If you dread deadlines for writers, you're not alone. And the more you publish, the greater the possibility that you acquire more deadlines than not.
Despite any fear of deadlines, you don't have to crack under their pressure. Even with all the planning, writing a first draft in six weeks is not easy. Life gets in the way, motivation ebbs and flows, and sometimes you simply can’t force yourself to write.
In this article, you'll learn three way steps you can take as you near your writing project deadlines, and how to overcome any resistance desperate to hold you back.
This article is an excerpt from my new book, The Write Fast System. Grab a copy and finish your book faster!
Get The Write Fast System – $2.99 »
How to Write A Draft in Six Weeks: What to Do When Nearing the End
When I write my first drafts, I set a timeframe of six weeks. It might sound impossible, but I've discovered that when I push myself to write faster, I'm far more likely to finish my manuscript—and write a better one.
Near the end of my allotted writing timeline, however, the pressure to finish my draft turns up. I enter my first day with my checklist and revision template. I'm ready to knock this first draft out by my deadline: six weeks— and, if I'm honest, writing a whole book in six weeks is hard.
So why aim for such a tight writing deadline?
The main reason is if you aim for the moon, you’ll land among the stars. There is a common saying in project management—the work will expand to fill the space allotted. Aim for six weeks, and you might finish in eight or ten. That is the power of deadlines. If you don’t set a deadline at all, there's far less motivation to find dedicated writing time, and who knows when that book will be done?
It’s easy to set something down and walk away when there's no deadline. Some writers abandon their books when they delay finishing them too long, even if they never allowed it to blossom to its full potential.
That's why deadlines for writers, dreaded they may be are so important. As you near them, you might not always be one track, and it's likely you feel a little discouraged.
Don’t worry, all you have to do is be prepared to adjust your plan and stay on track by taking three easy steps. When you do, you'll be far more likely to meet your writing deadlines—which is something to celebrate!
3 Easy Steps Writers Can Take to Meet Their Writing Deadlines
Whether you're writing a story collection, a book manuscript, or articles for a literary journal, a firm deadline is important. But meeting it is easier said than done.
If you are following someone else's time table, such as submission deadlines for story competitions or author events, there may not be much wiggle room —you have to finish or lose your opportunity.
But if you have some flexibility and are able to adjust your writing schedule, you need not sweat missing a deadline. Simply take the following steps:
1. Evaluate Your Progress
Take an honest look at where you are and figure out why you’re not able to meet your deadline. This is not a time to beat yourself up or lay blame. Focus on the reasons and ask productive questions:
- Did I not meet my daily word count? Perhaps the word count I set is too high for the time I have available.
- Did I run into a writing block? This shouldn’t happen often if you have a scene list to guide you, but it can still happen. If it does, maybe it’s time to go back to your scene list and see what isn’t working.
- Did something unexpected happen that interrupted my flow? It happens. You can’t predict life. Consider if something similar is likely to happen again in the near future and budget time for it.
- Did I lose interest in my book? Believe it or not, this happens all the time. Writing in a short time frame does not eliminate the unexpected absence of inspiration or the slog in the middle of the book. Don’t give up. Accept that this happened and move forward.
Asking these questions shifts your mentality from looking backwards to looking forward.
The reason you might feel discouraged after missing a deadline is because you look back and think about all the things you wish you'd done differently. You question your own competence and process of writing.
This is an unhelpful thing to do but difficult to avoid.
If you take the time to think through these questions, you will find it much easier to figure out what went wrong and carry it into the future in order to improve your process and meet the new goal.
Remember, not meeting your deadline does not mean you failed. It's not the end of the line, merely the start of the next phase.
2. Redo Your Timeline
Once you pinpoint the reasons for missing your deadline, it’s time to extend your timeline.
Having an extended deadline poses some risks if you don’t do it correctly.
- It would make you feel like you failed. It’s important to remember that you absolutely did not fail, you’re only pushing your success back a little.
- You could be unrealistic with how much more time it takes you to finish, which may result in more delays.
- It could be tempting to say, “I've already written a large chunk; I can take my time with the rest of this.” This is a trap you should avoid falling into at all costs. Giving yourself that leeway can easily result in you walking away from your book indefinitely.
