Blogging and Life: Should You Write to a Deadline?

by Joel Friedlander on November 22, 2010 · 21 comments

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As usual, life intervenes in even our long-held plans. I had planned to do one more post about the year I’ve spent blogging on TheBookDesigner to follow up the Top Ten Blog Posts of My Rookie Blogging Year and Keywords posts I wrote last week.

Instead, let me ask you a question: Do you write to a deadline? It seems like I often come across stories by print journalists—or former print journalists—who talk about how their training as a reporter taught them how to write. The deadline and the absolute need to file your story on time gave them important skills.

For instance, they learned to get to the heart of the story quickly. To write a great lead-in. To leave time for at least one last check before sending the story on its way. And to get it in no matter what.

A Year of Daily Deadlines

Many people have asked me over the year “how I manage to do it” that is, keep blogging day after day. My experience has been a bit different, and I’ll tell you how.

The big commitment for me was right at the beginning. I knew that if I committed to write the blog every day for a year, that was exactly what I was going to do. Everything that happened during the year, at least as far as my intention is concerned, came from that first decision.

So it has gone over the year. The deadline I set for myself was midnight. That way, I could publish each blog article at 12:01 a.m. and have each post up for the entire 24-hour cycle of the day before the next post was due.

Every day I have had to come up with a topic, something of value to you, to write about. And then turn that into an article without too many typos, something readable by normal people.

Having this deadline hasn’t always been easy.

Have there been times I’ve sat, staring at the screen at 11:00 p.m., my mind a blank? Or spent an hour clicking through Google Alerts or Feedburner feeds looking for that elusive thread that will become an article?

Yes, maybe too many times.

Have I dreamt of the day I would be able to schedule posts a few days or a few weeks in advance, and avoid the daily deadline? Almost every day.

But Deadlines Are Good For You

On the other hand, I’ve been incredibly productive. After yesterday’s post, I’ve written and published exactly 400 articles in a little over 14 months.

The experience of producing all these articles has made me a better writer, and a more focused one. I see the point of an article or story much sooner now.

In the mornings I’ve been able to reel off 1,000-word articles in about 40 minutes quite regularly. The thread of the stories, the line that they will follow to get from a beginning to an end, appears earlier.

Maybe it’s like going to the gym for a year. You would expect your muscles to respond to working regularly, to grow stronger and more capable, wouldn’t you?

I’m saying you may be able to get that in your writing, too.

And I don’t think it matters much what your deadline is. You could be writing 100 words a day, or a page a week, or two blog posts a week, or whatever suits you.

No, the real punch here comes from this: Whatever your schedule, tell yourself that the deadline you’ve set is completely inflexible, and must be met at all costs.

That’s it. The secret to becoming a more brawny writer. Make a deadline, then write to it as if your life depended on it.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by Katchooo, http://www.flickr.com/photos/katchooo/4078561299/

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    { 18 comments… read them below or add one }

    Bonnie December 4, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I set a deadline for myself to post to my blog on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I’ve stuck to that for over a year now, even when, as you say, I’m staring at the computer on Monday morning wondering what to post about. Knowing that the deadline is coming up, though, gives me time to think about it between posts, and I can often schedule posts ahead of time if I think of something. I’ve seen a couple great writers who say, “Of course I write when inspiration hits. And inspiration always hits at 9:00 am when I sit down at my computer.” Getting in the habit of writing makes the ideas come when we want them.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander December 4, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    And I have no doubt that the time you’ve put in has strengthened your ability to “make the ideas come when we want them,” Bonnie. I’ve found that also. I try to record all the ideas I have for writing projects because even if I just have a headline or a sentence, the whole piece will flow from that. Thanks for your input.

