Deadlines: A Writer’s Best Friend, or Worst Enemy?

deadline looming

Since this is the final stretch for July’s Camp NaNo session — only three days left! — I figured I would talk about deadlines and how they either help a writer or stress them out, depending on the type of writer you are.

No matter what kind of writer you are in the face of deadlines, there is one thing that you can always count on happening:

That deadline sneaks up on you way faster than you thought it would!

When I think about deadlines, I find there’s a few different types of writers that I have encountered: the jump starters, the pacers, and the procrastinators.

The Jump Starters

If you’re a jump starter, you’re the type of writer who looks at that deadline and immediately gets to work with everything you’ve got. It doesn’t matter how many days, weeks, or even months away that deadline is, you hit the ground running from the getco and you don’t stop until 1) you’ve burned yourself out, or 2) you’ve finished the project early.

Jump starters try to get everything done as soon as possible so that they won’t stress over it last minute, or run out of time. They take that intense amount of work and tackle it like a bull fighter. The sooner they get started on it as well, the sooner they can get it off their plate for the next thing life throws their way without having to rush too much. And if they’re done early with the project than that means either more free time to relax without worries, or jumpstart the next project! They are the motivators and hard workers who never stop (for the most part).

I am not a jump starter, not really at least. I start out as a jump starter sometimes depending on the project, but then burn myself out quite easily and become no more productive than a puddle of stagnant water.

To a degree, jump starters have solid reason behind starting that project early and getting done with time to spare. For one it always leaves room at the end to double check your work and correct any other errors so it’s the best it can be. Being done early also leaves you with time to add to it if something better or new strikes you. Not to mention the sooner you finish something and possibly hand it off to other hands for review, the sooner you’ll probably get it back with feedback, right? That is, providing the fast pace work to get it done quick doesn’t leave your work a little too rushed and require more attention down the road.

For a jump starter writer with motivation and energy to spare, that deadline on the horizon is a huge motivator to get moving and get it done, making the deadline their best friend who likes to give the kicks in the ass, gun-to-the-head-kind-of-muse style.

So to you jump starters, I say keep plugging along on the productivity line and watch your accomplishment list grow and grow! Just remember to take a break sometime before you burn out from the constant go, go, go, write, write, write, edit, edit, edit, go, go, go. Breaks are a good way to recharge.

The Pacers

If you’re a pacer, then you’re the kind of writer who plans everything out evenly from start to finish. You don’t push yourself too hard, but you don’t slack off either. You have a set goal to reach each day (or week) and you stick to it without issue. This means you normally don’t burn out from overworking yourself since you have small breaks to do other things, but you also don’t normally finish early. You tend to finish up with one last glance over right on time.

Pacers are great list makers and schedulers. They’ll break projects down into smaller parts and plan each one out before jumping into the thick of things. They are the kind of writers who can make a routine and stick with it every single day. The better the plan they come up with, and the more spread out it is to handle the workload without being overwhelmed, the easier it is to accomplish, crossing off one small part at a time until the project is complete. They might take the full length of the deadline to get it done, but you can be sure they’ll get it done on time.

I am definitely not a pacer. Sure, I’m a lover of lists and I have started to break bigger projects down into parts to better manage them and my time, but I am not a pacer. I fall off the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race wagon way too easily.

Like the story of the tortoise and the hare though, slow and steady is sometimes the best way to go. It leaves you time for other things as well so you don’t become bored and frustrated, and it allows you to take your time and focus on the project as a whole when you go part by part, putting your best effort into each and every piece.

For pacers a deadline is a frenemy. It’s a good thing because they can take the allotted time given and plan out each and every phase accordingly, never having to burn themselves out or stress too much. However, it can also be their enemy if the time given isn’t enough to fit their steady pace. In those cases bring on the stress and the plea to extend the deadline. With pacers you can be sure the work will be top quality to the best of their ability though, making for a lot less editing woes. (Or so we hope.)

To you pacers, I think you’ve figured out the best system out there to writing and tackling projects, and your steady perseverance is both admired and maybe a little envied. You get to smell the roses along the journey when us jump starters and procrastinators may not. Keep it up!

The Procrastinators

If you’re a procrastinator, then you’re the type of writer who always waits till the very last moment to start everything. You think you have all the time in the world to get the work done and kick back in the beginning, either not doing any of the work, or doing a bare minimum to start. Then that time flies by way too quickly and you find yourself scrambling to start and finish the project before the deadline.

Procrastinators are kings and queens of the saying, “eh, I’ll do it later”. They don’t plan too much and like to have their free time instead of worrying and working at projects that look so far down the horizon you have plenty of time to worry about it later. Sometimes they just don’t have the motivation to get it started earlier, or work in shifts on it like the pacer. Procrastinators are either great under pressure, or testy under pressure when it comes down to the wire.

