5 Tips to Help You Make Your Deadline

Writing is one thing. A deadline is quite another. These tips are for the writer who is close enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but far enough away to truly believe that the tunnel could collapse around them at any point. In the past, I’ve locked myself in the house, not seeing or talking to anyone for days on end only to emerge like one of the White Walkers from “Game of Thrones.” I knew I needed another way. These tips helped me join the living once more. Even under a deadline.

1. Do the math

Before you undertake the final throes of a deadline, you should map out how much time you have and how much writing you have to do. It’s a terrible SAT math question: if a novelist only has so much time to write x-amount of words, how long before it feels as though those two trains are coming straight at him/her? (show your work).

(Which writers’ conference is the BEST to attend?)


Liza-palmer-author-writer        nowhere-but-home-novel-cover

Guest column by Liza Palmer, whose book CONVERSATIONS WITH THE FAT GIRL
became an international bestseller its first week in publication, as well as hitting # 1
on the Fiction Heatseekers List in the UK one week prior. It has been optioned by
the producers of “Rome.” Palmer is also the author of Seeing Me Naked and
A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents. She currently lives in Los Angeles
and is hard at work on her next novel as well as several film/TV projects.
Her most recent book is NOWHERE BUT HOME (April 2013, William Morrow).


Most books are between 80,000-100,000 words, but you can check your contract to see what is expected of you. Break the remaining words down into bite sized chunks. Can you do 2,000 words a day? 3,000? 500? Remember to factor in weekends and holidays. You can throw in a few big number days in there, but not back to back.

Try not to negotiate with yourself to take a day off and then “make up the words tomorrow.” It’s a slippery slope.

Remember to add time for editing and always give yourself at least a week at the end to re-read the entire book as a whole once its finished. You’ll be happy you did.

2. Set the Scene

It’s all about setting oneself up for success.

Figure out what works for you while keeping in mind that those idyllic surroundings we envision – the muse-heavy, uninterrupted blocks of time with wafting music and chirping birds – are an absolute rarity. It’s one thing to set oneself up for a success; it’s another to get caught up in excuses. This isn’t right, that’s not going to work… well, we’ll try again tomorrow.

It’s not going to be “perfect” tomorrow either.

(How long should a novel be? Word counts explained.)

Find what works within the parameters of what is available to you. Make the investment to carve writing time out of one’s already hectic schedule. Do you get up an hour earlier when the house is quiet? Do you write during your lunch break?

Make a realistic goal and stick to it.

3. The Beauty of Timers

I set my timer for an hour. Write. Then set another timer for twenty minutes and scavenge the Internet. Set the timer again for an hour – write again… set another timer for twenty minutes and see if there were any new pictures of snowy allées on Instagram.

I find an hour is the perfect span of time. Two hours is too long and thirty minutes isn’t enough to really get in-depth.

If you’re in the zone and cruising, forget the timers. Seriously. (But, when it’s not necessarily going great the next day – start up with the timers again)

I also set timers for mealtimes. I can’t be trusted at all. I know this about myself now.

4. Take Breaks

This is the piece of advice that’s actually the hardest and most anti-instinctual for me. I thought true deadline-mode resembled a prison sentence – not going outside, terrible food, my loved ones visiting during set hours. Turns out? Not so much.

We need balance.

(Pay it Forward — 11 Ways You Can Help a Friend Market Their New Book.)

We have to refill the well even if we don’t think we have time – especially when we don’t have time. This isn’t about running errands either. This is about taking in beauty (get outside, go to a museum, see a movie, etc…) and let your mind and body replenish.

Of course you’ve prepared for such field trips in your original words: time SAT equation.

5. Set Boundaries

Writing is as important as we make it.

We have to be the voice of how important our writing is and what our expectations are. I’m not sure people who aren’t artists get how hard this is – and that’s fine – but we don’t have to allow our writing schedules to be infringed upon by people who aren’t respecting our time/art.

Once you set up boundaries about your writing schedule, it’s not like everyone is going to be super happy about it. You’re going to catch some serious flack for what people are going to perceive as being selfish or silly or whatever it is that people say when they’re afraid.

If writing makes you happy, then you get to write.

Moreover – you get to be happy and make that deadline.


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3 thoughts on “5 Tips to Help You Make Your Deadline

  1. plumage

    Great article. I’d like to add to two of your points
    When calculating how long you novel is going to take, in the early stages double the time based on your word count to take account of the fact that you are going to do rewrites.
    for example Graham Greene used to write 500 words a day and published a novel a year so he wrote 180,000 words in that time for let’s say a 90,000 word novel.
    Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day and publishes a novel every three months. do the math. They only publish about half of all those words.
    I also often use a timer to time my writing, and I trust myself even less than you, so I use a desktop speaking clock gadget a lot of the time to pre-programme set work periods. When I use a more casual timer like you I use two interlocking timers. so if say I were working for 25 minutes and taking a 5 minute break I’d set the first timer for a 25 minutes and the second timer for 30 minutes. When the hour timer goes off I immediately reset it for 30 minutes in fact all subsequent alarms are set for 30 minutes. This method means that if you miss one alarm because some how you have wandered off, you can easily get back on track. (you can get free pomodoro timers on line that can help with this, there are also count down timers and a programme called ‘Write or Die’ which gets you to write a certain number of words in a given time.

  2. sylviashipp

    Thanks! I am always looking for help in this department and this article is inspiring in a confirming kind of way. I like the third one, The Beauty of Timers, and agree that an hour feels like an optimal amount of writing time. My problem is that I have to fight that urge to research stuff online, but knowing that I’ll give myself 15-20 minutes of research time will make it easier for me to stay in writing mode.

  3. vrundell

    Thanks for the great insights. That last point is always the one I struggle with! Never enough hours in the day, and too many people crawling out of the shadows with a ‘Could you help me with..”


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