Draw The Line On Deadlines

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When I meet with writers, “Deadlines” are in the top ten topics of discussion. Who has one, who missed one, who needs one, why we have them this time.  When we have to be done takes up a lot of space in the minds of writers.

I realized this Dominance of the Deadline odd as it’s not directly about writing.

As I talk with my fellow writers, the stress of deadlines comes up all the time. An editor may inflict a deadline, an author may choose one, but most writers worry about them. While wrestling with this worry, I noticed how much fear of deadlines slows writing.

You can’t write well when you’re panicked.

Now, let me voice a blasphemy – Deadlines can be a bad idea for some writers or some projects.

A shocking statement, but let me turn (inevitably) to Agile approaches. Agile teaches us to evaluate the value of things – a project, a task, a tool. You should ask if a deadline you have brings any value – it may not.

A deadline may be very valuable. For example, if you’re trying to meet an ideal release date for a marketing campaign, the deadline matters.  But you may need to give up on other things of lesser value. If one book needs to hit a deadline, set aside that side project or drop that indulgent appendix.

A deadline may be valuable but not critical.  A deadline could be helpful but not vital – meaning maybe you don’t take it as seriously. If you want to get a book done by a given month to start another, well, a slight change won’t matter. As important as a deadline is, maybe quality or free time matter more.

A deadline may be a bad idea.  Hersey? Perhaps, but maybe some of your deadlines do nothing but cause pain. Maybe you drop a deadline on a “for fun” project or acknowledge the unknown. Hey, you can always add a deadline later.

A deadline is a choice, even if your choice is “I’m gonna fail to deliver this book.

I would also add we often use deadlines as substitutes for other things. We use a deadline to force discipline, but maybe a daily writing exercise is better for us. A deadline may help us hit an ideal time for marketing – but perhaps a different advertising campaign is a better idea.

Evaluate the value of your deadlines as a writer – and as a person. I’d suggest you do it soon, but only if that deadline is valuable.

Steven Savage