I am the procrastinator for the most part. I love to tell myself I’ll do something later, or I have lots of time, and then realize “oh shit, I really don’t have a lot of time”.

If working under the pressure of an immediate deadline gives you your best work, then a procrastinator is the kind of writer you probably are. For others though it doesn’t help the quality of the work and perhaps you need to adopt a new style. The procrastinator is truly the one type that can go either way — friend or foe — with a deadline.

If you are the kind of dragging-feet-writer that does better under pressure, then those deadlines are your best friend to light the fire to your heels. However, if you are the kind of procrastinator that waiting till last minute stresses you out too much to do any work half decent, those deadlines are your worst enemy. At the same time though, without those deadlines, wouldn’t you just keep saying, “eh, I’ll do it later” and never even start it at all?

For the procrastinators there is a fine line between helpful and harmful in deadlines, and depending on which side of that line you stand on, it may be time to find a happy medium.

No matter what kind of deadline writer you are, I find there is always a degree of panic…

keep calm deadline

Personally in the end I am a combination of two, if not sometimes all three, types. I’m more a strange mix of the jump starter and the procrastinator. I’ll look at that deadline with glee to start a new project and get right to work for about a week in the beginning, then I’ll fall off the wagon and end up procrastinating until the end where I again scramble to finish like a chicken without its head. Most of the time of at least. There are a few blue moon times that I manage to start strong and finish strong, or pace myself out, but I mean they are blue moon times.

I do more work in NaNo months where there is a stuck in stone deadline that I cannot change, with a set goal I cannot change, then I do out of the entire rest of the year combined. It’s pretty sad actually. Perhaps though I am starting to find my happy medium in trying to become more like the pacer. Then again, I don’t really do planning everything out into detailed parts. I break things down into smaller bits now, but to go detailed and scheduled out? Nope. I know life gets in the way too easily to stick to set schedules all the time, plus I’m still too much a pantser writer.

Now there’s a different topic for another day…

What about you? What type of deadline writer are you? Are deadlines your best friend, your enemy, or your frenemy? What tricks have you found work best for you in meeting deadlines?


(Footnote: To anyone, author/blogger/writer/reader/so forth, who has other ideas or topics they would like to see me cover or talk about, please feel free to drop a comment below. I look forward to hearing your interest.)

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Progress Is Progress

Hello, world. Somehow I have once again managed to find my way to the surface to post. Truthfully, I had every intention of posting at the beginning of this month and keeping up with it this time. I even had all my Writer’s Guide topics laid out for each week this month! That’s a miracle!

Unfortunately that didn’t go to plan in the slightest, and I’m not really sure what happened that screwed every intention I had.

My last post — nearly a month ago now — was right before Camp NaNo began, and I had talked about getting ready for that, and I possibly also ranted about work… *Looks off innocently*

I suppose I could account part of my “falling off the blog wagon” incident to work and how much of a hell situation is was a month ago, but that has smoothed over for the most part again about two weeks ago. Maybe I was just so burned out and fed up with life and work that I no longer cared. Or maybe I was just so bummed and mad at myself because I wasn’t working on my Camp project that I figured I had absolutely nothing to talk about. Maybe all of the above and then some. Who knows with me, I’m not going to try to find the source of my absence, it’d be pointless.

(I do know there was more than one time I remembered I needed a blog post, and by the end of the day I had totally forgotten again and it was too late to do it. That happens a lot anymore. I need to start setting myself an alarm to write my posts so I stop forgetting.)

So while the first two and a half weeks of this month were a complete bust in Camp NaNo and life, I seem to have finally managed to pull some semblance of productivity and motivation back together. Perhaps this time the pieces of my life are a little more well glued together. A feat I can credit to some friends of mine.

Camp NaNo 2017

For the first three weeks of July, there were truthfully only two days in which I edited and worked on my concordance for Fated to Darkness. Those days were Day 1 and 2.  After that it was all down hill from there.

My original goal was to work up through Chapter 11, which was roughly 146 pages or so.

At first I wanted to work on it and kept telling myself I should work on it, but it just didn’t happen between work and other obligations. After that first week, when I had fallen so far behind in only managing to do 23 pages, I started to give up.

In the beginning it came across as I was going to have to lower my goal, to what I didn’t know, but I was going to have to lower it below 100 pages because the rest of my month was so booked with work, camping, and other obligations, that I was never going to have any free time at all to edit. (Or so I thought.) Then that notion began to spiral into not caring if I won for the month or not, which lead to wanting to just delete my entire Camp project for the first time ever because I was so frustrated with myself. I couldn’t figure out why I had tanked so hard this Camp.

