Make Your Deadlines

Megan Norris Jones

My writing background is in journalism, and every good journalist learns how to write under deadline. You have a story due. You report it. You write it. You turn it in. You repeat. Because your editor is counting on you. And because it really is going to be published with your name on it, so it had better be good.

But even though I know how to write on deadline, I have difficulty moving my fiction forward at the same efficient pace of my nonfiction because (1) there is no editor waiting on it, and (2) I have no assurance it will ever be published anyway.

So how can I simulate the efficiency-producing deadlines of journalism in my fiction writing? Through a combination of written deadlines and external accountability.
1. Start with the editorial calendar.
Publications like magazines set an editorial calendar for a year of certain topics that they will cover each month. Your editorial calendar is the big picture goal of when to finish each draft and get the manuscript out the door. That takes some time sitting down with your calendar, blocking off writing time, and setting benchmarks.

2. Set deadlines.
Once you know where you need to be in your writing each month, you can set deadlines for “turning in” individual chapters and scenes. Maybe you give yourself a week to get to a certain point in your manuscript, but within that parameter, it’s important to set fast deadlines, too. As in, “I must finish this scene by 2:15 in order to make it to my appointment on time.” If it helps, actually email the scene to yourself with a time stamp so you know you’ve made your deadline. Just get it done.

3. Find external accountability.
Find someone to submit your work to at regular intervals. They don’t have to actually read it. There just needs to be someone who knows if you’re turning your work in or not. Someone who will say, “You haven’t sent me a chapter in two weeks. Why aren’t you getting your work done?”

If you know someone is going to ask you that question, chances are, they’ll never have to because you’ll learn to be a good journalist and make your deadlines.

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