Deadlines vs. Goal Lines: The Emotional Divide


There once was a plot line hard hittin

But the writer was best known for quittin’

“No time to write,” she did fret

No one objected, I bet

So she never got anything written.

Ahem. So. Now that these lines have demonstrated that your competition for poet laureate is at a safe distance, perhaps you are primed to discuss a more uncomfortable subject regarding lines. More specifically, deadlines and goal lines. Bear with me.

The Emotional Divide.

The most often cited origin of the term “deadline” is the line that, if crossed by a prisoner, allowed the guards to shoot at will. Perhaps that’s why writers facing a deadline feel they are “under the gun?” Goal Lines, on the other hand, are something we simply strive for (in sports, for example).

In short, while we seek the goal line, we are instinctively repelled by the deadline.

The emotional divide between the two types of lines is amplified by something we human beings value: control. This is probably the only time when the published author envies the unpublished writer. The writer has a goal line, set by him or herself. The published author has a deadline, set by someone else.

But the virtue of the goal line, as I see it, is also its chief defect. While a deadline must be hit or else we are . . . well . . . dead. A goal line is something we try to reach. We say we’re trying to reach a certain goal. Well, trying just isn’t going to cut it, mister. May I go so far as to suggest to you that goals can be our downfall?

Bridging the Divide.

How do we bridge the divide between goal line and deadline? How do we impose deadlines on ourselves that have real “teeth?” Saying the goal out loud is a good start. For me, the goal doesn’t even exist until I speak it out loud, publish it on Facebook, or tattoo it to my forehead (backwards, so I can read it when I look in the mirror).

But to fully cross the bridge, you need one more thing: you need someone who will push you when the bridge starts to wiggle and your hands start to sweat. You need someone whom @TheAsianAngel referred to as your “accountabilibuddy” (Twitter Dec. 28)–that person who can reciprocate with his/her own writing goals and agree to set deadlines for you and abide by the deadlines you set for him/her.

Practicing What I Preach.

So, I guess I’m looking for a little reciprocity here, folks. In an effort to practice what I preach, I am (gulp) stating my 2011 goals out loud to you here. Tell me yours and then let’s keep each other honest, shall we?

Goal #1: Write no less than 800 words a day–every day. (Doesn’t have to be great words, but doesn’t mean writing “I don’t know what to write” 135 times, either.)

Goal #2: Submit a Short Story to a literary journal before March 1, 2011

Goal #3: Write a poem (that is not a lame Limerick) before June 1, 2011

Goal #4: Encourage a Child to Write (every day)

Now it’s your turn. Step out on the Bridge. Don’t look down.

(photo by bea&txm)


About Anne Greenwood Brown

Anne Greenwood Brown (@AnneGBrown) writes MG and YA fiction. She is represented by Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates, and is the author of the LIES BENEATH trilogy (Random House/Delacorte Press). Her new book THE TWISTED LIFE (Albert Whitman & Co.) is anticipated for March 2016.


  1. says

    Anne–I think that your goals are completely doable! Go Anne!

    I’ve also figured out, via one of my good friends, that it works really well if you point out to yourself what you have accomplished. Presenting yourself with a: this is what I did last week/month is motivating. You’ll want to do more this week/month. Sort of a ‘the more you do, the more you can do’ thing.

    And it’s inspiring to see that, even when you may not have hit your goal line, you took steps to get there. Even baby steps. =)

    It also helps to have cheerleaders. So:

    Go Anne Go!

  2. says

    Oh boy… Well, a lot has changed in 2011 already (I quit my day job to pursue writing full-time) so my original goals may change too. But first and foremost, I wanted to bring new pages to my crit group every week, and I think that still holds true.

    Love the distinction between goal lines and deadlines. Personally I prefer goal lines (and not just because they don’t have “teeth”) but I work well with deadlines too.

  3. says

    Ah, yes, and ditto what Jenny said! Positivity breeds accomplishment far more successfully than negativity does, in my experience.

  4. says

    According to the Simon & Schuster editor Michael Korda, Graham Greene “without crossing out anything, and in neat, square handwriting, the letters so tiny and cramped that it looked like an attempt to write the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin, he wrote over the next hour or so exactly five hundred words.” Greene counted each word, and would stop for the day at 500, even if he were in the middle of a sentence.” Five hundred words a day, no more, no less, was Greene’s goal.

  5. says

    I took some time at the end of the year to write out my goals for 2011. I started with the larger goals. Then I broke them down into what I need to do each quarter and each month to make them happen.

    My goals for this quarter include:

    1) Enter three writing contests.
    2) Continue editing my finished mss. (In process)
    3) Join and a critique group. (Done)
    4) Pitch target magazines.

  6. Vaughn Roycroft says

    I tend to function better with achievable goals as well, Anne. Having spent the greater part of my adult life overseeing a production facility, where every order was marked with a shipping date, it came naturally to me to add ‘production goals’ to my writing life.

