Why Writers Need Deadlines (and How to Self-Impose)

Writers love to write, right? So you’d think we’d do it all the time on our own volition, but the truth of the matter is we get distracted by the latest computer/video game, that shiny new fantasy tv series, writing fanfiction instead of our normal projects, or by the fact that our two-year-old has managed to single-handedly destroy everything in the house. We do this because telling a viable story is hard, and we get bogged down in it and nothing gets done.

This is where deadlines come in. Sure, maybe there are people out there who, when presented with a new project, can sit down and work on it the same time every day until it is done. I am not one of those people. I wish I were, but I’m not. I suspect it’s because most writers are right-brained dominant, and organization is not something that goes along with that. (I took some right brain/left brain quizzes here, and one told me I was left-brained, one right-brained, and one exactly in the middle. I think this mostly goes to show that right brain/left brain quizzes on the internet are bunk.)

So this is where deadlines are useful. Knowing something has to be done by x date often provides the motivation to sit down and do it in small chunks (or, I guess if your procrastination is really bad, all at the end), especially if you provide some sort of reward/consequence system. You might be able to do both, but you might find you can only work with rewards or consequences. I can’t do rewards myself. If I get a chocolate bar to give to myself at the end of a day of writing, I will get maybe a third of the way done, eat the candy bar, and then go play computer games.

I find the biggest motivator can be other people. For example, I always try to have something new available when I go to my critique group. Everyone else always has a short piece to share, so I feel left out if I don’t bring something. You can promise a new chapter to a reader by a certain date, and I belong to a prompt group with limited membership, so if I don’t finish something by a certain time I get kicked out. I belong to an online writing group that cheerleaders you if you miss a stated deadline (don’t laugh, they’re terrifying). I admit these all focus on consequences, because that’s what works for me, but having a friend or reader to cheer you on and celebrate your successes helps as well.

And deadlines even help with writing challenges. Nanowrimo wouldn’t work quite so well if it were longer than a month. If you are the type to write daily, setting a “have the book done by” goal will help you know how much you need to do each day.

What do you think, Squiders? Do you find deadlines helpful? What reward/consequence/systems work for you?

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