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!

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About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was published in March. 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.