Driving the Deadline

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingDeadlines are, for me, the single biggest source of fire-in-the-pants inspiration out there. It’s nothing to be proud of, but I often will push the limits, waiting until I know I must work and then driving myself to extremes to get things finished. I follow this technique for nearly every article I work on, and I even used it when the stakes were much higher than moola – when I was working on my master’s degree paper. Does the final product reflect my 11th hour mania? It doesn’t seem to, if my editors and advisors are to be believed, though I fear I’m encouraging gray hairs and ulcers.

Why do I do it? I don’t know; maybe I’m just a lazy-butt writer in truth. (Ouch.) Or maybe it’s because I know that, for whatever reason, a looming deadline cranks up my motivation, my focus and, miraculously, my creativity.

This truth about my writing habits also illuminates one of my heftiest problems when it comes to fiction writing: While published authors like WU’s own Marsha and Victoria have deadlines to prod their works onward (and occasionally scare the bejeezus out of them), I have none in this genre. Oh, sure, I can give myself deadlines: Finish chapter 20 by the end of the month or else! But I laugh at those; they are fake, you see, because there are no true repercussions if I fail. I know it and my muse definitely knows it.

So I’m trying something new: self-imposed deadlines that stick and that will–hopefully, please, please–work. If your problem is similar to mine, you may want to check out my new 5-point plan:

Step 1: Start using a datebook. After I read about the importance of a datebook in Novelist’s Boot Camp , I mentioned it to my sis and she gifted me with one on my b-day. It’s time to make some blemishes in the crispy white pages…today (not tomorrow).

Step 2: Set realistic yet ambitious goals. Everyone has his/her own idea of what “ambitious” means. For me, it might be finishing the rough draft for two scenes by the end of the day; editing three chapters; researching XYZ, etc… I’ll be adding these goals into my datebook…maybe even in pen, since seeing scribbled failure all over my nice, new book might annoy me.

But let’s be real here, my big problem is not having REPERCUSSIONS when I don’t progress with my fiction, so I’m also going to have to impose

Step 3: Taketh away mouse treats. I’m going to try something that is the opposite of my other brainchild, Mouse Treats for Writers. (Learn all about it HERE. ) My new plan: continue to give Mouse Treats—a new book, a truffle, lunch out, going to a show—when I meet my goals, but also take those treats off the table when I don’t hit the mark. I’ll take the time today to assign a mouse treat for work completed through the end of the week; I’ve been dying to go see a particular movie. If I don’t succeed with my week’s goals, no movie this weekend. Period. (Well, maybe when it comes out on video.)

I’m not saying this tough-love approach would work for everyone, but I think it might work for me because my brain will override my muse when failure is in sight. “Not inspired today? Then step aside, sweetheart, we’re plowing on without you because we want to go see the mightily unboxed Little Miss Sunshine with the girls tonight.”

My muse will kick in eventually – once she sees the garbage I’ve created without her.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingStep 4: Kick it up another notch for NaNoWriMo season. Yes, I’ve buckled under Eric’s persistent pressure and signed up for this popular November challenge. This quote from the NaNo site convinced me, too:

NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.

I think I have a good chance of plowing through the rest of my manuscript with the peloton-like draft that is NaNo surrounding me, in part because I have a detailed outline to follow as I chase The End. So, I will throw myself into the experience and see what comes of it.

If nothing else, I’ll get a nice healthy dose of public humiliation. It builds character. (Heh.) Which leads me to…

Step 5: Strip naked for the world. Just in case my mother has decided to drop by the blog today, let me clarify that what I mean is I won’t hide behind some abstract suggestion of progress; I’ll let you know how things are going on a regular basis – no matter how ugly it gets.

Write on, all!



About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.


  1. says

    Yeah, NaNo is all about the creative constraint of a deadline, and having the community momentum to pull you along!

    It’s great just for the discipline. Get more done in a month than you did all year! Ok, maybe that’s just me. ;)

  2. says

    Am I insane? I think I’m considering NaNoWriMO. Even if I only get half way through it, that’s still half done that wasn’t there before.

    I like all these strategies, Teri. Don’t forget the biggest mousetreat of all: a finished manuscript.

  3. says

    I decided to write my goals in the back of my calendar and on the 15th of every month, I wrote in a little “reminder” that says, “Where are you at with your goals?” and then I reevaluate myself. I like how it makes me refocus.

    I’m not too good on self-imposed deadlines, but it depends on the project, too.

  4. says

    I checked out NaNo again. So if the goal is 50,000 words in 30 days, that translates into 6.66 pages a day. Definitely doable, but still pushing it…esp. for people like me who find doing 5 pages a day a stretch. :-)

  5. says

    Kath, I don’t think you’re crazy to think about NaNo. Work up a rough outline and join in the “fun!”

    Melissa, I signed up for an automated “daily hassle email” from http://hassleme.co.uk . Mine goes something like this, “Write in your bloody manuscript today or it will never, ever be finished! Who the hell do you think is going to write it for you, your mother? Now GET BUSY!” My poor mother. I really do hope she’s not reading my blog today.

    S. William, oh I’m definitely in love with my story and its characters. If I wasn’t, I’d have given up on it l-o-n-g before now. But the prolonged rounds of near-acceptance/still-rejection back-and-forth stuff soured my love of the PROCESS and I honestly think it birthed something that stinks a lot like “fear of failure.” Bottom line: I believe in and love the story, and I believe in myself, but I need potent motivation to jump through all the hoops again – and that’s what this is about for me.

    Eliza and Eric, see you both at the finish line! :)

  6. thea mcginnis says

    re kathleen’s reply above: ok, 6.66 pages a day – does that mean i’ll be in league with satan???????????? cause i need a pitchfork in my butt all the time to keep me on schedule!!!

  7. says

    I tried NaNo last year, Therese, on a different novel, but found it a recipe for disaster because I hadn’t outlined beforehand! Whoops!

    BUT, the cool thing I learned was that there are local NaNo get-togethers. Check out the forums on the website to find your local chapter. Ours had a couple of brainstorming pizza parties that were SO MUCH FUN! It was an absolute trip to see all the different people writing their novels. Plus I got a button that says “I write books,” which I wear whenever I need a reminder. ;)

    No NaNo for me this year — November is not going to be a good month because we are moving! But there’s no reason I can’t hold my own NaNoWriMo in December while I’m unemployed and job hunting, right?

  8. says

    I have joined. And I’m in the same boat as you, except I’m a publicist for recording artist and a mom and a Brownie Scout owl and not writing my novel. I need help. I have editors waiting.