On the last possible day before validation began I dropped my goal to 55 pages, which was only two more chapters from where I fell off the Camp wagon. A couple hours after that, I dropped my goal even lower to only 38 pages: one more chapter.

I hated myself for it. I hated how pathetically small that number looked, when I had such high hopes and plans for how I could finish the minor editing and concordance work before November started. I could see all those plans and hopes washing away down the drain each time I sighed heavily and officially dropped my goal.

But I’ve come to realize that I dream too big for the war I fight inside my own head every single day. I’ve come to finally see that those dreams carry me away on an euphoric high way up into the pristine white clouds and sunshine for a little bit, then the storm clouds roll back in at the slightest diversion to those dreams, snuffing the sun out, and the high is gone. The storm takes my motivation and hopes with it; and Mother Nature always wins in the end.

I also realized something else though. If I cannot find the willpower strong enough to hold myself accountable to my goals and dreams, then I do need help to do so. I don’t mean just encouragement, I mean the kind of help that stands at your side as your shadow, doing exactly what you do so that you aren’t doing it alone anymore. It’s easier to motivate yourself when you have someone in your corner consistently cheering you on and helping you build castles from sand.

And that is what happened finally.

Five days ago the black clouds began to clear, and with help — and much grumbling and resistance at first — I got myself to once more sit down and try to edit. I only expected to work for an hour, if that if I could keep myself focused, and instead I ended up working for two hours. Perhaps I didn’t feel very accomplished in the end, perhaps I didn’t feel the excitement to be working again yet, and I didn’t believe at the time that “some progress is better than no progress”, but that was because again I was still dreaming too big.

I’ve been looking at the long run goal for so long instead of looking at the stepping stones that lead me there. I’ve been looking at the completed concordance, and all 43 chapters (including Prologue and Epilogue) read through, slightly edited, noted for paper edits, and all the work for Phase 2 of this stage where I take all my messy notes and organize them to the concordance, and every word of every page in the Word doc that is overwhelming.

I’m psyching myself out when I stare at the project as a whole.

Yes I have a long, long way to go in this novel yet, but don’t they always tell you to stop and smell the roses, to enjoy the journey instead of focusing solely on the destination? Isn’t it easier to see how far you’ve come when you break the journey into parts, like traveling cross country, state to state, city to city.

If I stop thinking about the goals, if I stop making the goals, then I finally stop stressing about making par, about getting to the page or chapter or word count I so-called need to.

Progress is progress, no matter how small or big.

Yes, I want to finish this stage before November, but I don’t have to plan out doing this many chapters and pages every single month. All I truthfully have to do is show up and work, and before I know it…I’ll be farther than I thought I would be. Then suddenly I won’t be worrying so much about par, wondering if I’ll make my goal for the month.

I read somewhere that it is more motivating to make a list of all the things you accomplish, instead of a list of all the things you want to accomplish and never get to cross off half. Watch the positive list grow and grow to build yourself up, and if you so wish, make that goal list anyways and watch it grow smaller and smaller compared to your accomplishment list on steroids so long as you show up to work. At some point the positive one will come to outweigh the ever-growing, daunting list.

So right now I have no true monthly goals anymore. My only intention is to be through this stage of editing before November, and at the rate I’m going now without the stress of meeting quotas, I might even be there before October.

Right now it’s just work for one hour a day at the very least with a friend to help hold myself accountable. (Most days I’m finding I do more than an hour.) It doesn’t matter how many pages I get done, or if I make it through the chapter or not, just work. The hope is the more I do it, the easier it will get, the more habit it will become until I can hold myself to it every day without issue. And the more I work, the further I get every single day.

A week ago I thought I wouldn’t make goal for Camp. A week ago I wrestled with myself over deleting my Camp project and giving up entirely. A week ago I didn’t care. It’s amazing how one week, one day, one conversation can change everything.

Now I here I sit making sure I edit every single day with a writing buddy for at least that one hour. Now here I sit somehow managing to get through almost a chapter a day without even realizing how much progress I’m making. Now here I sit truly wondering if I ever needed to drop my Camp goal at all from just four days of work.

I am over halfway to my original goal of 146 pages, and there is still six days left to Camp NaNo. I am 23 pages away from being one-sixth of the way through my entire book. I am 23 pages away from breaking triple digits in page numbers. I am three chapters away from breaking double digits in chapters.

When I look at it that way, in bits and pieces, only then do I see just how far I’ve gotten already. When I look at how many pages are being added to my concordance, how many notes are being organized and recorded to make the paper edits that much easier, I see just how far I’m getting finally.

Progress is progress, no matter how small or big it may be. Remember that fellow authors, writers, poets, and dreamers. Always remember that and the storm clouds will clear the way for sunshine once more.