    Reply

    Derek Murphy November 29, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Writing to a deadline helps me tons; even though I feel pressured and I know it could be better to slow down and write well – setting an ultimatum motivates me to finish. Blogging my book chapters or chapter sections works well for me, too. I like to start by putting up the chapter outline or rough notes on my blog; knowing that I have an unfinished/rough copy out there for anybody to see makes me determined to quickly finish it up. Writing for yourself only, you can always procrastinate. But when you feel like other people are waiting on you, there’s no choice.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 29, 2010 at 9:49 am

    That’s a great strategy, Derek. Planning out your posts and using them to “fill in the blanks” of a larger project you’re working on makes good sense. I’ve started to do that also here, and I’m much more productive.

    Reply

    bettymingliu November 29, 2010 at 7:01 am

    thank you for this post — and the kick in the pants. you have inspired me to get back on a weekly schedule with my two-year-old blog. so i am going to commit to being there for readers on thursdays. (gulp.)

    i can’t wait to learn more from you as you enter your second year. my experience has been so loosey-goosey. the first year was full of twice- and even thrice-weekly posts. but this year, i’ve been wandering around, letting weeks go by with nothing. so thank you for the pep talk!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 29, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Betty, everyone who reads your blog will be so happy to have more posts! Getting on that regular schedule—no matter what the frequency—will make your blog more valuable as well. Good luck with your commitment.

    Reply

    Roger C. Parker November 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Dear Joel:
    This is a great topic, one of many that I’ve enjoyed since I discovered your blog was available for the Amazon’s Kindle. Your blog was the first I subscribed to in late September.

    Anyway, for the past two years, I have been blogging a minimum of 5 days a week on my Published & Profitable blog, and–like you say–it has helped me a lot.

    Rather than define my deadlines by “writing time,” I define them by topic.
    Mondays, I post about planning a book.
    Tuesdays, I post about writing a book.
    Wednesdays, I post about promoting a book.
    Thursdays, I write about profiting from a book.
    Fridays, I write about upcoming events, like the following week’s teleseminars.

    The routine has become an ingrained habit, and I’ve really discovered I love the topic. The only time I haven taken off is when my wife had a heart attack–and there’s even a “deadline” story there.

    About 3 weeks after she survived her triple bypass surgery and 17-day hospital stay, I began to experience symptoms of PTS, and couldn’t get anything done. This was not a good period.

    I got around my non-productivity by announcing my commitment to offer a free l-hour Tuesday teleseminar on a new writing topic every Tuesday afternoon–including handouts. Once I made the commitment, I quickly regained my ability to think, organize, and write.

    I give full credit for my “recovery” to my self-imposed deadline and public commitment.

    Thanks for listening! You have a wonderful and informative blog.
    Roger C. Parker

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 26, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Roger,

    Just saw your comment, very helpful indeed. I admire the organization it takes to stick to an editorial calendar like yours, and it’s awfully attractive.

    Your story about the “healing power of deadlines” is remarkable too. There’s something about us that needs boundaries or clearly-defined goals to produce at our best.

    I do try to vary the kinds of posts I do to try to not fall into any particular subject to the exclusion of others, but it’s always a challenge.

    I’m becoming more attracted to writing series of articles, and I think that will become more of a focus in 2011.

    Very glad to have your contributions, thanks.

    Reply

    Lovelyn November 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    When I write with a deadline I find that I write more and what I write is of better quality. I think I really need the pressure to turn out good work. These these I don’t have any deadlines and my writing has been suffering. You’ve inspired me to start setting deadlines for myself.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Lovelyn, I’m glad this article inspired you to set deadlines, since you’ve already proven that they work for you. Thanks for dropping by, and good luck with your WIP.

    Reply

    Jennifer Robin November 22, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Joel, your contribution has been astonishing and your blogs consistently interesting and well written. I just forwarded your post to some other writer friends because we can all use your example for inspiration. Well done and congratulations.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 22, 2010 at 9:55 am

    Thanks, Jennifer. I really appreciate it.

