Is your writing productivity the pits? Are you working on a writing project you feel is never going to get finished? If it’s possible to rule a situation like this, then call me Queenie. I have a fantasy novel that I’ve been working on for, let’s see. . . over twenty five years.
That’s not a typo. I’ve hauled this half-completed manuscript through four states, nine houses, and raised three kids to adulthood — all without finishing. It’s a feat not everyone can accomplish, yet sadly, many of us do.
While you may not have experienced quite the same amount of,er, lag time, with your writing productivity as I have with my novel, you probably have a story, novella, novel, article, or collection that’s been in production for more than it’s share of time.
Recently, I got some great advice from a book on time management called The Five Second Rule by Mel Robbins. In it, Mel takes notice of the interesting phenomenon I’ll call work inflation. That is, work expands (or contracts) to fit the amount of time you give it.
For example, if someone says, “Hey, can you write an article about industrial laser diodes for DiodeWorld magazine?” you may put it on your list and “get to it when you get to it.” You might take two weeks to write it, or two months, depending upon how fired up you are about writing about industrial laser diodes. But if the editor says on Monday, “Hey, can you write an article about industrial laser diodes by Thursday?” Wham! You write your article in three days. Amazing.
I should have figured this out for myself. After all, when I pitch stories, most editors ask me when I can deliver the final product. I set a deadline and do the work with ease.
When you don’t have an editor, magazine, publisher, or agent to set your deadlines, you must set them yourself. Otherwise, as with me and my fantasy novel, you may spend years spinning your creative wheels.
Who needs spinning wheels? Not me. I dusted off the old manuscript (and it’s so old that I have a hard copy and a copy on a floppy drive that is unusable) to finish up this project once and for all. I’ve got about 80k words written, but this all needs to be retyped into my current software before I can revise and finish the second half. I’ve tried this before: I’ve started retyping it several times, only to get distracted or bored before making much headway.
This time determined to succeed, I followed Mel’s advice and gave myself a deadline. I decided that it should take me no longer than three weeks to finish the typing portion. I faithfully log the number of pages typed each day so I can have a visual reminder of where I am in the process.
This time, I’ve made honest-to-goodness progress; I’ve typed more than half of the manuscript with a week and a half left, so I’m ahead of schedule. Having this deadline has given me a clear goal and seen me get further in a week and a half than I have in over twenty years — hooray!
If you’re a writer who works from home, setting deadlines is a great way to keep yourself on track for specific projects and increase your writing productivity overall. And let’s face it, the more you write, the more writing you have to sell. The more you sell, the more well-known you become and this can only do good things for your career.
As I’ve played with this technique, I realize setting shorter deadlines is the way to go. If I had it to do again, I’d break my manuscript into thirds, with each one being “due” within a week. That way, it seems more manageable, less stressful, and each completed goal will give me a burst of accomplishment that can speed me on the way to the next milepost.
However you decide to use them, deadlines are a must-have tool for the prolific writer’s arsenal. What’s your next project deadline?
See you on the next page!