We’ve all had them—in school, at work, hell, the bills that come in every month. They’re all deadlines.
At some point, you’re going to have deadlines to deal with in writing. And not the self-imposed kind. You’re going to have a deadline to finish those revisions. To approve the final edits. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Working creatively to a deadline is a new experience for many. And it can be difficult. And the deadlines are just going to keep coming. And the stakes of missing a deadline keep getting bigger.
And if that paragraph made you uncomfortable, or stressed… that’s exactly what I’m talking about!
Here’s the fun part… that’s fixable! But it takes practice. Note I didn’t say it was easy?
At some point, whether from an agent or an editor, you’ll get an edit letter (or revision notes). And it’s going to be full of little notes from grammar to pacing to characterization to story arc to plot changes and, and, and… Some of it you’ll agree with. Some of it you’ll hate at first, and then come to love. Some of it you may never like.
And it comes with a deadline.
It’s on you to make those changes. Or reject them. Or communicate with the agent/editor about how to fix them. By the deadline.
Because after that, there’s more coming.
My agent is very editorial, so she had some serious notes on my last manuscript. FTR: she’s amazing and I value her notes beyond belief! That book then went through an edit with my publisher. Then line edits. Then a final proofread.
Each step had a deadline. And since I signed a three-book contract, I’m also writing Book 2.
This is the norm.
Wanna get ready for that? Start practicing.
GIVE YOURSELF DEADLINES
Earlier I said you’ll get deadlines that aren’t the self-imposed kind. The problem with those is that they’re self imposed. We can cheat. We can change it.
In publishing, sure, some deadlines can be extended. Some can’t. Practice with setting a deadline for yourself. No cheating. No changing it or extending it. Pretend it cannot be moved. Life happens. And it’s going to keep happening, whether you’re writing or not.
Obviously, if something massive comes up in your life, ditch this plan—because all things can be changed!
But for normal, day-to-day stuff? Get used to writing through it. When you’re working to a deadline, gone are the days of writing when you find the time. You need to make the time.
If your own deadline stresses you out, someone else’s is going to be worse. So practice!
TRY INCREMENTAL DEADLINES
Create a series of deadlines rather than one big “have my entire MS finished and polished and shiny by…”
Are you drafting now? Create deadlines for your next chapter, or a word count goal. I’ll complete 5,000 words by…
Doing first round revisions? Create chapter deadlines. Or break your revision list into chunks and assign a deadline to each chunk or task.
Working on deep edits or proofreading? Hey congrats! You’ve got lots of time. This one is going to be different based on the type of changes you need to do and how you work.
My approach: Proofreading and going through for filter words and other uglies is just a start at the top and work your way through, so I set page number goals.
I do deep edit passes for each character—looking at character arc, continuity, etc. That can get broken down scene by scene.
Set deadlines for getting your MS to crit partners and beta readers. And give yourself enough time to process their feedback. And yes, that means working with crit partners and beta readers who can and will get your MS back to you in a timely manner. More on that topic in a later post!
Similar to the incremental deadline idea, if working creatively to a deadline is new to you or hits the anxiety button, start with small, easy to achieve deadlines.
Give yourself a week to complete the research on that new location you’re using. Take a weekend to write up your character’s back story. Pick up your favorite or newest craft book and give yourself a month to get through it in depth, with notes.
Just create that deadline and stick to it. Get used to the idea of it. Get used to working creatively under that pressure. Train yourself so that a deadline is just part of the process.
I’m not saying that will eliminate the stress… but it will help ease it quite a bit. Google working creatively to a deadline and there’s tons of info out there (including those who think deadlines kill creativity… and that’s a valid opinion… however, deadlines are a fact of life in publishing, so…)
The world is full of artists who say they work best at the eleventh hour. That may be true. And if that is you, by all means, have at. But if you’re going into publishing, you still need to get used to deadlines—even if you’ll be doing the work at five minutes ‘till.
Bottom line here—you do you. But take the time to practice working creatively to a deadline, and sticking to it.