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Does setting deadlines help your creative writing?

While sometimes dreadful and inconvenient, deadlines are often jokingly referred to as “the greatest inspiration”. Looking back at my first year at Warwick, there never seemed to be ‘the right time’ to write my essays until the deadline was just around the corner… probably not a coincidence. Since having clear and unmovable deadlines for essay writing always ensured that I would get my essays done, it only seemed natural to do the same when I decided to explore creative writing.

Long story short, I managed to write a 20,000 word novel in just a month. I achieved this as part of the NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) initiative. NaNoWriMo is a fantastic project that encourages authors of all ages to write, by providing them with a book writing platform, writing resources, and inspiration to keep going. Although the resources are available all year, the initiative is centred around the month of November – the month in which all authors are challenged to set a clear word count goal and complete it before the month ends. 

One of its best features is the visual representations of your progress. These include the number of words written, word count that you need to write today, and your daily writing streak. When completing the challenge, my favourite thing about these statistics was the blend of big and small goals. The fact that I could see my word count increase with every minute of writing made me feel accomplished, and the day streak reminded me of how far I’ve come. 

This experience taught me an important lesson for writing deadlines and for goals in general: it is the little deadlines that truly keep you going

In the same way that Snapchat streaks encourage users to use it every day, the NaNoWriMo platform encouraged me to write. Without these little internal deadlines and metrics of success, I honestly don’t think I would have made it. This experience taught me an important lesson for writing deadlines and for goals in general: it is the little deadlines that truly keep you going. This aligns perfectly with a striking quote that I found on the NY Book Editiors page: “the answer to meeting deadlines is imposing even more deadlines”. Although paradoxical, it shows that writing has to be taken step by step.

While the statistics served as great motivation, there was still one problem left: the content. I wanted to get the word count up higher, but I couldn’t really think of what to write in the first place. The main message of the NaNoWriMo team was that it truly doesn’t matter what I write, it only matters that I write. This approach was radically different from the approach I was taught at school or later at university. While in academic writing the content was the most important part of the essay, in creative writing I had the liberty of allowing my imagination to take the lead. 

Looking back, I have mixed feelings about setting such a definite one-month deadline for my writing. On the one hand, focusing on just getting the word count up meant that I eventually succeeded at reaching my 20,000 word target. On the other hand, the novel that I wrote was actually not finished. This was not just because 20,000 was not enough to finish the plot-line, but also largely due to the inconsistencies throughout the story.

Without a deadline set in stone, I could indulge more in reflecting upon the characters and perfecting the story-line

As December came and my challenge was over, I still continued working on the book, hoping to get it done soon. Now without a deadline set in stone, I could indulge more in reflecting upon the characters and perfecting the story-line. However, I never actually finished the project and never published the story. Other events like exams and then summer holidays came around, and while the novel was always on my mind, I could never get myself around to completing it. 

To this day, I still wonder if setting the strict one-month-deadline was a good or a bad idea. It was something that inspired me to keep writing in the first place, yet the rush also created problems that were later impossible to fix. Regardless, NaNoWriMo was certainly a great experience that taught me a lot about deadlines and writing. 

Now as a Warwick student, I continue to leave my essays till the last moment and face multiple writer’s blocks. Still, at times I remind myself that setting smaller deadlines will make me feel accomplished and put me on the right path to success. While with essays I do the research first instead of jumping straight into the writing like during NaNoWriMo, at times I have to simply start typing to conquer the fear of the blank page.

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