    Reply

    R Thomas Berner November 22, 2010 at 4:59 am

    As an old print journalist, I concur with your analysis about deadlines. One way to make deadline (as we used to say in the newsroom) is to engage in what I call analysis aforethought. Too often, people sit down at their typewriters (I mean, computers) and stare rather than type because they haven’t thought about what they are going to write. I use a 4-mile walk in the morning to do my writing and then type later in the day. In fact, all I really need is to come up with a good opening. The rest flows from there.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 22, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Thomas, having the lead is key for me also. That’s the “thread” which I may come back to later, tugging on it to see what comes out. Thanks.

    Reply

    Mike Lipsey November 22, 2010 at 1:19 am

    I try to write 1,000 words a day, every day. This post counts. That idea came from Carolyn See’s very useful “Making A Literary Life.” But See said she got the idea from Virginia Woolf, because that is what Woolf said she did. In Woolf’s case it is really impressive because the quality of everything she wrote was so high. And she had other responsibilities, like running their press.

    Carolyn See recommended doing it even if you find yourself writing drivel. Writing is a muscle, as you pointed out, and it grows strong with use. The more you write, the easier it becomes to write. Once you find it easy to write you can concentrate on becoming a better writer.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 22, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Interesting history, Michael, thanks for that

    I also use the Wordpress blogging software itself to help. Like you, if I have an idea for a post I’ll add it as a draft, write a headline and a few subheads. That way I can follow the train of thought when I come back to it later.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 22, 2010 at 9:57 am

    That’s an awesome goal you’ve got, Mike. I think it was the years of freewriting that helped me the most. In freewriting, we give ourselves permission to write awful first drafts, the aim being to “just keep the pen moving.” It’s amazing how giving yourself permission can unleash your own creativity. Thanks for your comment.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus November 22, 2010 at 12:41 am

    My blogging deadline follows yours.

    I’m on the east coast. I typically get up to start editing and writing books, and my blogs, at 3 a.m. eastern time.

    The first thing I do is check your blog, which is then just a few minutes old and this schedule usually makes me the first one to comment — like today.

    When I sign off today, I’ll work on my own blogs, and then try to fiinish editing two books so I can upload the files to Lightning Source by 7 a.m. — and then go to my “real” job.

    A few blogging tips:

    (1) Try to post every day. Unless I’m away, I do five (or six or seven) each week). If you’re trying to build a following, it’s important to have something new online when readers show up.

    (2) When you get an idea, even if you’re not on deadline, write a blog (or a first graf or first sentence or even just a title) in advance and keep it in your file. This way you don’t forget about an important topic, and you’ll have something available later on if you have no fresh ideas.

    (3) Presumably, you will attract new readers who have not read everything you’ve written. It’s OK to occasionally post a “re-run” — but read it carefully and update if necessary.

    (4) When starting a new blog, write five or more posts before you annouce the blog to the world. You may find that you really don’t like the topic, or that your title or design are wrong. It’s better to find out during a dress rehearsal than when the world is watching. It’s also good to have more than one posting online when people show up on opening day.

    (5) Blogging can become an unpleasant addiction. I began blogging on 5/7/06. I started writing one blog, and gradually built up to seven blogs a day. I got out of bed at 3:30 to start my daily writing. I did it for fun, but eventually it seemed too much like work. I’m not sure that I was officially “burned-out,” but I definitely lost enthusiasm for the daily grind of blogging.

    Since the blog obligation was only to myself, and I had no contract, it’s an obligation I was free to suspend, cancel or modify at will. No one had a paid-up subscription for words they would not receive.

    Therefore, after 2,715 posts, on 5/27/09 I stopped writing most of my daily blogs. I now do one a day, one a week, and two when I feel like it — and I feel much better. Some readers have asked me to revive some of the blogs that are on hiatus, but if the topics are no longer compelling to me, I won’t. Rather than restart the old blogs, I added a new one a few months ago. I think a blog can represent a “complete” work, and doesn’t have to be a continuing work.

    Well. it’s now 3:41, time to write a blog. OOPS — I’m 11 minutes late for my deadline.

    Michael N. Marcus
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.Self-Pub.info
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

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