When I started writing for IT magazines, the pattern was always the same. I had what I thought was a great idea, wrote a first draft and then left it for a while. Inevitably, I left it to the very last day to get the article out.
This approach put me under incredible pressure. I was often up late into the night and ended up spending far too long writing and re-writing, hoping those last few brain juices wouldn't dry up before dawn broke.
From Stick to Carrot
Much as I found the deadline like an axe that hung over my head, I kind of love deadlines now. And so should you.
You see, if you're a procrastinator like me, you'll probably never finish that article. There'll always be some new aspect that you want to cover, or some sentence that you want to rewrite. The only thing that got me writing was the deadline. (Alright, I admit the offer of a payment was a pretty valuable incentive, too).
"Deadline" Is Not A Dirty Word
It's all about seeing the deadline not only as a negative, as if some big bad editor with bushy eyebrows was just waiting to crush you for being late. (Not my experience of editors ever. I've had great editors who are grateful and encouraging, as if you're doing them a kindness by writing). It's important also to see the good that comes from getting your article, assignment or project over the line.
If I missed the deadline, then either the editor said that was cool, because the magazine wasn't going to print for a few more days. Or else I would get the article run the following month. Which would sometimes delay payment, depending on the arrangement with the magazine.
Deadlines and Feedback
These days when my writing is as much a hobby as an income stream, I have to create my own deadlines. That's the cost of being your own boss: you have to be hard on yourself sometimes. Now, instead of one editor asking if you're going to make a due date for them to go to press, you have no editor, so you need to create a new incentive.
Having written many articles and blog posts over the years, I realise that the connection between writing effort and reader feedback is probably the biggest reason to keep writing. So the role of the editor's deadline has been replaced by a positive: reader feedback.
By reader feedback, I don't necessarily mean comments on my article. Comments in recent times have taken a back seat. What I mean is some sort of feedback to say people have read it. That could be simply the number of views of an article, or a kind word from an editor. It might be simply sending it out on Twitter and seeing it retweeted, or (better still) getting a new follower.
Love that "Publish" Button
I think it is a rare writer who can just keep on writing without any feedback or evidence that people are reading the writing.
Now if you're getting paid for an article, then that's feedback. However, these days most of us are getting little of that sort of feedback. So that probably means we don't have an editor who is chasing up articles or blog posts.
You just have to fall in love with that button that says "Publish". And the best way to do that is to set yourself concrete goals, with concrete dates. In other words, deadlines.
The most effective way of keeping up writing momentum is not having great ideas; it's having clear deadlines. Set yourself a realistic schedule for your writing, and stick to it. If you are drawing a blank, at least think of a heading and some bullet points. Writing under time pressure isn't always the best way to produce great work, but even having something written and published is better than having a lot of draft articles that never see the light of day.
Learn to set deadlines for your blog posts, eBooks or documentation. It will keep you writing and keep everyone else reading.