Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Handling Self-Imposed Deadlines/Goals

First, Dino Boy started preschool today! Even with the orientation, I had like two hours to do things. I got work done—during the day. It was awesome. And Ninja Girl got to play with any toy she wanted! Without bossy big brother micromanaging!

Obviously I'm not Mother of the Year material, as not a single sign of tearing happened. I hear so many moms get sad and nostalgic, but we were all happy.

Dino Boy: Pick me up later?

Me: Yup.

Dino Boy: Bye.

Me: Can I at least get a hug?

Dino Boy: /sighs Alright.

He's gonna be an awesome teenager. I can't wait.

I have a little more time now, and I'm so happy about that. I might actually get a chance to let that cyborg side out again!

Today I wanted to talk a little more about self-imposed deadlines, since many comments on Monday mentioned being horrible at keeping them. It's not an easy thing to learn, the whole set-a-goal-and-stick-to-it thing. We can refer to centuries worth of unfilled New Year's resolutions for proof.

But if you want to be a professional writer, part of that is learning self-discipline. I won't lie, at some point in this journey you will want to give up, you won't feel inspired, or you will face outside forces that prevent you from writing. At those times, sometimes "love of writing" just isn't enough. Sometimes you have to push through, and you can't really count on anyone but yourself to do it.

Delayed Gratification
Setting personal goals and deadlines really comes down to how well you can delay your own gratification. It's hard these days, when so many things are instant, to put off "good things" or "fun things" for the "better thing" that takes so freaking long to happen.

Delaying gratification happens constantly in writing. You write now so you'll have a book done later. You edit now so when you finally query it'll pay off. You suffer through submissions so you can have the backing of a publishing house. And so on and so forth.

The first step to meeting self-imposed deadlines and goals is deciding—one hundred percent—that they are worth it. That when you reach them, the deprivation of fun/pleasure/laziness/sleep/food/time will be a decent payment for what you have gained.

Basically, it's the Marshmallow Test, but for grown-ups.

If you can't convince yourself of that goal or deadline's worth/plausibility, then it's less likely to happen, right? Humans are like that—we don't usually go along with things we don't find valuable in some way to ourselves.

Creating A Plan
Okay, so you convince yourself that writing a novel (or running a marathon, or losing weight, or learning to play the piano) is a worthwhile goal. You want it, and you want it BAD. And not only do you want to finish a novel, but you want it published and successful, etc.

How do you get from Point Want to Point Results?

A plan, of course.

Now, don't imagine me with this "How I Will Get Published" notebook full of my goals/deadlines and a little chart I check off when I meet them. You'd be way wrong. I mostly keep this in my head when it comes to the big goals. Besides, let me know if any of your actual "How I Will Get Published" plans actually, uh, go according to plan.

But when it comes to the smaller parts of my goals, I definitely have plans. I plan to finish books within certain periods of time. I plan out my edits. I plan what to work on next.

I can't tell you how to make your personal plan, but I will give a few tips.

Deadlines and Goals and When/How They Should Be Used
Example of a bad deadline: "I will have an agent by the end of this year"

Why? Because this is not something you can entirely control. A deadline should be attainable by you and you alone. It should not be contingent on another person. There is a very real risk that getting an agent in insert-whatever-time-period-here will not happen. And then you will feel bad when you really shouldn't.

This kind of deadline also may hinder your work. You may rush a project that needs more time. You might query before you're ready. You might actually sabotage your own goal of an agent by wanting it too soon! (It took me almost two years, mostly because I spent the first year being stupid and impatient.)

Example of a bad goal: I will sell for six-figures.

Why? Well, it should be obvious. It's also something you can't control—selling at all is something you can't fully control. Having this mindset may also sabotage you. Instead of writing stories from your heart, you may start to write for the market instead, you may get caught up in "the game" that doesn't actually exist.

Good goals? I think we've all heard that they should be measurable, reachable, and all that other stuff. You know, realistic and yet challenging.

Some of mine (that I like to think are good):
• Constantly improve my writing. (Goal)
• Finish first Transparent edit by then end of September. (Deadline)
• Get published. (Goal. [Also notice how there is no time line or specific book attached to that.])
• Finish first draft of new WIP by the end of the year. (Deadline)

All tough, but also realistic according to what I know I can do.

