A writer friend and I were talking today about what we'd like to achieve with our writing this year. She has been working on a trilogy for a long time but has had to put it on the back burner for a while, so she wants to get her head back inside the story and commit to it again. I have a handy deadline of a conference this year, and a new novel - put the two together and presto! I've decided I want to achieve a decent draft of the novel by the time the conference comes around.
But in the past, this kind of incentive hasn't always been there. I've had to simply keep plugging away at whatever I was working on, whether it be the fifteenth draft of a picture book or a novel that may or may not be working. Some people use Nanowrimo to inspire them to write a whole novel, while others are good at goal setting and timelines. Where do you sit?
For many of us, work and family commitments shove their way into our spare time and energy, taking over until there is nothing left. If you work in a job that requires a fair amount of creative energy (teaching is one), you probably struggle to keep some for writing. If you have small children or a demanding home situation (I'll let you imagine what that might mean!) or your health is not good, it can be hard for you to give your writing its fair share of time in your life.
This is where deadlines can be very useful, and there is nothing to stop you setting them for yourself. They can be as simple as 10 pages per week by Sunday 9pm. If you have a big 0 birthday coming up (40 or 50, say) you might start thinking about finishing your novel by that date. You might hunt out some competition opportunities and set their closing dates as deadlines for yourself. Or even find yourself a writing buddy that you can work with to set deadlines and encourage each other to meet them.
Often a good deadline is one with a goal, like a writing competition with its closing date. You can attach a reward to your deadline - If I finish my novel by 31st July, I can book that holiday to the Byron Bay Writers' festival, for example. Sometimes I set a really short deadline and reward - finish 20 pages by the weekend and I'm off to the movies! The thing about attaching a deadline to a reward is the time limit. No putting off those pages forever and a day. You have to have them finished or no reward at all. All of this might sound like the kind of big stick you don't want behind you, but remember the real reward - the more writing you do, the better you get, and the more likely you are to finish that novel.