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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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