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ou want to write but you’re not doing it. Without the pressure of a due date, there just seems to be no reason to write right now. What you need is a deadline.

“I seem to work most effectively when I have a tight deadline (read: no time to screw around!),” author and freelance writer Kelly James Enger shares in her newsletter, Writer’s Gear. “In fact, one of the primary reasons I'm so productive is because so many of my assignments have tight turn-arounds.”

But what if no one is waiting for your novel, your essay, or your short story? There may be no due date burning up the calendar for your writing project. “I've never been able to write without a deadline—I hate drafting, and if I can get myself to draft something, I endlessly pick and noodle and revise and never call anything done,” states bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson. “What worked for me was putting myself in a situation where I did have a deadline.”

Here are eight ways to get focused and forced into action using the power of deadlines:

1. Take a class. Find a local or online class related to the type of writing you want to do. Even if some of the material isn’t new to you, the assignments guarantee production on your part. Think of it as paying a fee in exchange for structure and deadlines. Usually, you’ll get valuable feedback from the instructor too. By the end of the term, assuming you participate faithfully, you will have completed work to show for it.

2. Daily Target. Writer Angela Booth uses tough love on herself with a daily word target. She aims for 1,000 words per day, but if she doesn’t meet that target, she absolutely must write at least 500 words before she goes to bed at night. She says that she often goes on to write the full 1,000 words. Use her trick or pick another word count you can live with. Don’t let your head hit the pillow until the deed is done.

3. The carrot. Reward yourself into action by giving yourself treats for meeting self-imposed deadlines. Freelance writer Michelle Adkins Hulse keeps a bowl of chocolate on her top shelf that she can only have once she’s done her daily work. What would be a sufficiently enticing, though affordable prize for meeting a bigger goal? Once you’ve decided, mark a wall calendar or your day planner with due dates for your writing projects. When you complete the work on time, give yourself the reward right away!

4. Or the stick. Another writer describes a powerful incentive for getting his work done. He writes $15 dated checks to causes he is opposed to. If his self-made deadlines are not met, he must send out each check on the prescribed dates. Sometimes a negative incentive, such as paying someone for missed due dates, can do the trick.

5. Share Your Intentions. Use other people to help you reach your goals. After creating deadlines for the steps of your project, announce them in writing to fellow members of an online group, or to other friends via e-mail. This offers more accountability than just putting the dates on your own calendar. Share target dates that you’re serious about, then get your work done on time in order to save face with the people you’ve committed to. Fess up if you don’t stick to your plan, and get back on track, proclaiming updated goals to your list of friends.

6. Blog. A personal or professional web log offers a place for your writing and a reason to do work each day. Create one, knowing that you need to post something a certain amount of times per week. Also, as you gain readers, you won’t want to let them down. Your blog will push you to write regularly. Seeds of other writing projects often come from blog posts too. For example, freelance writer Abigail Green used a blog entry as a rough draft for an essay, which she revised and successfully submitted to The Christian Science Monitor.

7. Join a Writing Group. “What finally worked for me was joining a writing group,” says writer Lisa Thierbach. “I had stuff due every week. Just knowing that others are expecting something helps.” Joshilyn Jackson also joined writing groups for the deadlines. One group also required her to do critique work if she didn’t have her own work to turn in. “The added benefit was that the writing group also helped me be a better writer in other ways,” she says. 

8. Contests. Writing contests exist for many genres, and they provide specific due dates to get you moving toward finished work. Scan upcoming contests (online and in writing magazines) and choose one or more that sound interesting. From there, you can back into your weekly goals to make sure a draft is complete before the entry date. Get the submission envelope ready and stamped in advance to further prod you into action.

If you love writing but you’re not taking steps to make your dream come true, try one of the strategies listed above. You may just need something that will provoke you to act. Then you’ll be on your way to writing success.

MARCIA PETERSON is a columnist for WOW! Women on Writingand Premium-Green (The Women's Guide to Freelance Writing and Markets). Her writing awards includefirst prize in the SouthWest Writers International Monthly Writing Competition and first prize in ByLine magazine's short article contest. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two children.


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