Strategies for keeping deadlines

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked about dealing with those pesky internal critical voices, and making deadlines for yourself when you don’t have any external deadlines. Today, I’m going to talk about some strategies on how to meet those deadlines.

We all know how it goes. You’ve got a looming deadline yet there are so many other things that you find yourself doing. The toilet suddenly needs a scrub with a toothbrush, the kettle could do with a polish, that nap that you’ve promised yourself for the last year needs to be taken right now. The problem is not that you are scrubbing your toilet with a toothbrush (although, I must confess that I have not yet stooped to that), it is that you are avoiding doing what you have promised yourself you will do.

The difficulty lies in the fact that it seems easier to meet other people’s deadlines or commitments you have made to other people than it is to meet your own deadlines.

So how can you meet your own deadlines, when no one is going to yell at you because you haven’t done it?

It all comes down to thinking about what works best for you; that is, what kind of person you are, and what you best respond to. Are you a list person? Are you a person who needs to stand by something once it has been said out loud? Are you a person who loves to crunch the numbers on things? Are you a person who loves to get rewards once they have completed something? You may well be a mix of all this, and then a number of strategies will work for you.

Give me a list, and I’ll get it done

list-147904_1280If this is you, then the hardest thing for you is trying not to put everything on your list (i.e. 1. Finish manuscript. 2. Send manuscript. 3. Get published) as it can seem unachievable. The best help you can give yourself is to break down what you need to get done, and look at a) what is realistic, and b) when you want to get the overall thing done.

Grab yourself a notebook or your diary and start with a list of things you need to get done in the next month to complete your manuscript. Do you need to do some more reading? How many words can you write over the next month? If you are on the redrafting stage, how far through would you like to be by the end of the month?

Now think about the next week with these things in mind. What is realistic while helping you to get to your month’s goal? Write these down for the week.

Start each day either creating your list for the day on what you are going to do to help you reach your deadline and then at the end of the day, tick them off.

At the end of the week, and then the end of the month, tick off what you have done to work towards your deadline.

Check. Done.

Once I’ve said it out loud, I have to do it or I’ll be too embarrassed

whisper-voice-clipart-1This is easy if you are good at verbalising what you need to get done, and then feel compelled to complete it lest someone asks you. The problem can be that you know this is your modus operandi, so you keep your plans quiet.

Find a buddy. Find someone that is happy to hear from you at least once a week, and will hold you accountable for what you have committed to. This often works best when it is a two-way street. Offer to be their person too. It may be best for it to be someone who understands the creative process, but isn’t essential.

Agree to what you will share each week, and when. A good base is: what I’m planning to do this week, how I did with my goals last week, what was getting in my way last week, and what I’ll put in place to try to meet my goals this week.

It should be an encouraging interaction rather than one where you feel guilty. If you are anything like me, you start the week with great intentions, only to fall too often on the speed bumps that life throws your way. That should be okay with your buddy. If not, find another.

If you can’t find a buddy, or don’t want to, and are feeling brave, you could also throw it out to the world. Say it aloud on social media and then check in at the end of the week. Tell your partner or work colleague. It doesn’t really matter who.

Numbers are my thing; I love to watch them change

pay-1036469_1920.jpgIf numbers are your thing, and you loved my last post, then I recommend that you do a few things as you will feel well chuffed as you see the numbers change. There are so many numbers that you can focus on to complete the work: minutes spent working, words written, words deleted, days worked, days to deadline, etc.

Choose the numbers that will help you to get to thermometer-151236_1280your deadline. Now think about how you want to watch these numbers change. Will a wall chart help? If so, create one that enables you to cross numbers off, or add them in. Maybe you could draw up a target thermometer and colour it in each day. This works well for visual people.

Perhaps you could use Excel to add your numbers after each writing session to see how those numbers are adding up. Microsoft Word also has some great statistics built in for those who love this (look under the File Properties and you will see Statistics).

Toggl is a great tool for measuring time spent. You can use it for free.

Put the carrot on the end of the stick, and I will follow

desktop-1985856_1920Rewards. Who doesn’t love them? The problem can be that left on your own, you might ‘accidentally’ reward yourself before you’re done. Set your milestones, and plan out some ace rewards that you will be thrilled with.

Your rewards could be anything: a massage, a magazine, a lie in the sun, a book, a read of a book, a block of chocolate, a sesh at the gym. Anything that you know will drive you to get your work done. I know folks who aren’t allowed to do anything else until they have done their three hours/500 words/scene/etc. When that it is done, whammo, off to enjoy their days.

Then make sure you give them to yourself when you are done.


And me? I use a mix of the lot. On the days I work at an office, I pop into a cafe and write without interruption for a half hour. I tick it off my list, which I do daily. I crunch numbers. I love them. I fill out my visual goals in my diary. I reward myself when I am done with a milestone. The best thing for me, however, has been finding an accountability buddy. I feel the pressure to work through what I have committed to, even if she is not that tough on me.

How do you tackle your deadlines?

This post is the last in a series about deadlines and shutting out the inner critic. If you enjoyed the posts and found them useful, please consider passing them on to others. I’d also love to hear your thoughts about these posts, or other blockers you have with your writing. 

Making deadlines

Are you good at getting things completed when you don’t have a deadline? Not many people are. If you are working as a freelancer, working on your own projects, or working on a manuscript, you might be familiar with how long these things can sometimes take. It’s always easier when someone else tells you when you need to get the work back to them. I find that if I don’t make a deadline, create lists to get things done, then I can take forever. Give me a deadline, and I’m all over it.

