It’s safe to say that all writers have writing goals we hope to achieve, some of which are likely to propel our writing careers to another level once we reach them. Setting your writing goals is one thing, but attaining those goals is a whole other story. Let’s face it. Writing is not easy, even for the best of writers. Whether you’re a beginning writer or a novice, effectively reaching your writing goals comes from having strong discipline–one of the most important skills a writer can possess. It’s one thing to write, but it’s another thing to write on a schedule. It can be easy to come up with an endless list of projects, but it’s not quite so easy to make yourself complete them. Life happens. Distractions happen.
In this article, we’ll go over some tips on how you can reach your greatest writing goals by leveraging the dreaded “writing deadline.” Yes, many writers dislike the scary sound of deadlines, but without them, you might not ever get anywhere. Setting deadlines for yourself ensures you complete your projects. It helps build your confidence as a writer, and it minimizes mental clutter by getting your ideas out of your head and onto the page.
Setting deadlines and sticking to them is easier said than done, and there will be days that are harder than others. However, we’ve cultivated several tips that will help you stick to your deadlines with no excuses! Let’s get started!
1) Outline the writing project
To outline or not to outline? Regardless of how you feel about outlining your projects, it’s a great way to avoid writer’s block down the road and keep you from getting lost along the project journey. More importantly, outlining your project can help you get to the point of writing rather than procrastinating, which is often half the battle!
You don’t have to be an expert outliner to create a functional outline. Your outline also doesn’t have to detail every aspect of your project. You can think of your outline as a simple guide that keeps you focused or a highly detailed roadmap to the end of your project. There is no wrong way to outline, as long as you’re outlining in a way that works for you!
For example, if I were writing an article on the 10 most interesting facts about North Carolina, then that would be my main point for the article. To get my outline going, I would proceed to write out 10 interesting facts in a bulleted list that I intend to include in my article. When you know where you’re going at the beginning of a writing project, it makes it that much easier to finish it.
2) Set realistic writing goals
There’s no better way to stick to a deadline than to set realistic ones in the first place. For example, if you’re writing a 700-word article on the benefits of drinking tea every day, it may be reasonable to set yourself a deadline of a week so that you have time to do research in addition to writing the article. However, if you are working on a short nonfiction essay that requires interviewing subjects, research on a specific place, and maybe even traveling, you’ll need much more than a week.
Consider the scope of your project before setting your deadline. Be sure to include research, interviewing sources, traveling, writing, editing, and revising. In addition to measuring how much work the project will take, you need to be realistic about your bandwidth. Many writers work other jobs full time, take care of families, volunteer, and have responsibilities outside of their writing projects. Therefore, it’s important to consider what you can truly handle given your other commitments and priorities.
3) Set deadlines within deadlines
Giving yourself multiple deadlines within the primary completion deadline is essential in helping you experience small wins along the way. For example, if your primary writing goal is to write a novel, you can’t only focus on the completion deadline you’ve made for yourself because it’s likely going to take you a while to reach that goal. Breaking up your novel into smaller, short-term deadlines will help you truly experience the progress you’re making. You could break up a long project like a novel into having deadlines for each chapter, page count, or even word count.
4) Eliminate distractions
You can’t reach your writing goals or deadlines if you’re constantly distracted from actually writing. With the internet at your fingertips, it’s easy to get distracted from writing, especially when you’re using Google to do quick research during the process. If you have your email up, notifications synced, social media readily available on your phone, and a playlist going, it’s even more likely that you’ll soon find a distraction to take you away from writing. Think of all the ways you can eliminate distractions during your writing sessions. This might mean disconnecting from the internet, turning off your phone, and listening to music offline.
If you’re doing longer writing sessions, taking breaks throughout might be necessary, but be careful not to let those breaks become distractions as well. It’s hard enough to get into the swing of writing as it is, so try to keep your breaks to a minimum during your writing sessions so that you can meet your deadlines and goals. You know yourself best, so pay attention to what takes your attention away from writing and work to eliminate it. Do whatever you can to keep yourself focused on what’s important: writing.
5) Give yourself enough time
Research is an essential part of writing, and conducting your research well takes time. Depending on the scope of your project, it could take more time to research than it does to write. Be sure to give yourself enough time to do thorough research, as well as write out your project. Just make sure you don’t get carried away with the research phase of your writing project. Be careful not to fall into research rabbit holes that don’t have much to do with what you’re writing about.
After you’ve gathered enough research and had time to truly absorb what you’ve learned, it’s time to write. Make sure you set aside enough time to have several separate writing sessions. You’ll also want to think about carving out editing and proofreading sessions that are separate from your writing sessions. This is the best way to ensure that you’ll be submitting thorough, fully polished content that’s ready for a second pair of eyes.
6) Get an accountability partner
It’s hard to hold ourselves accountable, which is why having an accountability partner is so important. There’s no better way to hold to your writing goals than to have some writing friends around to make sure you do. If you don’t have any writer friends, try exploring local social media groups for writers. You can check local universities, libraries, and go to open mic nights around your city to help connect you to new people who might be into writing. These are people who most likely have writing goals of their own, and would love nothing more than to swap accountability.
7) Celebrate your wins
After you finish any part of your writing routine—outlining, setting deadlines, writing for a certain period—it’s time to celebrate! Treat yourself to your favorite snack, watch a good show, or find whatever works best to reward yourself. If your brain associates meeting your goals with rewards, you’re that much more inclined to stick to your routine the next go round. Writing isn’t easy, research isn’t easy, and discipline isn’t easy. If you made it to one of your goals, you deserve a reward!
8) Remember why you’re writing
When it comes to the writing life and reaching your greatest writing goals, some days are harder than others. It’s on those tougher days that we can forget why we love writing in the first place. To stick to the process, and reach your writing goal, you need to constantly remind yourself of why you’re doing this writing thing in the first place. If you’re working on a novel, think about what drove you to want to write it. Why is it special to you? If you’re working on an article for a freelance writing assignment, remember why you took on the assignment, even if a large reason is that you’re getting paid to do so. Think about the benefits of adding to your resume and portfolio. Think of how the link back to your website will grow your writing career. Think about how many readers you’re helping by writing the article.
Remembering the reason behind why you write is an essential part of pushing forward. You can give yourself constant reminders by jotting them down on sticky pads. Write down some of your favorite quotes from other authors, and keep those close by your work area.
Writing has never been easy, and there’s nothing on the horizon that says it ever will be. It takes a great deal of emotional energy, research, time, hair pulling, and rewriting to reach your writing goals. By putting even just a few of these tips in place, you’re well on your way to keeping your writing deadlines and reaching your goals. Good luck!
Fairley Lloyd (she/her) is a writer and editor from North Carolina. She earned her BFA in creative writing with a publishing certification from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Her work appears in “Thought Catalog,” “The Mighty,” “She Rose Revolution,” and more. In her free time, she enjoys reading, dancing, and thrift shopping. You can find her social media and websites at https://linktr.ee/fairleylloyd.