Deadlines Made Me A Better Writer

By Katie Lewis

School is back in session, the spell of Pumpkin Spice Latte is in the air, and many of us are gearing up for NaNoWriMo. As someone who thrives off of writing deadlines, the key is to plan ahead. Back in March, I talked about how I set myself a weekday writing goal. Now let me walk you through how to prepare for adhering to a daily word count schedule.



Make a Plan of Attack

Whether you plan to participate in NaNoWriMo or want to get in the habit of setting hard deadlines on your writing, the first step is to decide on your plan of attack. The math for NaNoWriMo is relatively well known. 50,000 words in 30 days break down to 1,667 words per day. Having a solid daily word count to focus on is the first building block, but it’s only one of many. For any writing deadline to be successful, there are a few more steps that I would recommend.

Firstly, plan to give yourself some wiggle room. Some days you may hit or even exceed your word count like an Olympic sprinter. Others, you’ll struggle to eke out every word as though you’re running a 5k with zero distance training. Take advantage of the days when you’re particularly inspired. If you have the time to blow past your daily goal, then go for it. Not only will that help the day-to-day flow of your writing, but it will also make up for the days when you just can’t hit your word count goal.

Secondly, think long and hard about yourself and the balance of your life. For example, I like to leave myself utterly open on weekends to enjoy having two days off. So when deciding on my daily word count for a deadline, I plan for 5 days of writing per week, not 7. Maybe you’re the opposite of me. Maybe workdays are too draining, so you might plan for a couple hundred words Monday through Friday and then catch up over the weekend. Create a schedule that you know will work for YOU, whatever that might mean.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. I’ve touched on this idea in the previous two points, but it deserves further exploration. No one is harder on us as writers than we are ourselves. I know I certainly battle a lot with feelings of shame and guilt. Setting hard deadlines can spur you on to be productive. Still, they can also amplify those negative feelings if you start to feel that you’re falling behind. I’ve found that it helps to remember that the deadline exists to keep you writing consistently. It is not in any way meant to be a punishment. If it starts to feel like one, I’d suggest adjusting your goals, as I’ve outlined above.

The Plan in Action

Once you decide how to approach your deadline, it’s time to put the plan in motion! For this example, I’m going to step away from NaNoWriMo for a moment to illustrate how setting deadlines can help outside November.

As some of you may remember, I mentioned self-publishing novellas monthly from the last time I talked about word counts. I’ve taken a break from that over the summer, but it was an experiment I ran to see if I could produce one novella per month from April 2021 to April 2022. The answer was yes! And it was primarily thanks to the three tips above.

Firstly, I gave myself wiggle room. Some days I’d hit an action scene or a fun moment with lots of dialogue and blow way past my goal of 2,000 words. I simply let myself keep going until the scene came to a conclusion. This practice gave me a nice buffer of “extra words.” That way, if I struggled later on in the week, my timeline didn’t suffer for it, and I could let myself stop at half my usual word count if necessary.

Secondly, I knew how I wanted to balance my writing with the rest of my life. I knew my goal word count was at least 30,000. I knew I didn’t want to write on weekends. Additionally, I knew I wanted to hit that goal in three weeks to give myself time to edit and pass it on to my beta reader. Hence, 2,000 words per day to hit 30,000 words in 15 days.

I know I’m more of a morning writer than a night writer, so whenever possible, I would try to get my words in before noon. We all have lives outside of writing, so writing at your preferred time of day isn’t always possible, but take advantage of it whenever possible.

Lastly, I was kind to myself. As I said, I worked ahead whenever the muse struck me, so I didn’t feel so bad about the days when she abandoned me. Also, because I planned to give myself weekends off to recharge from the start, I was mainly able to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Some people prefer to write every day to enjoy a lower daily word count goal, but the trade-off of writing a bit more to have some days off ultimately was more than worth it.

Parting Advice

Aside from that prep work, there are only two other tips that I have found helped me immensely. The first was to outline at least the essential plot points of the story before you start. I’ve admitted before to being a “Planter,” meaning I outline but allow my characters to deviate from it if they so choose. That mainly remained true, but I did find that knowing the basic plot beats was invaluable in writing a quality narrative quickly. The second was that I bought a planner. I wrote down, by hand, my weekly goals and publication deadlines and kept close track of them. Having my deadlines written out like that kept me accountable and made hitting my publication goals much easier.


Now go forth, my pretties, and write!

Effective Time Management

Benefits of Working Deadlines

Hearty Word Counts

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