Setting Deadlines that Work
by Liz Johnson
Last week we talked about why it’s important to meet your deadlines. There are lots of reasons to make it a priority in your writing, but did you know that you have a say in your deadlines? Yep. At virtually every level of writing, you have some say in when your project is due. At the very least, you have the power to decline an opportunity if the due date isn’t within your capabilities.
Before we dive in, let’s briefly cover a few of the opportunities that might arise for writers (especially of books) to identify specific deadlines for completing full manuscripts, sample chapters, and/or proposals.
1. An upcoming writers’ conference, for which you may want to finish a proposal or manuscript in case an editor or agent requests it.
2. A request from your agent for a new proposal.
3. Suggested dates included in your proposal that you could turn in a manuscript if offered a contract.
4. And the big kahuna, you’ve been offered a book contract, and must sign a contract with a date that you’ll turn your manuscript(s) in. (Many publishers will suggest deadlines, but they may ask for your input in setting due dates too.)
Of course, there are plenty of other personal reasons for setting a deadline. Maybe you’re trying to get a manuscript in order for your critique group or simply to prove to yourself that you can finish a manuscript.
I’d also like to point out that deadlines shouldn’t be set for dreams. Dreams are things that we work toward, but ultimately we don’t control. Goals are things we can control. For example, finishing your manuscript is a goal that you might want to set a deadline for. Getting a contract from a traditional publisher for that manuscript is a dream, ultimately not in your control. It will happen in God’s timing, not in anyone else’s. So set deadlines for goals. And keep dreaming, but don’t pressure yourself to make your dreams come true by a certain date. Keep working on the things you can control.
Back to the many reasons you might have for a deadline, there’s a lot to consider before you commit to a specific date. There isn’t a perfect formula or a guaranteed best choice. Rather, you have to ask yourself a series of questions and then make your best educated guess. The more questions you ask, the better you’ll be able to identify your individual optimal date.
Here's a list of questions to ask before committing to a deadline:
1. Do you have any foreseeable life changes coming up? Are you planning to get married, have a baby, or make a major move?
2. What does the publisher need? Are they looking to fill a specific slot? I recently read an article about an author who sat next to an editor at a writers’ conference. Their conversation quickly turned to a possible project related to the anniversary of an historic event. As it turns out, the editor was looking for just such a book, but in order to release it in time for the anniversary, it needed to be turned in right away. You know that author had to weigh her options carefully before committing to turn around a book in a few short weeks.
3. What other projects have you already committed to? How much time will they take?
4. How fast can you write? I have a friend who types 100 words per minute. I type about 60wpm, but often have to stop and think things through as I write. So naturally it takes me a little longer to write than some others. But I know I can finish a 55,000 word book in about three months. That’s my general rule of thumb. Yours will be unique to you, and your style.
5. How much research do you need to do to write this book? Does it require interviewing professionals or traveling to a distant locale?
6. Do you need to add a bit of padding? I always give myself at least an extra couple weeks beyond what I guess I’ll need. This gives me time to revise and run past a crit partner before turning in my project. It also gives me a little leeway in case of an unforeseen emergency. I learned this from my 8th grade English teacher. She suggested that if a project was due on the 10th, write it on your calendar to be due on the 7th or 8th. I’ve used that tip all through my career, and it helps me feel confident knowing that I have a little cushion just in case.
What are other questions you ask before setting target dates for your writing? What are some other occasions you’ve set writing deadlines?
Next week, we’ll talk strategy for meeting your deadlines. Let’s make sure that even when the unexpected strikes you have the tools to get your writing done and your project turned in drama-free. See you then!
Liz Johnson is a five-time deadline survivor and a New York Times bestselling author, who makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she works in marketing for a major Christian publisher. She loves great stories in nearly any format: books, movies, and interpretive dances. Her last novel was Code of Justice, and her next, A Promise to Protect, is scheduled to release late in 2012. Follow her adventures in publishing at www.lizjohnsonbooks.com or on twitter @lizjohnsonbooks.