You know that writing project you are working on? That one with a deadline you are determined to meet? Maybe it’s a self-imposed deadline. (“I’m going to finish this novel by the time the kids go back to school.”) Perhaps your deadline comes from someone else. (A commissioning editor who says, “I’d love to see the whole manuscript. Can I have it in six weeks?”)
And that deadline creeps ever closer, like an assassin in the night. You feel anxious. Your writing speed is too slow. You worry your writing won’t be good enough, and you spend time fretting about that instead of making progress by getting words on the page. You doubt you can complete your project on time despite your best efforts. Your word count grows in tiny, infinitesimal notches, and your daily writing target swells beyond your capacity.
You may have been there before. You want to avoid getting there again. But what do you do about it?
In this blog post, I will share with you some of the techniques that help me cope with the pressure of meeting a deadline. As a professional writer, I often face deadlines that seem impossible to meet. You might be writing a personal project, a business book or a chapter of your latest novel. Whatever the manuscript, I know how stressful it can be to have a looming deadline and a blank page. It’s a fearsome sight, the blank page.
However, over the years, I have developed some strategies to help me overcome deadline challenges and deliver quality work on time. Here are some of them:
- Break down the task into smaller steps. One of the reasons a deadline can be overwhelming is because it makes us think of the task as a whole, as if we have to complete it in one big chunk. This can lead to procrastination, anxiety, and lack of motivation. If something seems like an impossible mountain, maybe we can’t climb it and shouldn’t even try. To avoid this, I like to break down the task into smaller steps that are more manageable and achievable. For example, to write a blog post on a topic, I divide it into steps such as: research the topic, outline the main points, write the introduction, write the body paragraphs, write the conclusion, edit and proofread. Then, I would assign a mini-deadline for each step and focus on one at a time. For a novel, come up with some key scenes that have to be there and write those. They don’t have to be perfect. They are bound to change in the edit. That’s fine. It’s progress not perfection.
- Set realistic expectations and priorities. A deadline can be challenging because it makes us feel pressured to do everything perfectly and quickly. However, this is not always possible or necessary. We are human, not machines. Sometimes, we have to accept that we can’t do everything at once and that we have to prioritise what’s most important and urgent. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to write ten thousand words this week if you’ve also got a job to go to, two kids under five to care for (one of whom has a birthday), plus you’ve caught a cold. You’ll only end up disappointed with yourself. I like to set realistic expectations and priorities for myself and communicate them clearly to others. If I have multiple tasks with different deadlines, I rank them according to their importance and urgency and work on them accordingly. I also let others know what I can and can’t do within the given time frame. They are only human too. We can’t expect them to know what’s happening for us if we don’t tell them.
- Use tools and resources. I overcome deadline challenges by using tools and resources that can save me time and improve the quality of my writing. I use online and offline resources such as blogs, podcasts, books, and courses to learn new skills and get inspiration for my writing. It’s not cheating to get help.
- Create visual cues as reminders of goals and achievements. I use post-it notes, wall planners and calendars to display my deadlines, milestones and tasks. These help me to keep track of my progress and plan ahead. I like to log how many words I’ve written of my novel so that I can look back and see how far I’ve come, not just how much further I’ve got to go. When the mountain starts looking neverending, look backwards. You’ve come a long way. I also celebrate small steps of success, such as revising a scene I knew wasn’t working or getting feedback that tells me what’s good and suggests exciting improvements. Writing about these moments in a journal can help, so that you can look back later to motivate yourself, boost your confidence and encourage yourself to keep writing.
These strategies have helped me overcome stress, procrastination and writer’s block when I face a deadline challenge. I hope they help you too!
DEANNE ADAMS – STORY COACH AND MENTOR
I care passionately about words and stories. As a Story Coach and Mentor, I help writers to tell irresistible stories. I offer courses, memberships and programmes to suit beginners, developing writers and those ready to become the writer they’ve been trying to be for years.
Learn how to ‘Show more than you tell’ in your writing with my free workbook – your guide to an engaging storytelling style. You can also follow me on Facebook for more tips to support your writing journey.