5 Tips for Setting (Achievable) Writing Deadlines

Last year I posted an article that focused on how to keep yourself on track with your writing goals when nothing or no one is keeping you accountable.

When I posted that article, I was in quarantine, furloughed from my job, and had a lot more free-time than I do presently. With a full-time job, a commute, and full vaccination allowing me to make plans with friends and family, my time has become a lot more compressed.

I thought I’ve been doing okay with my goal setting. I aim to write every morning before work, publish a weekly blog post, send out my monthly newsletter. But I have felt very slow with my writing progress as of late.

I’ve severely pushed back my timeline for sending query letters. I am behind on both drafting and editing my other projects. And even my social media growth and engagement has taken a dip, which is sad because I truly value the online author community.

But the hardest hurdle for me is that I haven’t set good concrete deadlines or have established successful ways to help me stick to them. I realized I am successful at posting my weekly article and monthly newsletter because those are solid and concrete tasks. But “write a book” or “query agents” are harder for me to set deadlines to because they are less concrete and rarely lend themselves to a pattern.

How do you know if a goal is realistic?

When researching productivity tips and tricks, I constantly see “set realistic goals.” That’s all well and good, but how the heck am I supposed to know if something is realistic?

Sure, there’s a gut understanding if something is in your wheelhouse and able to be accomplished. But I’ve found it more helpful to set concrete goals that are actionable, repeatable, and measurable, instead of speculating on realism.

1. Look for patterns for repetition

We are creatures of habit. There’s a reason people recommend setting a daily word count goal. That reason is that it establishes a habit of writing. It becomes more intrinsic, second nature, and practiced.

Yet, sometimes it’s easier said and done to figure out how to make something “routine.” You might start with a lot of enthusiasm and a fresh goal in mind. But after a few weeks, that enthusiasm waivers. That’s natural, but what you want to do is keep your momentum towards a goal strong by making it:

  • Actionable
  • Repeatable
  • Measurable

This is why word count goals often work for many people. Aiming for a specific number of words is all three things. But it might not work for everyone. Instead, you could write a chapter or a couple of chapters a week. You could set time goals instead of word count goals. You could try to write a scene a day. It’s all up to your preference.

Bonus points for repetition if you can set aside the same time every day, such as an hour in the morning or during a lunch break.

2. Document your progress

In the spirit of repetition, I will repeat myself. Your goals should be something measurable. If something is measurable, it’s smart to keep track of your progress. Documentation could be anything:

  • A checklist in a bullet journal
  • A note in your day-planner
  • An X on a calendar
  • An excel spreadsheet
  • A printed chart on your bulletin board

What you want to track is your progress per writing session towards your goal. This could be as simple as entering the amount of time and number of words of your writing session. You can track each session’s relation to your larger goal. I’m imagining one of those fundraising thermometers you color in as you inch closer to your goal, but it could take any creative form you wish.

3. Do frequent check-ins

By documenting your progress, it’s easier to see whether you are ahead or behind schedule. Check-in with your goals often to make sure that they are still realistic. If you find yourself off track, try to determine why you moved off track before you move your deadline. See if you can get yourself back on track by readjusting your approach.

If you find that the deadline you set was simply unrealistic, then tweak your deadline and continue full-steam ahead.

4. Do not let guilt stand in your way

Guilt can be quite paralyzing, and if you know you are behind, there’s a high chance of losing momentum and just giving into the guilt laden procrastination. You might tell yourself: “whoops, I missed a self-imposed deadline, I suppose it will never get done now.”

When you check in frequently and be honest and accepting of yourself and your progress, that momentum is more likely to stay stronger.

5. Don’t treat writing like a job

This might sound counter-intuitive, but there’s a point, I swear!

I often here that you have to treat writing like a job, especially if you want it to be your job. I’ll hear things like “If you can’t shirk off responsibilities in a paid job, you shouldn’t do it with your writing.”  

While I agree that you have to take yourself seriously as a writer before others will take you seriously, this mentality of treating writing like work can sadly add unwarranted pressure and stress if taken too literally. It can also lead to burnout and exhaustion, which are a plague to your creative process.

So instead of treating writing like a second (or third) full-time job, try instead to stay in check with the goals and timelines you set for yourself. Reward yourself for keeping on track. Get yourself an accountability buddy. Sacrifice the occasional nap or night out when you need to catch up. But don’t let the stress of your self-imposed deadlines take the joy that you get out of writing. Don’t consider quitting the job before it even pays.

Enjoy the journey and enjoy the perfectly imperfect process!

If you found this post useful, let me know in the comments below. Message me with any content you would like to see in the future!

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