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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2 thoughts on “Deadlines: A Writer’s Best Friend, or Worst Enemy?

  1. A cool word I learned instead of procrastinator is SIMMERER. A simmerer needs time to simmer like a pot thinking of ideas before they can get to work. Sometimes, after all, people do need time and prep before they write.

    As for me, though, I’m either a pacer or a headstarter, depending on the project. Deadlines give me so much stress, I find it far less painful to just make sure I’m done ahead of time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Simmerer… I like that. I’m more of the procrastinator though. I normally have a plan before something begins, I just keep putting it off.

      I would say you’re a bit of both. Kind of a pacer and headstarter combined in some odd combination.

      Like

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