The S-Word, or How to Meet Self-Imposed Deadlines

In my last article, I discussed one of the most common reasons aspiring authors have trouble meeting their deadlines. Far too often, they create unrealistic deadline they can’t possibly meet.

The realism of deadlines, however, isn’t the only cause for missed deadlines. Sometimes the usual suspects of focus and discipline come in to play.

Even the most joyous of writers needs a kick in the pants once in a while to motivate them to put fingers to the keyboard.

And that brings us to the S-word.

Of course, I’m talking about stakes!

(What S-word were you thinking of?!)

As an author, you need to be aware of the stakes at play in the narrative you’re crafting. Stakes are the consequences of what happens if your protagonist doesn’t achieve their goal or attain their object of desire. Generally, we want to ratchet up the stakes over the course of the narrative. Stakes are thus important for creating drama, intrigue, and narrative drive in your writing, but creating stakes for yourself as a writer is just as important.

If you are consistently missing self-imposed deadlines, it probably means there was nothing at stake. You felt no real pressure to meet the deadline because there was no consequence to not meeting it.

When I interviewed Jenny Blake, author of Pivot: The Only Move that Matters is Your Next One, she told me one of the best parts about being a traditionally published author is the contractually obligated deadline.

As a traditionally published author, if you don’t meet the deadlines you’ve agreed to, you could be in breach of contract.

Talk about stakes!

First time authors don’t have the luxury of contractually obligated deadlines, however, that doesn’t mean you can’t create stakes. This is most mostly commonly done through systems of accountability.

Accountability Systems

Accountability can come in the form of a writing coach, like myself, who you can meet with on a regular basis to discuss progress on your manuscript. Often just the financial investment of hiring a coach is motivation enough to get your work done.

If you can’t afford a writing coach, a writing buddy can play a similar accountability function. Find a friend also writing a book, and then set-up a once a week meeting to touch-base and recount the progress you’ve both made.

(This is the same sort of joint motivation and accountability that leads so many people to seek gym buddies for working out.)

Other authors find they benefit most from the camaraderie and support of a group environment. This can come in the form of a local writing group in your town or city, or via an online community like Writer’s Craft Academy, which combines a forum structure with weekly group calls.

Often public accountability is the very the best way to create stakes.

There is a reason traditional wedding vows are pledged before a community of family and friends; promises are more likely to be kept when made in a public fashion.

I’m currently struggling with a stomach ulcer, which means I’ve had to give up alcohol. I wasn’t sure how difficult giving up drinking was going to be, so the first thing I did was make a public announcement on my Facebook page stating I was quitting drinking. Now, if I’m tempted to break my drinking fast, I won’t just be letting down myself, I’ll be letting down a whole community of people who are cheering me on.

If you’ve evaluated your deadlines and found them to be realistic, yet you still have difficulty meeting them, it’s time to ask yourself, “What’s at stake?”

You are the hero of your own story, and a completed manuscript is your object of desire. What are you going to risk to ensure you achieve it?

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