Thursday, September 17, 2015

Self-imposed writing deadlines

Today, over on the Across the Board blog (a writing blog I contribute monthly to), Kimberly G. Giarratano posted about the trouble with self-imposed deadlines and listed a few tips for how to get them to work for you. This got me thinking about my own methods for getting stuff written. How do you hold yourself accountable and get things done?

It's no secret that writers are terrible procrastinators. We faff around online, complain about how hard writing is, chat with each other about all the awesome things we're going to write, but when it comes time to walk the walk... Let's just say there's much staring at screens and whining, "Do I have to?" The funny thing is that we all love storytelling and most of us actively enjoy putting words to paper. But until we get over that hump and actually start typing, it's easy to forget that. There are many reasons for procrastinating... not in the right mind set (oh, I've had an awful day at work and I'm too fried to get anything done), insecurity (do I have any business writing in the first place? what if I'm garbage?), and general fear of screwing up (this idea sounds so good in my head, but what if I can't pull it off?).

Snapshot of my project plan. Crude, but it worked!
Many writers will claim the reason they're not getting things written is lack of time. Trust me, it's not. If you put your mind to something and really want it, you'll carve out the time. Just ask any successful author who started out by writing one hour a day in the morning before their kids got up for school. And when you're sitting there paralyzed by insecurity, all the time in the world won't help (trust me... I once cleared my schedule completely in order to write, only to find myself staring blankly at a blinking cursor and finding every excuse possible to stay on Facebook).

When I first started writing, I was a productivity beast. This was mostly because I didn't know any better. And because writing was this shiny new hobby that I just wanted to binge on. But after that, things slowed. A lot. The more I learned about this whole writing thing, the more scared I got of screwing it up. Which lead to much procrastinating.

Ultimately, the only way I get things done is by self imposing deadlines. And because I have classic Writer ADD, where I'm working on about 7 open projects at any given time (literally - at one point I had 7 project folders, 3 of which were for series), the only way I was going to get myself in line was with a project plan. Like "finish first draft of this book by September" or "complete edits on that book by October". It also helped me realize what a mess I'd gotten myself into, which is why I forbade myself from starting my new WIP until after Brave New Girls and Virtual Shadows (last book in the Jane Colt series) were out. The nice thing about a project plan is that, since any given time, I have multiple books in various stages (some in editing, some I'm still drafting, etc), this way I could actually keep track of where I am at any given time. Also, it kept me accountable because if I missed one deadline, it would throw the rest off, and I really didn't want to deal with that.

Of course, there always has to be room for flexibility, which is why I always gave myself more days than I needed (like giving myself 3 days to write acknowledgements and back cover copy for Brave New Girls when really I just needed to sit down for an evening and hammer them out).

Another method that works for me is announcing my writing goals publicly before diving in. In my case, this is just a tweet: "I'm going to write 2,000 words tonight!" Even if I'm tweeting into the aether and no one actually engages, just having it out there on my profile makes me feel accountable. Like, I said I'd do it. Now I've got to follow through. Last year, when I got really desperate to finish a WIP, I even gave myself reverse incentives: "If I don't write 2,000 words tonight, I'm going to buy Justin Bieber's latest album. *shudder*". 

Ultimately, the best way to keep yourself accountable is to have someone out there who's actually waiting for your book. Whether it's your critique partner, your mom, or your friend who read your first book and is clamoring for the second, knowing that someone's counting on you helps. Right now, I'm drafting a YA contemporary fantasy and my teen sister has promised to be my Youth Consultant (because I'm an old grump and don't know how SnapChat works), but only if I get it to her by fall break, when she'll have time to read it. So here I come, October 31... 


  1. I find that I have to make myself work on something to do with writing. Only then will I jump back into my projects.