Sometimes a simple idea is all you need to get you moving forward again, and that’s the idea behind this series of Quick Writing Tips culled from around the net: to get your writing back on track.

You know that great aunt of yours who loves to receive letters from you? The one who raised-you-like-a-son/gave-you-her-kidney/saved-you-from-a-towering-birthday-cake-inferno-when-you-were-eight? That one?

When was the last time you wrote her a letter?

I know, I know. You’ve started it a hundred times, but something always comes up before you can finish.

Now … you know that monthly bill you have for the local newspaper? The one that’s the only one you still have to pay by live check? The one that you begrudge like your other aunt, who knocked over the card table on your eight birthday and almost sent you to your fate with a towering birthday-cake inferno?

When was the last time you missed writing that check?

You say you’ve never missed that payment? Interesting.

But not surprising.

So, what’s the difference between Aunt Agnes and The Daily Dashboard? I mean, aside from the unreasonable resentment you hold toward one for being just so darn good to you?

Deadlines.

Parkinson’s Law in Writing

Parkinson’s Law says that work — any kind of work — expands to fill the time that we have allotted for it.

If you have to get a report done for your boss by the end of the day, you’ll give it to her at 4:59 pm.

If you have until next Friday to get her that same report, chance are you’ll also finish at 4:59 pm — but next Friday.

It seems to be part of the human condition that we put off everything except unbridled pleasure or the avoidance of pain for as long as we possibly can.

That’s why deadlines are so important. You pay the newspaper bill on time because you don’t want to miss out on whatever joy the paper brings you.

You don’t write to Aunt Agnes because there is no “on time” where she’s concerned. Do it, or don’t do it, and she’ll still love you.

So what does this have to do with you as a writer?

Easy … you need to put deadlines on your writing projects or you’ll never finish them.

Don’t Write Without a Deadline

That’s one of the secrets to the success of NaNoWriMo: it forces you to set a deadline. Start your novel on November 1, finish by November 30. If you don’t, you lose.

Contrast that to the way that most authors approach most of their books …

We get a great idea for a story and start clacking away at our keyboards. Within a week or a day or an hour, our original path weaves, and we can’t find our way back to a solid plot. Or we get distracted by something shiny. Either way, we set the story aside and move on, knowing it will still be there “when we get back to it.”

Without a deadline for “getting back to it,” though, we never do. And it spends eternity in the dust pile of our good intentions while we’re busy finding the latest funny cat videos.

Set deadlines and stick to them.

You’ll be much happier with your writing progress if you do.

How about you? Do you use deadlines to keep your writing on track? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject in the comments below.

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