They call them deadlines because they can kill you, right?

calendar2As I’ve mentioned before, my most recent book sold on proposal, so I’m now staring at a great big fat hairy

Former Emu Peter Salomon is in a similar situation with his second book, GHOSTLY. (You can read the announcement here.) Peter and I have struck up a daily accountability email to report our progress and cheer each other on. I’ll admit I’m a tad jealous, but I love hearing how Peter is making amazing progress and writing up a storm. (By the way, his book sounds seriously, creeptastically awesome, and I can’t wait to read it!)

Quicksand!Unfortunately, the harder I try to work and more I try to focus, the more it feels like I’m moving in slow motion, fighting a desperate (losing) battle against the quicksand that is pulling me down. Life has been unavoidably crazy-making busy lately. My family is being pulled in multiple different directions, while still trying to make time to come back together again whenever possible. I’m definitely not willing to give that up. My health has also been a bit of a challenge lately, which I can’t do anything about at the moment besides wait, hope, try to get enough sleep, and drink a LOT of coffee. And, I’m already thinking about the NEXT book and getting nervous about not having anything new to send out right now. (Note: This seems to be a common Emu affliction…

So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to get this deadline beast under control. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Balance: When I found out about this deadline, I decided I didn’t have time to read until the draft is finished. But the longer I went without reading, the crankier I got, and the less able I was to write. Reading fuels me (duh, right?). So, I’m going back to giving myself time to read every day. I had also decided, at first, that I had to keep writing during lunch and to eat whatever was at hand. Seriously? I’ll be better off in the long run if I eat something healthy–and take time to enjoy it–preferably with a good book! On the other hand, those sudden urges to clean the refrigerator, wash the windows, or organize the garage? It’s probably best to ignore them for the next few months. Having a book contract is a fine excuse for having a messy (or in my case, disastrous) house, right? RIGHT?
  2. Small goals: I keep thinking about how much more research I need to do, how many more interviews I need to set up, and how many more chapters are left to write. It’s a bit daunting. Overwhelming, really. Okay, it’s completely freaking paralyzing at times. I really need to quit thinking about the whole book and only focus on the next small bite. Writing the next little piece sounds so much easier than writing the whole darn thing! Of course I can do that next teeny tiny part. Piece of cake! (Which brings me to…)
  3. Bursts/Rewards: I think often about Melanie’s post on the Run-Rest cycle, which really struck me. Rather than feeling like I should be writing all the time—and then not wanting to write at all (which is what was starting to happen, even though I LOVE this book!), I’m going to try to be more mindful of working times and resting times. After all, I can still be doing something “productive” when I’m resting (like reading emails, catching up on Twitter, or eating chocolate)… hey, look, rewards! Not that I’m easily motivated by cheesy rewards or anything. (Okay, I confess, I’m totally motivated by cheesy rewards.) And when I’m enjoying those rewards, I must remember to…
  4. Focus on the now: I’m going to practice mindfulness and make sure to fully enjoy my family, my health, my little successes, and my rewards as they come. I’m also going to try to stop worrying about what’s next. Those other manuscripts that I’ve been working on will still be there waiting for me when this one is finished. My agent will probably thank me if she doesn’t hear from me for a few months. And if I don’t have something new go out on submission for the next 4 months, it isn’t going to tank my whole career. So, one thing at a time (or at least, I can make working on those other manuscripts one of the rewards for a successful burst, or something to play with when I’m resting.)

That’s my plan so far, but what about you? What tips and tricks have you found for staying motivated and sticking to a deadline without letting it overwhelm you? Please share–I’m going to need all the help I can get!


Filed under Anxiety, Panic, Writing and Life

17 responses to “They call them deadlines because they can kill you, right?

  1. Well, thank you for the kind words!!

    Having small goals has been vital for me, just trying to focus a couple chapters ahead so that the entirety of the project doesn’t become overwhelming.

