Your message. In focus.

In Praise of Deadlines: To Get Your Book Done, Raise the Stakes

For the past month, my husband and I have been preparing for the Tour D’Coop, an annual tour of backyard chicken coops in Raleigh that’s a fundraiser for a local nonprofit. We’ve taken the tour in the past but had always hesitated to offer up our coop. “We don’t have anything special to show people.” “Our yard’s not cute enough; we need a new deck.” “We have too much going on.” Hesitation and delay. Hesitation and delay.

But this was the year. Why? Because I knew if we committed to a date, we would Get. Things. Done. The deck, the yard, the scraping and the painting…that long list of deferred to-do’s.

About deadlines and stakes…

For some people an arbitrary deadline is enough motivation to complete a project. They choose a deadline and then hit it. (Who are you people? Time lords?)

For others (ahem), motivation surges only when external factors come into play: letting someone down, feeling embarrassed about lack of progress, or being paid for work only when it’s done.

When you have an important project you never seem to get to, raise the stakes. We raised the stakes by committing to having several hundred people visit our backyard on June 1!

About that book…

Procrastination is not confined to backyard chicken coops. It frequently shows up with book writing. “I don’t have anything special to say.” “I’m not a good enough writer.” “I’m too busy with work.”

If you find yourself putting off writing, try these steps:

Pick a (reasonable) deadline and attach some stakes to it. For several of my clients the stakes were speaking engagements where they committed to having a book available. Another client committed to sharing her book with a book club by a certain date. I’ve also been known to use contract deadlines to help clients push to conclusion. Decide ONCE and stick to your date—don’t get wibbly-wobbly about this.

But what about the creative process? What if things aren’t working? Well, yes, that can throw you for a loop. Then you need to decide if you have a real creative issue or if you’re just looking for an excuse not to ship.

Back up your schedule from the deadline, breaking your work into small segments. While generating content, some writers like to target a specific word count, such as 1,000 words per day. If you have a feel for the book length you’re targeting, your schedule then becomes a matter of arithmetic. But simply generating a first draft doesn’t mean you’re done; be sure to include time for revision. Finally, work with your editor/publisher/designer to make sure you’re allowing enough time for production. Then, do what I do. Hold tight and pretend it’s a plan!

Set other things aside and FOCUS. There is something incredibly satisfying about completing a BIG project, so look for ways to set aside small tasks and distractions. Something as simple as turning off the sound for email notifications can give you more focus. Maybe make yourself a chart of all your work segments; give yourself a star each time you complete one. (Hey, it works for kids; why not you?)

Here’s the thing…

You do have something worth saying, and you need to say it. If you don’t, you are withholding value from your potential readers and clients. Even if you don’t say every word perfectly, you are much further ahead than you otherwise would be. What’s the quote? Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land in the stars?

I said yes to the Tour D’Coop because I knew it would help us Get. Things. Done. Evenings and weekends for the past several weeks, we’ve been cleaning and scraping and painting and trimming. We’ve scheduled a new deck to be built (nope, it won’t be done before the Tour). We’ve prettied up the front porch. We even realized we had some mighty cool stuff to share: we’ve designed science-y posters about tomatoes, how-to posters about building the coop, and amusing posters about chickens. (I might even have a book of Chicken Haiku to sell!) Not everything on our list got done, but our focus has landed us miles ahead of where we were.

Set a high-stakes deadline and shoot for it. You could walk among the stars.

Need some external motivation from a coach? That’s what I’m here for. Get in touch with me at 919.609.2817 or

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