Spur Your Writing

By Shelley Widhalm

As a freelance writer and former journalist, I’ve learned to live by deadlines.

And as an anti-procrastinator, I’ve made it my habit to turn in assignments before the due date because facing a ticking clock stresses me out. 

But when it comes to writing novels and not having a publisher demanding a first or final draft, deadlines sometimes become dead . . . on arrival.


I’ve devised a few tactics to create artificial deadlines that get me to write and keep me writing (see https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/racing-the-clock-the-pros-and-cons-of-deadlines). Currently, it helps. I may have a movie deal with my current writing project, but it’s still in the talking phase. I have until October to finish the first draft, but I aimed for August 15th.

My goal has been to write five days a week as if it’s a work week, at least for one, but preferably two to three hours a day. I log in my hours and tally the total at the end of the week and the month’s end to check in on my progress. 

So far, since I started the novel on May 1st, I’ve put in 154 hours, 66 in May, 65 in June, and 23 in July (that also includes the time I spend writing my poem of the day). My time was limited in July because I went on vacation. The week before departure, I got slammed with work. That meant carrying it over on my trip.

Before that, my maximum writing time was 15 hours a month. 

That’s a huge difference. But it’s because I have a self-created deadline. To meet it takes motivation, discipline, and self-congratulation. That’s the great thing about NaNoWriMo: writers have one month to write 50,000 words within a supportive community encouraging them and rewards for completed tasks (see https://nanowrimo.org/).

The biggest thing I’ve learned about meeting deadlines is to start in small chunks. I used to tell myself that if I wrote a poem, that was at least something. Now I expect more.

Change is best done in stages. The self-created deadline becomes routine without requiring much self-convincing to start. (see https://www.apa.org/topics/behavioral-health/healthy-lifestyle-changes). Like New Year’s resolutions, taking on too much may result in vapor lock by February — gyms are busy in January. It’s crickets come February. 

Here are my best tips for achieving writing by setting artificial, if not also fun, deadlines:

  • Create a writing plan to prioritize a set of goals that keep you dedicated and focused. You could write 30 to 60 minutes a day or two times a week but plan for the same time and day so that it becomes part of your schedule (and be sure to put it in your planner).
  • Break writing into smaller tasks so that it doesn’t seem overwhelming. Set up mini-deadlines and items that you can cross off your to-do list. (I like to start my writing lists with recent accomplishments that get a big checkmark, so I can remember what I just finished and feel like I’m in the middle of things, not just starting.)
  • Go backward, figuring out a final due date or deadline for the writing project and coming up with a list of tasks to get there. Write in an estimated completion time for each item on the list. Then schedule the things out, leaving a couple extra leeway days in case of interruptions.

If that doesn’t work, try to:

  • Schedule an hour or two for writing every other day or every three days. Even 15 minutes will suffice. It will add up over time, but if you don’t write, there will be nothing but the desire to do so.
  • Do the writing in the morning by getting up extra early (or before bed).
  • Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel less work. Come back to it later.

And finally, self-congratulate. Be sure to have a reward in place, doing something you usually wouldn’t do. Maybe go out for an extra nice dinner or buy a gift for yourself (I tend to pick boxes of fancy chocolate).

Get through NaNoWriMo with your new goals turned into routines or even habits. You can take on your next project comfortably with the idea of writing under the deadline. You’re keeping the commitment but also making it fun, almost as if it’s a vacation. You don’t have to travel, but you have to imagine!

2 thoughts on “Spur Your Writing

  1. Great post! Breaking your writing into smaller chunks is a habit that can go both ways. We can either build our output, or we can slowly decline if we slack off a little at a time. I definitely respect those like you who take writing seriously. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

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