    Plus, I highly recommend the buddy system which has, so far, served me quite well…now, get back to writing 🙂


  2. I made a huge mistake with my last deadline, in that I decided to completely change the way I write a novel so I’d be more efficient. And guess what? I could never outline before and I still can’t. So that deadline has come and gone. Thanks for the advice; I’m taking this thing bit by bit now!


    • Oh, this is good point to think about, Adi! I changed the way I work with this book, too, finally jumping whole hog into Scrivener. I’d dabbled with it enough before to know how it works and have an idea how to use it effectively on a project like this, though, so in my case it’s been a huge help. I feel like it’s saving me tons of time and resulting in a better book. I guess it comes down to comfort level and experience with a particular change.


    • Thinking about your point more, I definitely see it relating to my process, if not my tools. I tend to think about things for a long time, almost writing them in my head before I can get them out in manuscript form, but then the writing comes pretty quickly. I’ve been trying to skip that ruminating step and just get words on paper, but they’re not coming as fast as I’d like. Ding, ding, ding! Now I know why. Honor your process and go with what works. Thanks, Adi! That helps a lot. 🙂


      • I work almost exactly like that as well. Now that you mention it, I’ve always thought of myself as a “fast” writer, but I’m actually anything but. I definitely tend to undervalue (is that a word?) that “thinking” time, especially when I’m looking at deadlines. Wow, thanks for illuminating that!

        P. S. I like Scrivener, too, but I tend to use it post-first draft, especially if there are big structural changes. Also COLORS!


  3. I have no tips to offer, but I can empathize. I found that when I was so so so focused on the writing, I wasn’t reading and that made me cranky. I also give myself time to read now and, duh, have found that as I’m paying more attention to what I’m reading it is helping my writing. Balance. Balance. Balance.


    • Glad to hear I’m not the only one, Tracy! I’m curious, do you read things that are similar to what you’re writing? I find that I need to get far away from it. I’m reading a fun fantasy while writing a inspirational/instructional nonfiction.


  4. Great post, Laurie! I love the title. 🙂

    I agree that cutting out reading, even when you’re on a deadline, is not a great idea. Lately I’ve gotten really into listening to audiobooks, especially since I can do that while cleaning the house or running errands or whatever. Stuff gets done, and I’m still reading!

    Secondly, something that’s worked pretty well for me lately is a star chart. Well, more like a star calendar. I get a star for every two hours I spend drafting, and once I reach 30 stars, my husband is going to take me to the movies. 🙂 It’s good because it helps me focus on actually getting my butt in the chair and getting the work done, rather than having rewards lined up only for when I finish a full draft or something.

    Good luck!!


    • Good idea with the audiobooks, Tara! I spend so much time in the car hauling kids around, that would be a great way to quench some of my reading thirst and share something fun with the kids at the same time. Any good MG recommendations?

      I’m trying to tie my rewards more to time spent rather than output, too. Or maybe both, actually: rewards for work, celebrations for milestones. 🙂 I remember J. Anderson Coats saying she uses a star calendar, too. It seems kind of silly that we need these simple tricks to make us do something we already love doing, but perhaps it’s time for me to invest in some shiny stickers. 😉


      • The stickers were the best dollar-store purchase I ever made!

        I’ve been listening to mostly YA audiobooks, of which I really liked Seraphina and The Fault in Our Stars. For MG, the newest Lemony Snicket one (Who Can It Be At This Hour?) was very good!


  5. I’m enjoying these tips! It depends on the project for me. If I have a three-month deadline and I have a nonfiction book to write, I start early and take it chapter by chapter. I also reward myself with a movie or some other treat. But in grad school, knowing I had a month to get a packet done or three chapters written, I’d sometimes wait till the last minute and coast on adrenaline.


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  7. Good luck! You can do it!


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  10. My latest revision deadline has kept me from reading this until now, so I can totally relate. Hope you’ve made the progress you need and the SEND button is in sight! (And, yeah, totally agree about the ‘reading’t thing. I get cranky too.)


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