Deadlines. We all have them, and probably chafe in varying degrees when they approach. Work-related deadlines, bill-paying deadlines, and the days of the week that the trash needs to be set out at the curb (yeah, that’s a deadline, too). Some are more constrictive than others, and some we can ignore or procrastinate about a little longer before jumping in and getting things done. As a writer, deadlines take on a whole, new meaning.
If you’re working with an agent, there are probably some pretty strict, non-negotiable deadlines you’ll want to be sure you meet. Breaking down the task into weekly or daily goals will help ensure you don’t mess this one up. If you can stay ahead of your schedule, you’ll have a little wiggle room in case you need to do some last minute editing or rewriting before your due date. Stay in communication with them if it looks like it’s going to be a close call or one that you might miss. Offer up an alternative that’s reasonable for both parties and one that you can deliver on. Apologize.
I don’t mean to conjure the image of a serial killer, but if you have a recurring deadline that you consistently feel you’re up against, it can feel like a serial nightmare. One solution is to work ahead one or two projects, episodes, etc. so that you’re always one step ahead of that serial deadline looming ahead and waiting for you. If you can find a way to do that, then you’ll be giving yourself a comfort zone that frees up your creative side and as a benefit, the work will hopefully flow easier and line up nicely next to your already completed works.
Let’s say you’re working on a manuscript on your own timeline. There is no agent or publisher waiting for that next segment, and it’s not episodic. So, what deadlines will you impose upon yourself to keep your story moving forward on that long, solitary road to completion? Here are a few ideas to toss around. Work on a scene-by-scene deadline and set up a schedule for a certain number of them a week. A scene a day? Might be too ambitious, but that depends on your own personal situation and how much time you have to set aside for writing. Make it realistic so you can find success in it. Perhaps it will be a chapter a month. Figure out what works for you and do your best to make good on that promise to yourself and your characters.
If you miss a deadline… communicate with those who are depending on your work and apologize for missing the deadline. Offer up a close alternative and meet it. You owe to yourself, those working with you, and the story/project you’re committed to. Learn from what happened and adjust your schedule to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
If you’re working on your own, don’t beat yourself up. But don’t let yourself off the hook too easily, either. You have yourself to answer to, and you’re just as important as anyone else. Apologize. Then, get busy.