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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Power of a Deadline

When I speak at conferences and to writers groups I often mention the power of planning and setting deadlines, yet many people complain. They say they simply cannot plan or set deadlines. Pooh on that! We have a plan every day we wake up. We know when we have to go to work, go to school, pick up the children from daycare, go grocery shopping, attend meetings, return books to the library, meet with friends, and even eat meals. If those are not plans, what are they? In essence, too, every plan has a deadline, a time by which the thing must be done. Knowing we already have plans with deadlines, what’s so difficult about creating a writing plan with a deadline by which you wish to finish your essay, short story, novel, or nonfiction book?

Yes, I tell people how easy it is, yet I’m equally as likely to skip these steps myself, and when I do, I’m, as they say in the South, “fixin’ to mess up.” Let me explain.

I have a great client for whom I am ghostwriting a children’s book that will help market a product he created. I’ve handled projects like this one quite a few times. The product-related children’s books always look like they will be fun when I accept the project, but when I face the actual work, they turn into monsters I resist tackling. I don’t know why it is; it just is. My client patiently waited as plan after plan (I hesitated to call them deadlines) fell by the wayside, while I kept saying I was working on my creative juices, trying to find the right way to approach the project. The months ticked by, and it’s a wonder my client wasn’t ticked off as well, but he remained kind and supportive, until I beat myself over the head over the length of time I’d taken to produce the book he requested. In the end I set a deadline for the project, told him the deadline, and wrote it down. Did the deadline spur me to jump into the project immediately? No, it didn’t, but it made me see the date by which the project had to be completed, and each day that went by made the deadline closer, until I finally did sit down and write the thing I’d been mulling over and over for months. It’s lovely, and the client likes it, as well.

Had I not set that absolute drop-dead deadline, though, the project would still be incomplete, I’m sure.

If you are waiting for inspiration to hit, there’s no better inspiration than a deadline. Set a date by which you plan to complete your own project. Write it on your calendar. Post the date by your computer. Tell your friends your deadline. Chances are you will see your project completed, and you can celebrate. Deadlines? Maybe we should call them live-lines.

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Don’t Try; Do

Robert Frost said, “Talking is a hydrant in the yard, and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second.”

When I ran across the quote from Frost, I smiled, because I have the same philosophy. From time to time “writers” tell me they have ideas for books, I tell them to write the book; don’t tell me their ideas. I intentionally put quotation marks around the word “writers” because quotation marks indicate irony when used outside of direct quotations, and the people who talk about their ideas are talkers, not writers. Talking about an idea drains the energy from the project. It leaves no need to do the hard word of sitting down and writing. Real writers (no quotation marks needed, because no irony intended) sit down and write.

I had the honor of meeting a group of real writers this month, women and men who came from many parts of Georgia to hear me speak at the arts center in Carrollton. When we went around the room introducing ourselves, I was pleased and amazed at the confidence and successes of almost everyone in the room. Only one person was relatively new to writing, and everyone else in the room seemed eager to help her move toward getting published as well. That’s another thing I love about writers; we have no proprietary information and no secrets. We gladly help one another.

Even though almost no one in the room was new to writing, they loved what I spoke about. I did not talk about the basics of writing, which most of us know, but about how to revise a manuscript objectively using my trademarked Find and Refine Method. I won’t go into a sales pitch, but the Find and Refine Method is explained in my book Write In Style and in one of my free reports, which you can receive by sending an e-mail to

More important is the fact that everyone in the room was a real writer. No one said, “One day I’m going to write” or “I’ve always wanted to write a book but never had the time” or any of the other excuses I have heard hundreds of times. Instead, they had put their rear ends in a chair and their hands on the keyboard, and they wrote. As a result, they were published. They didn’t try to write; they wrote. I’m impressed.

Many people can spend their time trying to write, but trying never gets anything done. Writers write. I hope you write every day, too.

Yours in writing,
Bobbie Christmas ( or )
Author of triple-award-winning _Write In Style_ (Union Square Publishing), owner of Zebra Communications, and director of The Writers Network