishment on Facebook. Now you will want to take a vacation–an afternoon’s hike or a week’s break or whatever makes sense for the scope of the project and the effort.
You did it! Also, you knew you would (at least you will come to know this after you do it for a while) and you did. The satisfaction in this cannot be overstated. You are a writer because you are writing. You are doing the work itself. And this, more than anything else, will remind you why you got into this business in the first place. You love having a story threading through your mind, the soundtrack of narrative accompanying your observations, the rhythms of setting, character, and stakes in your walk.
Space opens inward when you set a deadline, a capacity that would otherwise remain flat and guarded. Call it to focus. Call it discipline. Also, call it creativity at its very best.
Imagine a life without deadlines. We will allow ourselves to be lazy, which will lead to a late appointment and a dangerous decrease in performance. Make your own “deadlines” to finish the job that’s right for you and don’t make the mistakes here! Let set a deadline effectively!