First published October 24, 2005
How deadlines can help you write
by Stephen Wilbers
As I sit down to write this, my 655th column, I have deadlines
on my mind. Without deadlines, would I have written this many
columns? I doubt it.
There’s something about a deadline’s immediacy that is
motivating – or perhaps terrifying if the consequences of
missing the deadline are dire.
Of course, deadlines don’t work this way for everyone. As
Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the
Galaxy, once declared, "I love deadlines. I love the
whooshing noise they make as they go by."
But for most of us, deadlines get us moving. Without them, we
might never write anything. If we’re handed an assignment and
told, "Here, get to this whenever it’s convenient for you," it
goes to the bottom of the pile, perhaps never again to see the
light of day.
Deadlines help us set priorities and create structure in our
lives. But sometimes they’re too short, and often they’re too
numerous. Perhaps the only thing worse than no deadline is an
unreasonable one, or competing deadlines that create
Here’s my advice on how to handle deadlines:
soon as you get an assignment, spend two minutes jotting down
your thoughts about it. One of the greatest challenges in
writing is overcoming inertia and mustering the mental energy
needed to get started. If you begin right away, even
tentatively, you’ll find it easier to start when the time comes
to write your first draft.
telling yourself, "I’m too busy to think about this. I’ll deal
with it later." If you tell your mind not to think about
something, it generally will obey. The result: You’re likely to
have writer’s block when the time comes for drafting. Rather
than close a door, leave it open. Give the assignment some
preliminary thought so that your subconscious mind can kick it
around until the time comes to write your first draft.
early; finish just in time. In other words, write in stages. Of
course, this isn’t possible if you wait until the last moment
and then dash off whatever you can manage in a panic. Begin your
first draft as soon as possible. As you write, remind yourself
that you’re only writing a first draft, just capturing the main
ideas and creating some kind of structure. You’ll refine the
wording later when you revise.
some time pass; then revise. If you let your text go cold,
you’ll be a better editor of your writing. You’ll be more likely
to react to the text as your reader will.
your text one more time just before the deadline. This is your
last chance to make sure it’s right. Your energy level at this
point will probably be at its peak, so you’ll be likely to do
your best thinking and editing in this final check.
So, there are my thoughts on deadlines. I wish you success with
your next writing assignment.
Oops, gotta go. I hear the low rumble of a whoosing noise in the
distance. My editors await.