After you have determined your goals and their worth, it doesn't hurt to throw some motivation on there. Of course I prefer rewards—who doesn't? I don't go for punishments unless I really need help moving.

Rewards and punishments are the same as deadlines/goals. You can't give yourself something crazy awesome for writing 100 words. Okay, maybe if you're rich. Rewards and punishments should fit the accomplishment.

I usually go out to lunch for finishing edit rounds—and more importantly I DON'T go out to lunch when I don't. Delayed gratification, right?

There are many things you can do. Maybe you can't write that New Shiny Idea until you finish this book (or chapter). Maybe you don't get to watch that episode of Glee until a scene is done. Maybe you can't get on Twitter for ONE WHOLE HOUR while you write.

Whatever works for you. I find internet deprivation extremely helpful. I'm just sayin'.


In the end, it really comes down to the first point I made—delayed gratification. The rest is fairly worthless if you don't think your goal/deadline is important or worth it. When I struggle with writing, with my self-esteem and motivation, I always have to go back to that ultimate question:

Is publishing my book worth all this work?

I'm always a little surprised when I say yes. Again. As long as that's my answer, I will keep believing in my goals and making deadlines.


  1. I so needed to read this. Writing has never been a problem. Revisions however are a kick in the pants procrastination liability. I need to apply the same attention and attitude I do with my writing. It's still writing with a side of editing - right? (Hugs)Indigo

  2. I second Indigo- I have a short story that has been lingering, needing edits, for about a week past deadline, now. Yuck.

    Thanks, Natlie. I needed this reminder that I can make goals and deadlines and accomplish them. sometimes I lose sight of that when I look up at the high wall that is publishing a novel.

  3. Love this post, Natalie. Really helpful!

  4. This will take some time to implement. Especially when I'm going through "this novel totally stinks" phase. I just have to push through it. Thanks for posting!

  5. I find not having the internet is the best motivator to write. I'm one of those excellent employees who writes at work (I teach English in Japan, and when I have free periods and nothing to plan... I write). And only ONE of my many, many schools has wireless interwebs. Which means at all my other schools, my computer has no access to the internet because they don't give my desk a hardline.

    So then I write because there's not much else to do. And write some more. And write write write. I can be so productive it's friggin' ridiculous.

  6. Thank you very much for this, Natalie. I have been struggling MIGHTILY with focus and writing stresses lately, and this was a good reminder to slow down and manage it better.

    The Internet (Internets, Interweb, whatever) is my worst enemy to my writing now. I MUST physically deprive myself of it for a set period of time. I did that for a while earlier this summer and it worked well. :)

  7. Since I've been at this for a while, this isn't exactly *news* to me, but hearing you put it so clearly, so eloquently... It feels like I've learned it all over again. Thank you.

  8. I use the timer method. I set it for a a length on time and HAVE to write like crazy during that period. Then once it's up I get an amount of time to go crazy ;p and do stuff. I used it while studying at college and have stuck to it since :)

  9. Excellent post! I usually buy myself Swedish fish when I finish the first draft. Thinking I may reward myself with Indian food when I finish the next revision. (Given that I have to start the next revision still, that reward's a ways off.)

    There's a reason I'm going to culinary school. All my rewards are food-related.

    I like the open-endedness of your goals juxtaposed with the concrete deadlines you've set for yourself. It's always nice to see others' processes and see if I can find something in their method that will work for me.

  10. Thanks so much, Natalie! I needed to hear this!

    Self-deprivers of internet - REPRESENT! :)

    And yes, I'm into giving myself rewards. A bite of chocolate (small and restrained) is what gets me through my morning run. And various other things, too. Chocolate is a very good reward.

  11. This is an excellent, excellent post! I'm so in awe of your ability to be interesting, informative and completely inspire me to stick to my deadlines :-) Thanks, Natalie!

  12. I get distracted so easily, I have to make my goals daily.

    I WILL write today.
    I WILL workout today.
    I WILL study today.

    The whole big picture goal bit s not my scene.

    Also, I have a problem with punishment. After a while I just deal with the punishment. Like last year, I said, "I won't wear a skirt this summer until I lose five pounds." That was in April last year. Needless to say, I didn't wear a skirt for over a year. Just got used to it and ceased to care about the goals.

    I'm currently trying a school term system to see if that wil help me stay motivated. will report my findings. :)