I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
I am a goal setter. Big ones. Little ones. I’ll set them by the hour, by the day, week, month, year. Unless there’s an accountable deadline, I rarely meet said goals, or at least on time. If say, I have to make my mother her Detroit Tigers Christmas wreath by January 4th when I celebrate the holidays with her, well, you can be sure it will be done. Even if I have to stay up to 2am to finish. And right now it’s looking like that will be the case! The thing is, I try not to make myself miserable about the goals and deadlines I create for myself that I don’t meet.
For example: I said on this blog, and on Facebook, and Twitter, and Absolute Write, that I would spend the month of December heavily researching and plotting for my next book. January was going to be my own personal NaNo and then I would finish the rough draft or (optimistically) edit in February. But Research December became oh-yeah-it’s-Christmas-and-I-always-over-extend-myself-during-the-holidays December. Sure I got a little research done, but I like to immerse myself into the world I am going to write. I like to imagine the story in my head from start to finish and have a clear direction and plan, if only in my brain. Needless to say, this didn’t happen.
So January will be Research and Plotting Month. And I’m actually really excited about it. Even had I reduced my Christmas responsibilities by half, it still wouldn’t have left enough time for the work I need to do. Now I can commit myself fully to reading, research, plotting, day dreaming and all the other lovely things that go along with planning a novel. And if a month still isn’t enough time to finish all I’d like, then February will become a research month as well. The point isn’t meeting the deadline, but doing the job right and setting a goal to strive for.
Creating goals and deadlines for ourselves can be true teachable moments, or long teachable time periods, depending on the goal in question. For example, writing a 50,000 word rough draft in 30 days is highly possible. NaNo has proven that time and again, but it’s not for everybody. Some people are never going to spit out a usable chunk of writing in that time, and that doesn’t make them bad writers. But we can learn from the experience of trying. Maybe you discover that editing as you go slows down your writing too much and that NaNo goal will be ever-elusive based on your current writing style. If speed is more important to you than a “perfect” first draft, then you know where you need to improve. (Note: there’s no such thing as a “perfect” first draft.) But if after 30 days of hectic writing, that 50k mess you’ve concocted is so daunting to clean up that you never return and finish or polish that disaster, then your time might be better spent writing slower and “better”. It’s all about learning your strengths and weaknesses and finding the best way to proceed for your own personal success.
So set those goals. Make deadlines to hold yourself accountable. Offer rewards in whatever form is motivating for you. But if (and when) you don’t meet that goal, examine why. Were you just lazy? Did real life get in the way? Was your goal unreasonable for you and the time you have? Re-assess the goal and make a reasonable deadline, then try again. But above all, don’t beat yourself up about. Just keep working and try to get where you want to go.