    My problems began in June 09, when the first draft of my first novel was complete. I then had to find ways to create achievable goals for rewrites, submissions,beginning a new novel project, adding short stories, etc. The year and a half that followed were a bit disquieting, and not just for the waiting, critiques – good and bad – and the inevitable rejections – from agents, publishers, and periodicals alike. I missed the joy of the work; the feeling of accomplishment and revelation. Not that feel I didn’t grow, or become a better writer. I believe I did. But I knew something was missing, and, around the holidays, I decided to do something about it. You nailed it here. I’d let tangible, achievable goals slip from my routine.

    I’ve declared 2011 a year of new beginnings. I have a new WIP, and a daily word goal again, and I feel so much better for it. I’ve also determined that my debut will be published this year, even if I need to do it myself (which I’ve really come to be at peace with).

    I’m stepping out on that bridge with you, Anne, eyes forward and feeling strong. Thanks for sharing yours. I feel better having made a public declaration too :)

    Love your number 4, BTW. I should add an altruistic goal to my list. Thanks for that too.

  7. says

    Jenny/Kristan: I agree positivity helps! Thanks for the cheerleading!

    James: Who am I to argue with Graham Greene?

    Roxanne/Vaughn: You raise a good point, and one that was in my head but not specifically down on the page: that of only setting goals in my control. For now, I’m still pursuing the traditional publication route so you’ll notice “Publish my First Novel” is not on my list. (Not that it isn’t a goal, but the deadline isn’t in my total control (for now).)

  8. says

    Great advice. When I think I’m going to need some more incentive to meet a goal, I always tell someone about it.

    Writing goals, education goals, weight loss goals. I know myself enough that if something is only about me, it will always be the last priority. If I think I will have to tell someone I failed – my competitive nature takes over.

    Hey – know thyself doesn’t always have to mean change thyself.

  9. says

    My problem with setting goals this year is that they were adjusted almost immediately due to an agent getting back with me on something. I feel like my goals are in flux depending on so many outside influences. Maybe that’s just a sign I have too many balls in the air and I should be focusing on different things.

    Good luck on your goals. : )

  10. says

    Thank you for this. Good pep talk for the new year!
    My ff goals will need tweaking til they are as specific as Roxanne’s, but here’s a start:
    I will write every day,
    concentrate on developing and completing one larger writing project at a time — while not neglecting to ‘work the ground’ for other projects, and
    blog and/or make a submission at least once a week. Additional point, which a young grad student just suggested to me, is to write the goals down and post them where I’ll see and repeat them every day.
    p.s. Are you the Anne of the light green jacket on the day of the vernal equinox???

  11. says

    I hadn’t really thought about goals being ephemeral and slightly out of reach. That helps explain why the achievement rate is so low!

    I think Jenny’s comment about reviewing where you’ve been is great — sometimes it can seem like someone is rolling the goal line away from us, so it is good to see just how far we’ve come.

  12. says

    Timely post. I agree–stating your goals, an accountability partner, and I would add, stomping out your fears/distractions.

    I set a goal for myself to write 50K in January. The underlying and far more important goal was writing consistently, daily, because I have almost never done that (and b/c of it only have 1 manuscript to show for 6 years work).

    Fear comes in locking out the internal editor by being forced to sit at the page and produce to make that goal, and also not letting my other favorite distraction, research, make me forget there’s a novel to write.

    Because the last several years have been unproductive in terms of manuscripts produced, my goal this year is the production of 3 first draft manuscripts. JUST first draft. I don’t want perfected stories. I just want stories on paper.

  13. says

    Anne – great stuff. Reading the comments was almost as inspiring as the article itself. The readership is quite a positive group.

    My 2011 Goals:

    1. Finish my novel 1st draft (WIP)

    2. Pitch article ideas to 5 magazines/week

    3. Build my platform from mere existence to thriving readership

  14. says

    Goals are helpful, but if I don’t put a date on them, procrastination will inevitably win out.
    I just started blogging, and my goal is twice a week, (exceeding that so far!) whatever size they come out to be. I tend to be long-winded, so length or word count shouldn’t be that much of a worry.
    As much as I would like to write every day–writing is one of those things that helps me keep my sanity more times than not–I’m back in school and working part-time, so *every* day may not be completely feasible.
    But hey, maybe I could count commenting as a little writing every day…

  15. says

    Anne- I’ll be pushing you on those and I KNOW you’ll do the same for me! My goal is a draft of WIP by the end of the year. A decent draft (though probably not a final draft).

  16. says

    Anne, coming late because I’ve been trying to reach my own goals, but:
    1. Congrats on the book deal!
    2. I have a group I set monthly goals with, and an accountability partner. Even if these don’t push me as much as I’d like at times, because people are honestly too nice, just articulating the goals and not meeting them creates tension. I do more than without that mechanism.

    I also have Outlook set to remind me of my daily writing goals, though I have to regularly reassess them.