by Jenna Kalinsky, Founding Director, One Lit Place
There is nothing like having a writing deadline to boost a writer’s motivation (not to mention your heart rate!). Knowing you’re going to be seen, or that someone has expectations of you, jacks up your discipline for getting the work done every time.
If you’re feeling stuck, bored, or uninspired, a deadline will always kick-start your energy and drive for both the writing and for making sure the writing is a success, whatever its purpose or genre.
That said, a steady reliable and relaxed writing practice that gives you wide berth to explore your ideas does incredible things for a writer as well.
Showing up regularly regardless of what’s going on outside the confines of your writing space, doing the work purely on the strength of creative conviction without worrying what others will think, and releasing the concern of whether there are readers at all is how a writer builds their chops and continues to become their best self.
Which Is Better?
The question then becomes which strategy makes you a better writer: the deadline or the day-to-day journey? Do we grow most from the pressure at our backs and performing, hyper aware of our audience, or from forging ahead for the pure satisfaction of doing and exploring?
The answer is both.
There are benefits to both having deadlines to force us to step into the light (and to align our schedules in anticipation of this) as well as to creating and nurturing a daily practice solely for the writing’s sake.
How Deadlines Make Writers into Better Writers
A deadline is often the perfect way to kickstart your momentum, maximize your time, and hit peak productivity. Most writers love a good deadline to put some rev in the engine! Deadlines help you with:
Packaging Your Ideas: Deadlines corral your ideas into a specific vessel and make you see how to best articulate them and to what end (short story, flash fiction, personal essay, novel or memoir, etc.). Having a mass of ideas suddenly made practical, tactical, and strategic gives you focus and drive like little else.
Accountability: if the words aren’t coming, you feel vulnerable, insecure, or tired, or you flat out don’t feel like writing, a deadline can serve as reminder that you’re stronger than you think. “Self,” you say, “It’s just a feeling; you’ll get over it. Let’s get to work.”
Time Management: a twelve-year-old with an essay due in a month may start writing it the night before, which puts stress on them (along with the parents) and may not be the smoothest way to face a project.
An adult writer faced with a deadline, however, knows well enough to create a schedule to help you successfully deliver on time. Allocating a specific number of hours or a period of days for research, outlining, drafting, editing, revision, then editing and getting someone to proofread your work helps prevent procrastination and ensures you sail across the finish line like a pro.
Focus: A looming deadline concentrates your energy and gives you the best kind of tunnel vision. Having one thing to do as opposed to everything to do (think a cool cucumber vs. a chicken running in circles) leads to far more productive writing time.
Productivity: Churning out pages, refining a manuscript, or axing words to meet a specific word count by X date puts you into “strap on the sweatband” mode. Do this over and over again, and you’ll mow through your manuscripts, have a greater number of options for publication, and feel pride at matriculating in the space in such a way.
External Pressure: when you’re ready to play in the big leagues, a deadline is key. Having to meet it can make or break your career. Working with editors, publishers, or clients means there’s money on the line, and even if you’re an amazing writer, if you can’t meet a deadline, these professionals move on to someone who can. Learning to meet your deadlines makes you into an adult: adaptable and resilient even when the going gets hard. But then the result is commensurate with the effort!
Goal Setting & Achieving: if you become someone who
- makes goals
- achieves them
you become more esteemed in your own eyes. Having that higher-level expectation on yourself is empowering. You will invariably feel more confident, more assured, and more of a serious contender because you treat yourself like someone who does what they set out to do. This positive feeling bleeds into all aspects of your life. Watch how people respond to you in kind as well, making a very exciting circle.
Quality Improvement: you want to get better at what you do? Do it more, do it under pressure, and do it in new and dynamic ways that are challenging. When you take on deadlines, it’s easier to take on those that push you out of your comfort zone. And that’s where things get really exciting!
How a Daily Writing Practice Makes You a Better Writer
You’ll note a lot of zingy language used above: dynamic, empowering, exciting. Yet where a steady stream of deadlines for some may be ideal, for others it’s not. Deadlines level a heightened urgency onto your days and shoot cortisol through your body. Not only can that be stressful, it can also be harmful, especially if your writing is therapeutic, exploratory, or helping you move through developmental phases in your life as a means to a different gentler end.
Consider the following advantages of daily writing without imposed deadlines:
Creativity and Flow: Daily writing gently builds up your writing muscle, keeps your ideas loose and limber, and allows you to more efficiently tap into your creative flow. Where a deadline zooms in on THE PROJECT, daily writing meanders like a lazy river and is open to exploration, experimentation, and taking risks. Why not? The journey is the destination!
Consistency: Writing as a regular practice gives you a connected feeling to your ideas, your voice, and your writing style. If you are working on a specific project such as a book and write every day, picking up where you left off the day before becomes easier and easier because of your regular “touch” to the material.
Exploration and Discovery: Want to write about something you saw in the news? Muddle through understanding something a friend said that made you upset? Create a character out of someone you saw in the grocery store? Go for it! What fertile territory your mind and experiences are, and being able to delve into uncharted territories, develop new characters, or uncover hidden aspects of your own story without the constraints of a deadline is liberating.
Drafting and Revisions: Without a deadline breathing down your neck, you can truly be all that you can be. Many books hit the shelves with the writer feeling a bit … squiggly about them because they were published not because the writer felt they were ready but because the deadline arrived. With a daily writing practice, you can take your time sculpting and shaping your work and let it tell you when it’s done.
No Stress No Mess: When you’re not racing against the clock, you can take your time, relax, and make another cup of tea. There’s enough stress in life; your daily writing can be a reprieve from all that.
Reflection and Self-Improvement: If you’re using your writing to get in touch with yourself, make sense of your thoughts and feelings, or invite growth and change, daily writing with no restrictions is perfect. This kind of writing isn’t for others’ eyes and there is no need to superimpose a framework around it, make it perform, or design it for others’ enjoyment.
Experimentation and Play: Left unchecked, you may do some very exciting things with your writing. Try different writing styles, genres, and formats. Write outside your normal. Write something you wouldn’t want anyone to see. This kind of experimentation can lead to exciting growth and the discovery of new strengths as a writer.
Flexible Routine: What a joy it is to live as a writer knowing your pen is in your pocket and your notebook in your hand. Take a walk and make notes; write upon waking with a steaming drink warming you in the pre-dawn. Wind down at night by unleashing your thoughts and setting goals. This kind of “flex-time” is wonderful on its own or a great augmentation to your normal practice.
As you can see, both methods make you become a better writer.
- At some turns, you may thrive under pressure and thrill to see your productivity soar when faced with a time crunch.
- At others, a deadline would just put stress on you and that’s when you will benefit from stepping back and taking care of your emotional and creative interior through daily writing.
You may lean toward one or the other depending on what you’ve got coming up, your goals, and what feels most appropriate. Ideally, to grow and become the writer you know you can and will continue to become, you’ll find a way to do a bit of both.
Now is your time to identify what suits you best right now: do you need a gentle push in the right direction to help you reach your goals? An accountability partner and guide to help you bring your ideas to the page?
If you’re feeling stuck or unsure of how to proceed, please check out our personalized coaching, editing, and publication support. We are here to help you write in all the ways you need and to reach all of your goals.