Originally, a deadline was the line around the perimeter of a Civil War prisoner of war camp. The line showed prisoners how far they could go safely. If they crossed the line, they would get shot.
Writing deadlines usually don’t wind up with anybody getting shot, but sometimes it can feel like it. You’re always going to have to deal with deadlines, so you’ve got two choices. You can let deadlines rule, increasing your stress levels and making your life miserable. Or you can take control of your deadlines and make them your servant instead of your master and tormentor.
The Deadline as Tormentor
The reason so many writers are tormented by deadlines is that they let the deadline be the one in charge. Don’t do that. Make the deadline your friend, instead.
Making Friends with Your Deadline
You make friends with your deadline when you use it to guide your planning. The first thing to do is get that final deadline on the calendar. I’m not just talking about any generic calendar here. Put it on the calendar that guides your work life.
Once you’ve got that, work backwards. When you need to have the next to last draft done? How about the one before that? When should you start to write? When should research be complete?
Everybody thinks of those things, but let me add one more. Allow some time for creative ferment. That’s time when you’re not working intensely on the project, but you’re thinking about it while you do other things. It’s the time when creative ideas about the project will bubble up from your subconscious.
That should happen after you’ve done some preliminary research but before you write your first draft. Allow some time for creative ferment and make sure it shows on your calendar.
Use your calendar to guide your work
Planning things out based on your deadline is the first step. The second is to work your plan, checking your progress against your deadline. I suggest a weekly schedule for that if you have the time. Sometimes, you’ll only have days. Then go to work. Check your progress and adjust your work as needed.
You can turn that deadline from a tormentor into a friend if you make it an aid to your planning. Set milestones for all the important things and allow time for creative procrastination.