Monday, December 1, 2014

The Pitfalls of a Self-Imposed Deadline

on FreeDigitalPhotos by Stuart Miles
My family and I drove from Iowa to North Carolina back to Iowa again in a I decided to post an oldie, but one that still applies to me at this very moment! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!


From the time we enter a classroom at the early age of five, we begin to set our feet toward goals...goals to learn the alphabet and sightwords, goals to climb across the monkeybars and jump off swings.
As we grow, we make goals for good grades and fitness tests, goals to get the lead in the play or make the team. Some of us made the goal to be an author way way way before we could even read a full-length novel...Goals, goals, goals.
While many of us were given goals by our teachers, our parents, our advisors, as we trek along in the great wide world on our own—without a publishing contract, perhaps without an agent-- we are sole initiators of our goals. During this process, we all have certainly stumbled upon a type of goal that can motivate us or trip us up, or both:
The self-imposed deadline.
Even the mention of it makes me shudder.
Not that it's bad.
No. It's what gives us the edge most of the time. It's the symptom of an inner drive to make ourselves competitive and productive. A self-imposed deadline is usually a stepping stone to reaching that next level on our journey.
It's the polished entry for a contest... x number of days before to be sure you have it just right.
It's the tweaked proposal ready for your agent's eyes when you are ready to reveal your next idea.
It's that date to finish that final sentence of a manuscript you just know will get you a contract.

It's the date YOU'VE committed to in your heart, without the suggestion from anyone else, without the expectation of anyone else. It's YOUR timeline for YOUR journey, crafted on YOUR very own.

on FreeDigitalPhotos by photo stock
So why does it make me shudder? Why? When self-motivation is often key to keep going forward on this rigorous writing journey?

Because, I have landed heart first in the pitfalls of self-imposed deadlines, and know that they are a very tricky and sensitive type of goal-setting. 
  • First, there is a chance that a deadline like this might rush you by key points in the writing process. 
  • Second, you risk the chance of unreasonable expectations on those who play on the receiving end of your met goal.
Pitfall #1:  Missed Opportunities- When I had a project in college, I would brainstorm quickly and focus in on the first idea that came to mind. I took it and ran. I would get so deep in the project with that focus on my original idea, that I didn't take the time to entertain other options. If I did come up with something else, I was usually too far into the project and too close to the actual deadline to change anything. I'd look around at my classmates projects and remember that even thought they were slow to start, their final products were strong ideas with well-thought out execution...sometimes mine lacked those things.

As a writer, I often catch myself zoning into a self-imposed deadline, trucking along on a story, and feeling the pressure of the deadline pushing me past any idea that might hold me back from my goal a few days, weeks, or even months. When we force ourselves to stick to a self-imposed deadline, we can forget the fluidity of such a goal, and miss the maturing process of newborn ideas and complex building blocks that might slow us down, but give us a more refined (and desirable) product in the end.

Pitfall #2:  Expectations of the Un-expecting-
 If I finished a project before the deadline, I could hardly expect my professors to set aside time to grade it and critique it ahead of the rest of the class. It just doesn't work that way. Just because I might have reached my goal, doesn't mean that everyone affected by it are waiting on the edge of their seats to pat me on the back.

This is something that can drive me absolutely batty in the writing world. You mean, I spent all this time working on this manuscript or proposal, and have urged my crit partner to abide by my deadline (and she is so great at getting it back to me), and I sent it to my agent (I so appreciate her responsiveness as she is very quick in sending it on when it's ready)...but the receivers aren't anxious to meet me at my next self-imposed goal of a contract by such and such date? WHAT??? 

Crickets...a rejection here and there...and more crickets.
But I wanna, but I said, but I set a...hmph.
on FreeDigitalPhotos by Clare Bloomfield
The risk of weighting these self-imposed deadlines so heavily, is that we expect others to step in line with them and play the game OUR way. And more often than not, we will be sorely disappointed. We are placing undue expectations on people and situations we cannot control.

Self-imposed deadlines drive us, but they can also drive us CRAZY if we let them become the steadfast rule. Remember, a self-imposed deadline should be fluid and adjusted according to your creative process and life circumstance. And always remember, that a self-imposed deadline is only imposed by you, so don't expect everyone else to mark their calendars too!


Angie Dicken is a full-time mom and lives in the Midwest with her Texas Aggie sweetheart. An ACFW member since 2010, she has written five Historical Romance novels, has a Historical underway, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Angie also spends her time designing one-sheets, selling Jamberry Nail Wraps, and drinking good coffee with great friends. Check out her author page at and her personal blog at 


Julia M. Reffner said...

