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Writing Under Deadlines


By; Donna Schlachter (previously published in Writing Nuggets of Gold)

There are two kinds of deadlines.

In the writing world, there are two kinds of deadlines: the ones imposed by others; and the ones imposed by you. The deadlines that others set for you in your writing might include a contest entry date; a critique group submission due date; a time frame for the submission of a proposal and first three chapters to an editor or agent following a contact at a writing conference such as the ACFW National Conference; a request for a full manuscript; the acceptance and signing of a contract; first draft approval; intermediate revisions; and final revisions prior to publication. Each one of these deadlines is critical to writing, of keeping everything flowing, and of ultimately achieving the goal, whether that be winning a contest, being a productive member of a critique group, acquiring an agent, or publication.

And there are the self-imposed deadlines, the ones you set for yourself. And whether or not you realize it, you set deadlines every day, some that are related to writing and some that are not. For example, you get up at a certain time of the day. You have set the deadline on how long you’re going to spend sleeping. If you have children, you get them off to school. Each deadline, while not specifically adding words or pages to your work in process, is a practice at meeting a deadline.

How do you set a self-imposed deadline?

So how do you set self-imposed writing deadlines when there is no agent, no editor, no promise of an advance or a royalty looming over your head?

Treat your writing seriously, or you won’t set goals. Look at the book you’re working on, look at your schedule–because face it, we all have a life outside of writing–and determine how much time you can spend on writing, and how much you can reasonably expect to get done in that time. For example, I was working on a novella. When I started the book, I was excited about the story, excited about where the characters were going. I figured this book would just leap out of my mind, through my fingers, and into the computer.

That didn’t happen. I was so convinced I could have this done in no time, that’s exactly what I spent writing–no time. Suddenly the story was boring, and the laundry looked more interesting.

So, around the middle of the third month of not writing, I decided enough was enough. I set a goal for the end of the month to have the story finished. I was about 20,000 words from the end. Still didn’t happen. Seemed I had all the time in the world. For other things. I buckled down and started writing seriously three days before the end of the month. I wrote 2,500 words the first day, 1,500 words the second, and 4,500 words the last day. I didn’t quite make my goal because I hadn’t quite finished the story. But I was on a roll. Spending every day in the story made the story more real to me. And setting a deadline made me feel like a proper writer.

Did I set a bad deadline? No. I wasn’t serious enough about the work required.

Should I simply dump the story and move on? No. Writing every day kept me in the story and opened new plot points and backstory points, and that’s exciting for me.

How do I learn from this experience? I won’t take the next deadline for granted. I will treat the deadline as if a contract, an advance, or publication depend on it.

I will act like I am a writer under a deadline imposed by someone else.


1. What work in process would you like to finish?
2. Take out the story, read through it to ground yourself again, and set a deadline.
3. Write every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, to keep yourself grounded in the story.

Donna Schlachter

Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, Capitol Christian Writers Fellowship, Christian Women Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly for Heroes, Heroines, and History; and judges in writing contests.

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