The self-imposed deadline

May 13, 2009

I love deadlines: the thrill of them approaching, the accomplishment of meeting them and how they force me to get work done. I work well under pressure. I am a journalist, after all.

But self-imposed deadlines are a bit trickier, mostly because I have to set them myself. Since I just started writing my book four months ago, I’m not sure how much time I need to write a chapter or even a page. I’m still learning what expectations to set for myself.

My first self-imposed deadline was April 1, three months after I started to write. I had hoped to finish my book proposal by then and start approaching literary agents.

I did finish the bulk of the proposal. But my sample chapters remained incomplete, largely because after writing one of them, I decided to redo it in a different way.

So I missed my deadline. After years in a newsroom, that was probably the first writing deadline I’ve ever missed.

But the truth is, this writing process is entirely different than cranking out a news story. If my newspaper story isn’t done by 6 p.m., I have to hand it over to my editor anyways, doing the best I can with the information I have. But writing a book is more flexible. If a scene or a character needs more work, I’m allowed to take more time to perfect it.

That means it’s okay to miss one of my self-imposed deadlines. But I set them anyhow, so I have a goal to work toward. My newest deadline? June 1. By then I hope to have drafts of the two chapters that will become part of my proposal.

And if I don’t? I’ll keep on chugging.

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    14 Replies to “The self-imposed deadline”

    • Deadlines are like insurance, a kind of necessary evil.

      We need deadlines to keep focused and help organize our work direction, but, for the creative writer, they can get in the way. Your initial deadline understanding from the world of Journalism is at the “hard core” end of the spectrum”¦had to be.

      Creative writing…and you are writing factually AND creatively”¦requires the slider to move to the other end of the continuum. Seems like your last thoughts on the matter summed it up pretty well and you’ve got the slider where it belongs. As usual, you’ve got it figured out.


    • Karen Walker says:

      You’ve got an innate wisdom that is definitely working for you. I’m envious that you’ve got so much figured out at 28. Took me years to get there. You just keep on doing what you’re doing, Alexis. Trusting yourself and trusting the process.


    • drewfbush says:

      Yes, I’ve learned self-imposed deadlines for studying for statistics finals don’t always go so well. Especially if you fly to NH for Mother’s Day the weekend before the Monday exam.

    • Elle Parker says:

      I’m not a huge fan of deadlines, in general. They stress me out more than they motivate me. But I DO find that self-imposed ones help keep me somewhat on track

      Elle Parker

    • Maybe a daily deadline, instead of a long-term one? Mine is 1500 words a day. Doable, for me. I have a big deadline that is imposed on me by an editor (Sept. 1), but that one just wigs me out, so I’m focusing on the daily one….


    • Alan Chin says:

      I belive goals are useful, but I perfer to focus on short-term deadlines, that is, daily goals. The foremost of which is, write 800 words per day. Each day I make a plan of the day. It could be as little as
      1. write 800 words.
      2. Edit one chapter.
      3. make blog entry.
      4. answer all emails.

      When I’m writing a first draft, the 800 word goal is always number one. Anything else is gravy. If I can maintain that, I know I can finish the draft in three to four months time. Then comes the editing.

    • Years of working in the world of corporate accounts payable and accounting made me a slave to deadlines. Without a deadline, even one that’s self-imposed, I dawdle…


    • julielomoe says:

      Two chapters by June 1st sounds like a reasonable goal. And I’m impressed by the dedication you showed yesterday by hunkering down to write amidst all the ambient noise at Panera. But as you said, that probably comes from years of working in a newsroom.

    • Destineers says:

      Goals are a good thing…as long as you keep them realistic. Otherwise, you set yourself up for failure. I’m curious about the deadline to query agents without a finished manuscript though…to me it seems as though you may limit your possibilities that way instead of optimizing them. Something to consider.

      NA Sharpe

    • Enid Wilson says:

      My new year resolutions came and went as well. Maybe we should all have smaller aims and less tight deadline.

      In Quest of Theta Magic

    • I only like deadlines if I have imposed them upon myself. There is always that part of my mind that can relax knowing that I’m the only one who will ever know if I don’t make it. Deadlines that are put on me from outside drive me a little insane. I mean that in the nicest way possible. Suddenly my entire life revolves around meeting a deadline that is in all probability an arbitary number and the world will not end if I don’t reach it. However, obsession ensues.

      It has been interesting finding out how other people deal with deadlines.

    • Karen Brees says:

      “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.” Anonymous

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