Deadlines and Goal Setting

The very thought of setting deadlines for your work is anathema to some writers.  They believe that having a fixed time to complete a story will knobble their creativity and result in them churning out awful hogwash.  I don’t agree – personally I think that there’s joy to be found in a little bit of discipline.  Possibly if you set unrealistic deadlines you will indeed find yourself knobbled and not produce your best work, but reasonable time set for a project can inspire you to work at it every day rather than watching soaps because you have all the time in the world after all.  Truthfully, we don’t have all the time in the world, and if we want to leave a legacy of stories, we need to get them written down.  Goal setting helps us do this.

Deadlines can be terrifying things when life gets in the way in the form of illness, or some other kind of stress inducing thing that seems hell-bent on preventing you from accomplishing your goal.  I believe that the universe has been, and continues to be, rather lavish with me personally with the terrifying and stress inducing things by the way, and I’ve missed many of my personally applied deadlines.  That doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop setting them though.  Living life without goals doesn’t seem very exciting, and just like any other worthwhile pursuit, I think that working towards a goal, which is just a personal deadline after all, is great for any writing or other project.  Consider Parkinson’s Law.

Parkinson's Law

When there’s no sense of urgency it’s human nature to let projects take much longer than they should.  Rather set yourself the right amount of time.  Having projects waiting to be finished is generally stressful to some degree to most of us, and the longer any particular project languishes the worse we tend to feel about ourselves for not getting cracking on it.  Fiddling with one particular book for months or years on end might be pleasurable for some, but for many anything that takes so long to do has a very good chance of being abandoned altogether because of our feelings of failure.  Setting deadlines for yourself will help you dive right in and write, rather than angst over single sentences for days and days.  Now is the perfect time to get started on setting real date goals for your writing if you aren’t already doing that.

With 2016 poking its face up on the horizon, why not grab a pen and notepad and list your writing goals for next year?  Be realistic – if you’re sure that you can finish X book by June and Y book by November, set your deadlines for July and December to give yourself a little leeway.  You know the speed of writing that you’re comfortable with, so you can choose whether or not you want to challenge yourself with a little bit of extra zoom required.  You can break those annual goals down into chunks with what you hope to achieve monthly, weekly, or even daily.  The scariest thing about completing any project with a deadline is actually starting it, but once you do start it and accomplish that first day’s goal, the easier it gets.  It’s pretty much guaranteed that you won’t make all of your deadlines, but that’s alright as long as you try to.  Don’t ever be harsh on yourself if you don’t get there, rather relish the fact that you did your best.  Don’t give ever up because of a missed deadline – rather set a new one.  So dust off that book that’s been lurking unfinished for way too long, and write a date on it.  A deadline.  Then don’t worry about failing to complete it, rather have at it joyfully in the knowledge that it’s not the guarantee of literary accolades that means success, but the actual doing – the writing.  Finishing your scribbles is absolutely success.

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14 thoughts on “Deadlines and Goal Setting”

  1. A really interesting post. I strongly believe in setting deadlines otherwise Parkinson’s Law does truly come into play. Being a writer doesn’t just mean thinking about writing but actually writing. Don’t give yourself too much time, set a deadline and stick to it as best as you can… though understand that life does happen.

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  2. Thanks, Jo. You’re right. I’m not one for procrastinating usually, but I tend to take too many things on at the same time, and then prioritising them or juggling all of them does improve if you set deadlines, for sure.

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  3. Great timing, Jo, with the end of Nanowrimo. I like your line “Set the right amount of time.” It’s wise advice. There’s a great balance somewhere that propels our writing forward while still honoring other priorities. Stalling in any part of life is deadening. Goals get us out of the mud and moving. I should apply this advice to exercise 😀

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  4. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Jo Robinson with a post on Deadlines and goal setting which as she points out is a very important aspect of writing and publishing. Some people believe that writers do not have real jobs.. in fact it takes project planning, people, team and time management and goal setting. I love laying out next year’s projects.. it makes it seem possible and achievable. Read the article and start to look at how to get your visions into a reality.

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  5. I’ve never heard of Parkinson’s Law but how true! I always work best to deadlines and nowhere did this show than at university when completing my dissertation we had over 18 months. I only started to read for it 6 months beforehand and to write two months before the deadline. Good idea about making deadline notes for 2016!

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  6. You’re absolutely right. I have completely wasted this year by not achieving any writing goals and book 3 is seriously languishing. I’m going to give myself 6 months to finish it!

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