By Elizabeth S. Craig
I live by deadlines. I’ve noticed that most writers have a love-hate relationship with deadlines.
Actually, most everyone lives with deadlines, although they may not think of them that way. Deadlines to buy a present for an anniversary? Christmas? Life itself comes with a deadline.
I started getting serious about personal deadlines about twelve years ago. I had a scamp of a preschooler at the time--the kind of kid you affix deadbolts on your doors for and hide your keys from. I had a baby who was just getting into the Cheerio stage.
I decided to set a deadline for myself. I wanted to write a book by the end of the year.
I was busy. But when are we not busy? It's just that the busyness changes from sleep loss and diaper changing to carpools and soccer games to college visits to work demands to travel-packed retirements.
I decided there would never be that fictional cabin in the mountains with the scenic view and the complete and utter lack of a daily agenda.
I've used deadlines three important ways in my life:
1) The first way I've used deadlines is to get work done. Writers talk a lot about goals. We have project goals and word count goals. Goals are these sorts of nebulous things. They are vague and forgiving. Goals are shockingly similar to wishes...I want to lose ten pounds or exercise three days a week. I want to learn Spanish. I want to win the lottery. There's an air of unreality to them. They're not solid.
Deadlines break goals into manageable bits. My goal was: I want to write a book. My deadlines were: Each day, I'll write a page.
2) The second way I've used deadlines is to maintain focus. At first, distractions were easy to avoid...the ringing phone didn't have to be answered...there was an answering machine for that.
Then the distractions became sneakier...the internet. Email. Twitter. And the biggest, baddest time suck of them all….Facebook.
With deadlines, however, I knew I had work to accomplish first. This stubborn determination motivated me to get up earlier and earlier. Until finally I settled on the hour between four and five a.m. There aren’t many distractions then, I’ve found.
3) The third way I've used deadlines is to brainstorm long-term planning.
Most of us have ideas for ways we'd like to enjoy our future: travel more, further our education, or develop a hobby or interest. I found the only way to make plans come to pass was by breaking them down into bits, and setting deadlines for each of them.
Being a writer means that I'm easily distracted by bright shiny objects. It means a daily fight to maintain focus and stay on task. Deadlines, and the three ways I've taken to using them, have proven my best tool for doing so.
Deadlines may have a bad rap, but they’re actually tools to help us succeed, focus, and grow.
Elizabeth writes the Southern Quilting mysteries; her books in this series are Quilt or Innocence, Knot What it Seams, Quilt Trip, Shear Trouble, Tying the Knot and Memphis Barbeque mysteries; her books in this series are Delicious and Suspicious, Finger Lickin’ Dead, Hickory Smoked Homicide and Rubbed Out for Penguin Random House and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently; Her books include Pretty is as Pretty Dies, Progressive Dinner Deadly, Dyeing Shame, A Body in the Backyard, Death at a Drop-In, A Body at Book Club, Death Pays a Visit, and Body at Bunco. She blogs at ElizabethSpannCraig.com/blog , named as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers. She curates links on Twitter as @elizabethscraig that are later shared in the free search engine WritersKB.com. Elizabeth makes her home in Matthews, North Carolina, with her husband and two teenage children.