My Deadline Valentine

Lately, I’ve been thinking  a great deal about what we’ll do for others vs. what we’ll do for ourselves. At work, we go through all sorts of contortions to keep the boss happy. As students, many of us slaved away to get good grades.  We stand in the rain on the sidelines of soccer games to cheer on our kids and will drive them from to remote corners of the city for singing and horseback lessons.

But what will we do for ourselves?  What will we do to make sure that our own dreams come true?  My writing students tell me that one reason they sign up for my class–often the main reason–is just to have a deadline.  And the truth is most writers need deadlines. Why?  Because most of us will let ourselves down–wasting away our writing time on Facebook or lolling around with the Sunday paper–but we won’t let down someone else. If someone–anyone, even someone we don’t even like–is waiting for us to write, expecting us to hand something by deadline, we will write.

So how do you get that deadline feeling when there is no deadline?  Or when your deadline is so far out (a year away?!) that it hardly feels real?  I think we have to create deadlines for ourselves, but it has to be more than circling a random date on the calendar (cause we’re “smart” and we know that no one is going to hold us to those dates).   For most of us, deadlines only work if we know someone is waiting for our work.  And yes, we “should” be able to write just because we want to, but it’s much easier to work with human nature and admit that just because we “should” do something, it doesn’t mean we will.

So here’s a few ideas for creating a deadline:

1. Plan to enter a contest. Poets and Writers website has a comprehensive list of current grants, awards and contests. Pick one and write towards its deadline.

2. Take a writing class. Ignore all your reasons why you shouldn’t take a class: teacher’s not good enough, the other students won’t understand your work, you don’t like driving at night. I’m sure you have lots of good reasons for not taking a class, but any class that provides deadlines is better than not writing.

3. Get a writing buddy. Meet up with your writing buddy in a cafe once a week or once every two weeks. Spend a little time visiting and a lot of time writing. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll get done.

4. Make an appointment with a writing coach. If you have a date on the calendar for getting work to a writing coach, chances are you’re going to get the writing done.

5. Join a writing group. Having a routine of submitting work to a group once a month or so might be the key to keeping a regular writing routine.

6. If a block is stopping you, deal with the block. Here’s a few posts about how I’ve dealt with block myself.

How do you create deadlines for yourself?

About Theo Pauline Nestor

Author of Writing Is My Drink (Simon & Schuster) and How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed. Learn more about my courses, editing, and coaching at
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4 Responses to My Deadline Valentine

  1. Emma says:

    Have a baby! I have major (self-inflicted) deadlines in place to get my queries out before my late May due date.

    • Theo Nestor says:

      an extreme measure, but YES, it works: ) I didn’t really start writing seriously until my first daughter was born. Until then, I squandered my time. Her presence reminded me of time’s value.

  2. Leslie says:


    I have a great idea for you… works!
    One way I kept a deadline for myself was to make a deal with a friend (in this case it was about exercising 30 minutes a day 5 days a week.) I gave them gift cards in varying amounts (mine were $50 cards) but you could do whatever amount ($5 STarbucks maybe?.) Then you get a trusted friend and you lay down the law with them.
    1) Do not under any circumstance (with the exception of hospitalization) give me this card if I have not earned it.
    2) I promise to tell you the truth whether I did it or not.
    3) AND THIS IS THE KICKER…. if I do NOT do what I said I would (exercise 30 minutes 5 days that week) then YOU get to spend one of the gift cards. Do not under any circumstance feel bad about this, you are my motivation to make sure I do it! (This is when your friend will become very excited.)

    this was a massive success. The money amount for me needed to be enough to be a real reward when I did it $$$ but it wouldn’t need to be that much. Enough so that, if you DON’T do it, it hurts a little. 😉 If it isn’t a high enough amount, it might not bother you to give away the cards. You also get to set a reasonable goal for yourself. What you wish you were doing (a reasonable wish…your goal is to write…set something that is a push for you but not impossible.)

    I actually gave all of the gift cards to this person (I even had a few weeks where I just had a $50 bill…which is also highly motivating) so they could doll it out to me week by week and then I couldn’t get my grubby little hands on it. I had friends begging me to be in charge of the gift cards

    What do you think???


    • Theo Nestor says:

      I think it’s a great idea, especially because it works for you. Accountability (and humility) seem to be playing a key role. I like too that there’s no horrible punishment for not succeeding–in fact, you could become very popular among friends. I’ve seen people do things like if I don’t do X, I must give money to a heinous organization, and that seems too draconian for my taste.

      Thanks for sharing your success!

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