Self-Imposed Deadlines for Writing Productivity

When I’m not editing other people’s manuscripts, I like to write my own fiction.

Photo Credit:  Jessica Hatch, 2017.

Photo Credit: Jessica Hatch, 2017.

I have no hard and fast rules for my creative process. I have gone through periods of time in which I focus on one book and others in which I juggle multiple writing projects at once.

At present, I have a lot of ideas percolating, which means it takes a while for me to complete any single draft. That said, even when I was just working on one novel, it could take me up to three years to complete a manuscript.

But how is this possible? I’m a proud NaNoWriMo 2008 winner, and I could win the challenge again if I truly wanted to [blow through that much coffee and under-eye concealer, I mean]. So, how could I write 50,000 words in one month, then take years to write another novel? The answer, quite simply, comes down to deadlines.

Deadlines help us all light fires underneath ourselves.

According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

Self-imposed deadlines may not lead to the best writing of your life, but at least you’ll have a tangible manuscript to work with by your due date. If I give myself a month to finish a novel, it will take me a month. If I give myself three years to do the same, it will take me three years. If I give myself no deadlines, well, I’ll finish the book when I finish the book, and I may well never be published.


In the spirit of more productive writing, I've created the following self-imposed deadlines for 2017.

For works of short fiction (7,500 words or fewer):
I have up to 2 months to draft a short story.
I have up to 1 month to revise a short story.

If I am coming close to deadline, I will take a weekend to camp out in my living room, a coffee shop, or a study room at the library in order to accomplish the draft or revision.

For book-length projects (50,000 words or more):
I have up to 6 months to draft a manuscript.
I have up to 4 months to revise a manuscript.

A book is obviously a much larger work than a short story, so it will take me a longer period of time to meet an approaching deadline. If I am coming close to a book-length deadline, I will take a week to camp out at home or travel to a rented space in order to accomplish my work.

Adapting to Scheduling Conflicts

You may not have the same control over your work schedule that I do as a freelance editor. As a result, you likely do not have the ability to simply ask for a week off to finish your novel. (I doubt my former boss would have understood that request either.)

If you can’t or won’t take vacation days, I would encourage you to double the amount of time I’ve suggested to meet deadline. In other words, use one week to meet a short story deadline; for a book-length due date, use two weeks instead of one.

This writing goal may not be for everyone. Not to fear—there are many ways to become a productive writer! Learn more here.