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Your Guides to Excellent Writing

How deadlines can help you write

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

 

 

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 unreasonable workloads.

Here’s my advice on how to handle deadlines:

#As 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.

#Avoid 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.

#Start 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.

#Let 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.

#Read 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.

 

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