You’ve come this far, don’t falter now.
If you need to extend your deadline, a good rule of thumb is extending your deadline two weeks at a time.
Didn’t finish at six weeks? Aim for eight. Couldn’t finish at eight? Aim for ten. This gives you enough room to work but also a tight enough finish line to keep pushing.
Another option is to extend your timeline based on the progress you already made. If you’re at fifty percent with your book at the end of six weeks, extend it by another six weeks. If you’re at eighty percent, maybe only extend by one week. This allows you to work at a pace you can realistically and comfortably meet.
You can also set up a whole new timeline unrelated to the first six weeks. Take a look at your schedule, find a new daily word count goal, arrange your schedule to fit the writing as needed.
But matter which option you choose, you must have a deadline.
3. Aim to Finish (and the Trick to Actually Accomplishing It)
Finishing a first draft in six weeks isn’t just another NaNoWriMo (a popular challenge to write 50,000 words in November). It isn’t about reaching a certain quantity and calling it a day.
Your goal is to write your first draft and finish it, so you can move onto making it better.
You really and truly cannot judge the potential of your story until it’s finished. So more than anything, your goal is to reach the end of your story.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
That slog to the end may seem endless, and you've already been going at it hard for almost six weeks already. You might feel like the end is terribly far away and you’ll never get there. Well, there is actually a simple trick to this.
Tell yourself to write badly.
This isn’t the same as “letting” yourself be bad, or being OK with imperfection.
This is telling yourself: “I am going to write this story badly but it will be a finished story.”
No idea how your heroes are going to win the fight? No problem, make up a deus ex machina situation and put it down. Don’t know how to perfect that dramatic speech between the lovers in tearful reunion? No worries. Write badly. “I love you, Rose,” “I love you, Jack,” and move on.
Ending scene dull and boring? Just put something down. “Everyone goes home, happily ever after” or “a rock falls and everyone dies” can work well enough for now. Write as badly as you can, as long as you finish.
You might argue what’s the point of writing the rest of the book badly? Isn’t that as bad as not writing it?
A badly finished draft is still a draft, with all the essential events laid out for you to reference when you prep for the next draft. You can fix these things in your plot treatment and no one ever has to know.
But if you don’t finish the book, you won’t even get to the point of fixing it. So you tell me, is a badly finished draft really the same as an unfinished one?
Writers Don't Like Deadlines, But We Need Them
It's hard to find a writer who actually enjoys their deadlines. Writing a book in any amount of time is hard, and life often gets in the way—especially, it seems, when writers approach writing deadlines and come close to accomplishing writing goals.
However, if a writer doesn't set a deadline, it's far less likely that they'll finish their manuscript or writing project at all.
So instead of dreading or avoiding writing deadlines, try to shift your mindset. See them instead as opportunities to push you across that finish line. Better yet, follow the three easy steps to help you meet your writing deadlines covered in this article.
Good luck! I know you can do it!
What strategies do you use to meet your writing deadlines? Let me know in the comments.
For today's writing practice, write something badly.
That's right. I'm sure you've never been told to write badly before. But the truth is, writing badly is a skill, and one that can and should be practiced.
Writing badly helps overcome mental blocks and get something down on paper. It helps you move forward where perfectionism holds you back.
Find a story idea you've never used before and write down what happens in this story. Write badly—simple sentences, cheesy descriptions, all the adverbs you want.
The only goal you have is to write, in one page or less, what takes place in this story. Take no more than fifteen minutes to do this and you may find yourself surprised at what you end up with.
When you're done, share what you wrote with our community of writers in the practice box below. Then, share your feedback on three practices from other fellow writers.
At the very least, you will have made more progress on this unused story idea than you've ever done before.
J. D. Edwin is a daydreamer and writer of fiction both long and short, usually in soft sci-fi or urban fantasy. Sign up for her newsletter for free articles on the writer life and updates on her novel, find her on Facebook and Twitter (@JDEdwinAuthor), or read one of her many short stories on Short Fiction Break literary magazine.