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Avoiding Dead-End Deadlines

Don't get me wrong deadlines are great. Without them, most of us wouldn't get anything done. But sometimes deadlines do us more harm than good the wrong kind of deadline anyway. If you've noticed a common theme of my blog, it is how to deal with avoiding writing avoidance. Why do we avoid writing even when we love it? There are lots of reasons, but the biggies are fear and guilt which come in many guises - procrastination, performance anxiety, and the ever ubiquitous Writer's Block. All these things can be boiled down to the core problem of not feeling like we're good enough. We usually avoid writing initially out of fear quickly followed by guilt creating a toxic combo that kills creativity.

Many of us feel that if we have a deadline, then we will eliminate the problem of procrastination - one of our biggest nemesis. But that's not exactly how it works. Some writers can push past procrastination with sheer willpower. And we all know that most ADHDers work well under a deadline, but when nothing is really at stake - failing a class or losing a job, for example, it doesn't work the same way when we're only letting ourselves down because we all know what pushovers we are about this. But don’t throw deadlines out the window altogether because there is a way to use them to your advantage instead of your deferment.

Avoid Extreme Deadlines

Look at any how-to-write bookshelf, and you'll find a plethora of "write a book in a year/month/week/24 hours!" None of those books are incorrect or misleading. It is possible to do any of those things, but it's not done the way you think. First of all Most of those books promise a rough draft, which is a far cry from a “book.” A book is something you can sell, it’s polished and printed and has a cover and summary on the back, and that’s not what you’re going to do in a year, or a month for that matter. Some people might, but chances are pretty good you’re not one of them - I’m certainly not, and that’s okay. I call these extreme deadlines, and they sound like just enough high-pressure we need to get our butts in gear, but it doesn’t often work that way. Which leads me to…

Make It Bite-Sized

There's an adage that I'm not too fond of, but it makes a lot of sense. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And as creepy as that image is it's also very spot on. Looking at a problem in its entirety can be daunting and can make clear entry points out of focus, but if you break that big project up into little pieces, you'll be able to clearly see an entry point and an exit point making it much easier to go from point A to point B.

It’s like when you’re trying to clean your house or even just one room, and you just want to throw your hands in the air wondering how you’re ever going to manage. But if you start with a corner or a table even, you can get it done in a day. You get a big rush of accomplishment when you have a little oasis of calm among all the clutter. It also gives you something to build on. Then you can tackle the next section, and you’ll soon see more sections picked up than not. Same with writing. Thinking of how you’re you’re going to write an entire novel can make your head spin but if you think about it in chapters or even pages, it’s very manageable.

Measure Time Spent Over Time Left

I've said before that fear is the root of all our writing problems. More than lack of experience, more than lack of ideas or time or whatever thing we think keeps us from writing, it all comes down to fear. The only way to get better at writing is to write. That's the simple universal truth to writing. Letting go of your fear is easier said than done but knowing what's causing your "writer's block" is much more helpful than blaming it on some elusive unreachable muse.

But what does all that have to do with deadlines? Tons. Rather than using a deadline as a benchmark to reach for, think of every time you write as an achievement unlocked. That way each writing session is its own goal completed successfully. You write you get better, score. So rather than measuring how much more you have to write you can look back and see how far you’ve come.

Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths

Turning weakness around into strengths is probably one of my best strategies for all things ADHD, writing or otherwise. In our day to day dealing with ADHD or just being a general scatterbrain, it can feel like a huge problem but think about the reasons behind your lack of focus and follow through. It often happens because our attention gets caught on something fun and shiny. When we’re in the thick of our writing work it can start to feel boring and lackluster, a breeding ground for squirrels to chase. Keep those squirrels at bay by giving yourself options to keep it exciting. Have a few word prompts on hand if you feel your attention wandering away from your writing. Add more character sketches. Think up a wild and crazy scene to shake things up. It doesn’t ever have to go to the finished work, and it can be not canon to your original plot.

Use deadlines as you need but if you find them driving you away from writing it’s time to take a new approach. Any writing is better than no writing so stick with it even if you’re way behind where you want to be. You’ll get there, one word at a time.

Good luck and keep writing!


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