Writing Deadline Payoffs

Stack of papersSince my first book was published, I’ve been working pretty consistently on writing one book (or more) with a deadline. Though working under deadlines can be uncomfortable, I’ve found that deadlines help me to better focus my creative energy. I see a writing project in terms of an average number of pages per day that I must produce. I see my calendar filled with due dates for lst draft, lst revision, and 2nd revision. Though some writers may bristle at having a fixed date for delivering a manuscript, I’ve found this kind of pressure helpful.

But what if you do not have an editor stating when your manuscript needs to reach her desk? If you’re an aspiring writer, you might consider setting goals for yourself—and treat them like a professional—meeting your deadlines on time. If you’re a student, whether in college or in an elementary classroom, you might start viewing your classroom writing assignments as practice for your writing career. Again, meet the deadlines, and do so with your best possible writing.

Deadlines can be long or short term. If you want to write an historical novel, you’ll need to factor in time for research and writing and set long-term deadlines. Perhaps you’ve committed yourself to writing two pages per day—a manageable short-term goal that leads to long-term results; after all, 2 pages per day adds up to 730 pages per year!

Your writing goals might be short term, such as the short 5-10 minute writing exercises that we do in my writer’s group. Though we bring longer works-in-progress for critique, we start our group time by limbering up with a writing exercise we call “free-writes.?

Free-writes are simple. Someone in the group picks a random phrase, noun, or whatever comes to mind. It can be anything from a single word, such as “lemons? to a cluster of a few words, such as, “horseshoe + feather.” Or it might be a phrase, “The day went from worse to awful.” The word or phrase is tossed out to the group, and then, without pre-thinking, everyone jumps in and begins to write, finding a way to use the chosen word or phrase in their writing. By writing quickly and without self-editing, the ideas more naturally spring up from the subconscious. With a sense of freedom, the writer’s task is to simply get the ideas down and respect what comes.

Of course, what’s written is not perfect. It’s rough. It’s tempting to say, “This is so bad, I can’t read this aloud.” In our group, we’ve made a rule: Don’t make excuses, just read it. Then we comment on each other’s pieces, especially when something in the writing grabs us. Sometimes we simply share a good laugh together. Some of the pieces are slices of life; others hint at the beginning of a short story or novel, and sometimes a poem, essay, or picture book text grow out of the free-writes.

Such writing exercises provide mini-deadlines—and deadlines, whether short-term or long-term, help us to get more writing done.

So what do you want to write? A collection of poetry? A novel? An essay? When will you have your first draft done? Set a date and get serious about how you’ll meet that deadline. And while you’re working on your long-term writing goals, consider doing short free-writes as a way of staying limber and regularly accessing your creative self. Producing under pressure is never comfortable, but unless we’re writing, we’ll never discover the myriad ideas waiting to be discovered.

Free-Write Exercise

1) Pick a random word or phrase.

2) Jump right in and start writing, somehow using the word or words.

3) Write for 5-10 minutes without editing.

4) Share what you’ve read, no excuses.

5) Respond to what you like in others’ writing.