Deadlines: can’t write with them, can’t write without them

Writing deadlines can be demanding, stressful and fear-inducing, but there is little doubt that they can also be key motivators, resulting in finished first drafts and other writing projects. But what happens when there are no deadlines to be met? How does the new and emerging writer maintain the writing momentum without a frantic agent tugging at their shirtsleeves?

When studying Professional Writing I was, like my fellow students, very aware of the different deadlines I had for various assignments. We were busy, but we were productive. We submitted our pieces for peer critique, and then we critiqued our peers. There was little time for anything else, especially for those students managing a job and family alongside their studies. The interesting thing is that upon submission of the final project, many of the students on the course stopped writing.

When we met at the graduation, nine months after we received our final grades, a lot of my peers confessed to having written very little or nothing since finishing the degree. The pressure to write and submit a piece of writing was gone, and for many, so was the motivation to write.

When asked if I had written anything since we submitted our projects in December, 2015, I tried to gloss over the two short books I had written, and the third I had just begun. I almost felt guilty that I had ramped up my creativity, but I was ‘on a mission’, and I had a secret weapon. In fact, I had two.

First, my motivation – that was easy enough to explain: I didn’t want to be a high school teacher for the rest of my life. I can’t paint, sing, balance a budget, or perform open-heart surgery. But I can write, or at least die trying. That was my motivation right there. I thrive on creativity, and I wanted to live off it too. The vote is out as to whether I will ever live solely off my writing, but I intend to do my best to find out.

My secret weapons were another motivating factor. I have two.

1) Camp Nanowrimo

Most writers have heard of Nanowrimo – the national novel writing month in November each year, where participants write their hearts out to nail 50,000 words by the end of the month. I tried this a few times, using it as a means of finishing projects. I never reached the 50,000 mark, but I did inject serious wordage into my projects. However, through Nanowrimo, I discovered Camp Nanowrimo.

A similar concept, writers can attend Camp Nanowrimo in April and July each year. The main difference to Nanowrimo is that writers attending camp get to choose their own targets. I have had far more success at Camp than during Nanowrimo. I have regularly achieved writing goals of 20, 30 and 40,000 words. The “stats” page showing one’s writing progress is a fantastic feel-good motivator, as is seeing the word totals of one’s fellow campers’ increase on a daily basis. There are plenty of other motivators and pep-talks available for writers attending camp; I thoroughly recommend that you check it out for yourselves.

I have another secret weapon that is always a little controversial amongst authors as it involves Amazon. I have to admit, as an emerging writer, Amazon works for me. I receive great service and help, and, while not selling very much – must look at my chosen genre – I feel in control. One of the things I can control is a self-made deadline, with consequences.

2) Amazon Pre-Order

As an Amazon author it is possible to release an eBook for pre-order, up to three months prior to publication. While I confess that I have yet to have many sales during pre-order – all single figures – that’s not why I do it. I choose to make my books available for pre-order to generate a deadline by which everything – from the first draft, editing, redrafting, cover commissions, etc. – is done, finished, and ready for publication. The trick is to make a well-established project available for pre-order, or a shorter side-story that can be “done” within that time.

If I fail to release my book on the agreed publication date, Amazon will punish me by sending a mail to the customer(s) that pre-ordered my book, letting them know I failed to meet the deadline. On top of that, they ban me from making any books available for pre-order for a year.

It’s a dangerous game, but it is also a serious motivator.

I do look forward to the day when I have an agent or a publisher on my heels, demanding the first draft, or the rewrite, because I believe that will mean that I have made it, that I am a traditionally published author.

However, so long as I am honing my craft, writing my back catalogue as it were, then I am seriously enjoying the writing game, and creating my own deadlines.

I equate deadlines with productivity. Similarly, if I have been productive, then I have also been creative. I like being creative, it gives me a buzz, and drives me to produce more. The more work I have produced, the more I have written, and the more I write, the better I become at writing.

It makes sense – for me at least.

So, until I have that neurotic agent or that persnickety publisher, I’ll be creating my own private hell with one deadline after the other. It seems I can’t write without them.

What about you? Do you need deadlines to keep your writing projects on track, or do you use other motivating exercises? Share them with us at The Author Lab. We’re always interested in learning how other writers write.


15 thoughts on “Deadlines: can’t write with them, can’t write without them

  1. I think that deadlines can be a splendid motivator. When I used to do commissions, shameful as it was, the close to the deadline, the more motivated I was to get the piece done. Now, I make deadlines myself and post my results up on here for everyone to see. Accountability to your writing is really vital to productivity.

    Likewise, NaNo in all of its variations is amazing for motivation.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Chris – it is really useful to learn about the factors behind your writing successes. They are successes, regardless of the numbers of readers, because you have completed them! For more than twenty years I have worked to detailed schedules and deadlines with my paid work and your blog post reminds me that I just need to apply exactly the same critical pressures to my fiction writing. And as Stephen King says: ‘you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.’
    Thanks Chris
    All the best

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Deadlines are definitely a great motivator. Though I find them harder to stick to when I create them myself. However, I set monthly goals for myself and that usually does the trick.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Rachel

      Thanks for your response. Setting monthly goals sounds like a good alternative to deadlines. How big are your goals? Are they set in terms of total number of words to be written, chapters, or other areas related to your work?



      1. I try to get at least half of the novel done. Right now I’m editing my mystery novel as well as outlining another novel for Camp NaNo next month. I also read one book a week and then have blogging goals. It’s a lot, lol.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Sounds good, Rachel. Editing and outlining at the same time must be challenging, although I often find that it helps to do another project, outlining for example, to have a break from the editing. Sounds like you have established good writing discipline alongside a lot of work. Best of luck! I look forward to reading your results sometime. 🙂



  5. Great examples of using deadlines to motivate, Chris! I am remembering back to my former life as a reporter. One way or the other the story had to be done by 10am sharp! I try to think back on that when I am procrastinating now. Thanks for the great post.
    Lu Anne

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi Chris, I’m someone who really needs deadlines to get writing. As a journalist I have always tended to work better under the pressure of a deadline and I admit I quite like the buzz of feeling that I’m working against time. I’ve always found that I write more too, once I’m getting close to the wire. With fiction, being one of your Falmouth cohorts I definitely turned down the productivity once we’d handed in the project and it has taken me a good year to get back to writing frequently. I definitely need someone hounding me about deadlines but alas that’s not where I’m at in my fiction career. I do try to impose my own deadlines and then it’s the shame of being such a procrastinator that gets me back at the computer days after I should have been writing away. I don’t think this is a great way to write! I love your idea of the pre-order at Amazon. Brilliant idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Chris, this was an excellent blog, just what I needed to read in terms of getting back my mojo back. I did not know about Camp Nanowrimo or the Amazon pre-order self-imposed (scary!) deadline idea, but I love your chutzpah! Thanks for sharing some of your best tips for keeping the creativity flowing and the fingers typing.


  8. Chris, I am writing poetry at 10,000 words for Camp NaNoWriMo and celebrating my birthday July 11. I have a cabin called Cabin Enigma. Do you have a cabin yet? I would like to be NaNo writing buddies with you.


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