Good thoughts to take into consideration. Definitely easy to fall into either of these pitfalls you mention.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great points, Angie. I've fallen into the trap of being so eager to meet a self-imposed deadline that I skip past great ideas for my story in the process of the "doing."

You've given me food for thought.

Angie Dicken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angie Dicken said...

Hello, ladies! I have struggled with self-imposed deadlines for a pretty long time. It's always good to dissect your tendencies to readjust your expectations and motivation!! Happy writing!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Oh sister, I can totally relate! I work pretty well under my self-imposed deadlines, but I also drive myself crazy under them too! I'll totally overdo it, or become too lax thinking I have more than enough time to make my goal. I think it all just points to poor time management on my part. Working on it! And you're so right, even when you meet your mark, not very often are others waiting right there for you to pass off the baton. That can be one of the toughest parts. Great post!

Ashley Clark said...

Ang, what you said about missed opportunities really resonated with me! This go around, I've been trying to really take my time with edits and changes, and allow growth in the story, because I think in the past, I've sometimes fallen in love with an idea before entertaining other--potentially stronger--options. Great post!

Angie Dicken said...

Amy, I can relate to poor time management too...but I am usually a procrastinator anyway, so I just work extra hard at the end!! Again, leaving little room for adjustment! That baton pass off is excruciating at times, huh?

Angie Dicken said...

Ash, I love how you are taking time to really make your story shine! This book is going to be AMAZING!!!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

So glad I'm not the only world class procrastinator ;)

Mary Vee Writer said...

True words of wisdom, Ang.
This kind of pressure can totally rob the spirit and rob the quality right out of a good manuscript.

Hold steady.

Stay on target.

Keep focused.

Most importantly….breathe.

kaybee said...

Angie, this is a good post even if it's old. I'm a planner, not only with my book projects but in real life, and I have self-imposed deadlines up the wazoo. (An anatomical feat. Ah, if we only knew where the "wazoo" was.) I have always supplemented our income with freelance writing, and there, if I don't have my own deadline it doesn't happen. WHAT I'VE twofold. We should still have self-imposed deadlines because otherwise nothing would get done, not just for pantsers but for everybody, but when we've met a deadline we need to let the work sit, sit, sit. Then come back to it and look at it with fresh eyes and rework it with what we've learned in our "time off." This means we will have several self-imposed deadlines during the life of a project. I cringe at some of the half-baked, unready pieces I put out to the public in earlier years, but now I know that it's done when it's done. The other piece of this is we have to be flexible. I lost the power this weekend in that storm that blanketed Northern New England and didn't quite finish my NANO project, although I did some line editing by hand on a hard copy by flashlight. Sick kid, sick parent, day job crisis, weather woes, we have to be flexible because life will throw us stuff we don't expect. I was saved during the late 70s through Campus Crusade for Christ and our Crusade director had a saying at exam time. "Plan your work, work your plan, but don't let your plan work you."
Kathy Bailey

Angie Dicken said...

Great words of wisdom, Kathy! Yes, I would not have anything done if it wasn't for those self-imposed deadlines...but I do like what you let the work sit! I also cringe at the half-baked pieces I sent out...and thank God that they never made it to a shelf! Hope you stay warm up there in New England! It's a whopping 13 degrees here!

kaybee said...

I have never seen weather like this in my life and I'm 63.

Tori Starling said...

Great timing for this post as I am about to firm up my writing schedule and deadline goal.

Your post reminds me of a memoir I read "This Is Not the Story You Think It Is," by Laura Munson. She is a writer who spent many years trying to get her books published. She has an epiphany that she needs to stop basing her happiness on things outside her control.

She is challenged along the way ... not only with writing, but particularly when her husband comes to her out of the blue and says he wants a divorce. Ironically enough, her memoir - her first published book - is on this experience. She had other books/ articles she was working on at the time, but instead she sat down and documented those few months of self exploration.

What if she would have been so caught up in her own projects to miss this golden opportunity? What if she would have shut down during this difficult time in her marriage?

Angie Dicken said...

Hi Tori!
I posted earlier, but I guess it didn't go through. I was just thinking about how I sometimes use my life trials as a crutch to step away from writing...when, in reality, God has given me the writing to get me through the tough times too!
Thanks for these words. You do not realize how much they mean to me!