I have loads of friends who are writers; many have complete (and published) manuscripts, and many don’t. There are always things that get in the way of writing—you don’t need me to tell you that. I can procrastinate as well as the next person—but if you really want to finish it, you need to set your own deadlines to make that happen. There is always half an hour in a day that you can find, and sometimes it is just that half hour each day that makes all the difference.

I was thinking about this when chatting with a friend not so long ago who is trying to complete the first draft of his manuscript—with no deadline. He’s ‘onto it’, but the days, weeks, months pass by with few words actually being written. I didn’t bother talking to him about creating to-do lists as he is getting a lot done, just not the manuscript. Instead, I talked to him about making his own deadline for the first draft.

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Making deadlines

This sounds like a no-brainer, but each time I’ve spoken to people about this, it is as though a light has been switched on. If you don’t have a deadline to work to, it can stop you from actually finishing anything. When you have a deadline, and suddenly there is something to work to. But often with writing, you are your own boss with a timeline that stretches out indefinitely—especially with large projects that are not commissioned, or under contract.

I’m going to get a little mathematical here, but please stay with me (I now forgive my  Year 8 Maths teacher Mr Chau for insisting on teaching me algebra even though I couldn’t understand why I would ever need it in ‘real life’, and apologise to him for being such a painful student.).


Step 1: Set a date

Give yourself a date for when you would like to have this first draft finished. Sometimes it can be helpful to have an arbitrary date like Christmas or the end of a month. Be realistic. It takes time to write, and everyone writes at a different speed. Taking advantage of events like NaNoWriMo can be great as the communal writing can encourage you to keep up to your commitment. Maybe you can book some time in that is dedicated to writing.


Step 2: Words per week

Work out how many words you need for the whole manuscript (use the general word count for manuscripts as a guide: 80-100 thousand for general fiction, 60-75k for young adult, etc.). Now work out how many weeks there are between now and that date (let’s call it ‘A’), and how many words there are (let’s call it ‘B’).  The number of words you need to write in a week (let’s call this ‘C’) is B divided by A.

B (words left to write) ÷ A (weeks till deadline) = C (words per week)

An example of this is: Bill wants to finish his manuscript by the end of January, which is 15 weeks away (A). He has written 42,000 words, and is writing a general fiction, so still needs to write 58,000 words (B) if he wants to get to 100,000 words:

58,000 words ÷ 15 weeks = 3867 words per week


Step 3: Words per session

Now break this down to how many days a week you can write (D) to see how many words you need to write on each of your writing days.

C (words per week) ÷ D (days you write in a week) = E (words you need to write each day)

Back to that example above, Bill can commit to six writing sessions a week, so: 

3867 ÷ 6 writing days in a week = 645 words per writing session. 


When I went through this with my friend, he said that he can easily write 500 words in a half hour session. I suggested that he think about how often he could write in a week, as if he did this seven days a week (it is only half an hour a day), then he could smash out a massive 3500 words a week, and in a fortnight he’d have 7000 words, and then in four weeks, he’d have 14,000 words (etc.). Light bulb moment!


How do you push yourself to finish your first draft of your manuscript? Do you make your own deadlines? How to you then make it happen?

Thanks for popping by and reading this post. Did you have a look at how to deal with that inner critic? Pop by next week, when I’ll talk about strategies on meeting your deadline

Dealing with critical voices

One thing I love to do is to catch up with other writers and chat with them about their process, any hurdles and how they see their way forward. Recently I caught up with a friend who has taken on a mammoth job of writing his memoir. It’s a tough task as there can be loads of emotional baggage in there, as well as the invisible but powerful critical voice.

He’d just returned from a trip away to a place of major significance for his story and I wanted to know where he was up to. During our chat, I could see there were two huge things standing out: a strong internalised critical voice hanging over him, and a lack of deadlines. It was great to be able to pass on tips that I have picked up from other wonderful writers and I could see him visibly sit up taller and feel more confident with the task ahead.

Critical voices

We all have them. They lurk in the shadows waiting for our most vulnerable moment, then they sneak up behind us and whisper something like, Are you sure you want to say that? Is that the best thing to write? Are you qualified to write this? Then the real kicker, Why are you writing this? 

Ouch. It hurts every time, and it can stop you from creating something beautiful. Rationally you know that these comments may or may not actually be said, but it is like an old sound bite that is stuck in your head, and it can be very strong—and not useful when in the middle of creative work. Sometimes it means that you pare back your writing to be something with less feeling, less colour, less life. Other times it can completely paralyse your writing.

So how can you deal with this pesky and paralysing voice?

Write-like-nobody-is (1)The best advice I have been given, and now give to others, is to write as though no one is ever going to read your work. This sounds easy, but can be hard to put in practice.

One way of doing this is to ask the critical voice to leave the room, that they are welcome when you are at the editing stage. I know a writer who has given the negative and encouraging voices names, let’s say Tom (negative) and Nina (positive). When Tom is yapping away being critical when she is trying to write, she tells Tom to leave and then she only has Nina to encourage her.

Another is to think about that famous quote (that I have no idea where it originated) of ‘Dance like nobody is watching’ and change it to ‘Write like nobody is reading’. Free yourself up to write whatever it is that you need to. Turn your editing voice off, turn the critical voice off, and allow your praising voice to encourage you. This is particularly important with first draft words. Those critical editing voices are very useful when you are at the next stage. Invite them back in once that first draft is done.

How do you deal with that pesky critical voice? Do you make the most of it when you need to? I’d love to hear from you about what techniques you use.

Thanks for popping by and reading this post. Pop by next week, when I’ll explain how to deal with deadlines when you don’t have any, then some strategies so you can meet those deadlines.