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.