Deadlines work — If you know how to use them

You might think a self-imposed deadline will motivate you to write that story, research that paper, or establish your vegetable garden.

It won’t.

At least, it won’t if you don’t have a plan to back it up. I have learned this from depressing, depressing experience.

Here’s an example from last fall. It’s about September, and I’m thinking about National Novel Writing Month and my Warren Zevon-inspired short story collection that’s almost finished. I decide to push myself. I’ll finish the short story collection by October 1, and then I’ll have time to plan for Nanowrimo.

But I don’t change my routine. I keep plugging away at the manuscript for my standard half hour every day before work, and I make steady progress. But October 1 comes and goes, and I’m still neck-deep in the story I was working on when I imposed the deadline.

It’s not that I was unmotivated, or didn’t have the time, or got distracted. I failed to meet that deadline for two simple reasons:

  1. It was not realistic.
  2. I did not plan for it.

This is only the millionth time I’ve done something like this, and it always makes me feel kind of bad about myself.

That’s why now, when I go to set a deadline for myself, I do the following things:

  1. Ask myself how much time I think I’ll need, and then give myself another week or month. Finishing early is great, finishing late makes you feel like a failure.
  2. Work backward from my chosen deadline and break the project/goal down into smaller steps. I then attach dates to each smaller goal.
  3. Plan when and where I will work on the project each day (or each week, or month, or whatever).
  4. Write the dates and scheduled work time in my planner (Google calendar also works quite well) so I can keep them in the forefront of my mind.
  5. Assess my progress regularly and honestly.

Whatever the goal and deadline, breaking it down into smaller steps is key. It’s easier to keep sight of a small goal than a large one, and you’ll get a confidence and motivational boost each time you complete one of your smaller goals.

This method works equally well for deadlines that are assigned. Like from an editor who wants those short story edits in a week. Or your boss who wants the annual report next month. Etc.

Do you use self-imposed deadlines? How do you plan for them?

Creating home

On January 29, 2015, I bought my first home.

I haven’t moved in yet, because my husband and I are having a contractor do some renovations to create the perfect space for us. (Read: a nerdy, literary haven of Star Wars art prints, Simpsons collectibles, and built-in bookshelves.)

Being able to do this—to shape a building to suit our needs and lifestyle—is one of the best feelings I have ever encountered. I didn’t realize that I haven’t felt truly at home since I left my parents’ house for college. Once my parents moved out of my childhood home, I didn’t have a permanent space I could call mine.

Now, I do.

Even though this is an old, familiar feeling—home—it’s new at the same time. I’m rediscovering how rewarding it is to carefully arrange each piece of furniture, each piece of art, each action figure, rather than letting things accumulate haphazardly because I can’t give them a permanent place, so what’s the point?

With our huge yard, we can host summer bonfire parties, or better still, summer bonfire literary readings.

We don’t have to worry about putting holes in the wall of which a landlord would disapprove. We don’t have to worry about our dog chewing up the carpet, because we tore out all the carpets (vinyl and hardwood are way easier to clean than carpets when you have pets). We don’t have to worry about a handyman doing a shoddy repair job, because we can choose who works on our home.

Not everything we want to do will happen right away. We can only afford so much at once. But even if we could do everything we knew we wanted right now, a year or more down the road, we’d undoubtedly discover something else we wanted.

Creating home isn’t a one-time thing. It’s not like putting a puzzle together. It’s a never-ending process. We will learn and grown, and what we need out of a home will change.

While our contractor updates the wiring and removes the 1970s fake wood paneling, we’re packing our belongings (I can’t even count how many boxes of books we have), sanding cabinets and furniture, painting, plotting, and looking forward to creating our home anew each time we step back inside.




Beginning is always hardest.

Writing, yoga, walking my dogs on windy, sub-zero days, cooking dinner. Once I start, continuing is easy. It’s getting off the couch that waylays me.

For two years I wrote a blog about metafiction, and then for another two years I wrote a blog about how migraine disease affects my life. I enjoyed writing about these topics, until I felt constrained by them, until they felt like obligations.

Thinking that no one would want to read a highly personal blog about my writing, my obsessions, or my day job, I opted to keep this site static and write separate blogs on specific topics–like all the blogging how-to sites tell you to. But following that advice didn’t bring me joy.

I don’t write for myself. I mean, I do, sometimes. I jot silly notes to myself about stories I’m working on and take out my frustrations with being in constant pain on my journal. But I don’t spend hours and weeks and months perfecting a single short story because it’s fun (although sometimes it can be fun).

I write because I want to connect with people. I want to make people think. I want my stories to reveal truths that can’t be expressed simply.

My words are my gift to the world. I want them to matter.

When I turned twenty-eight this past September, I affirmed two goals I’ve had for a long time, but never expressed well:

  • I want to be the kind of person who writes every day. Who is always writing. Who can never get enough of writing.
  • I want to live in a space that brings me joy. This means surrounding myself with things I love. It means being neat and organized. It means being as environmentally friendly as possible.

Writing this blog is part of achieving those goals. I want neat, organized digital spaces just as much as I want neat, organized physical spaces. I want my thoughts to have room to wander and land in new territories, to make new connections.

That’s why I decided to take down my former blogs. They were kind of like abandoned houses, slowly rotting. By posting my favorite articles from them, I’m giving them a new life, while simultaneously working on making this space a holistic reflection of who I am as a creator, writer, reader, and person.

Remember: Beginning is always hardest, but we’ve already begun.