I was talking to a client the other day who told me they were behind on their writing. They felt disappointed at their lack of progress.
Unfortunately, this client isn’t unique. This is a conversation I have with many clients. Writers who fall behind on their work often internalize a sense of failure and feel less confident in their writing abilities.
Yet, their idea of “behind” is subjective, often based on unrealistic deadlines and poor planning. The good news is that with thoughtful planning and more self-reflection during the writing process, you can make plans that actually work, and know when to abandon a plan that no longer serves you – without guilt!
Before we get to that though, let’s review some of the reasons your current planning strategies aren’t working.
Your deadlines are inflexible.
I see clients endure family emergencies and personal illness without making any adjustments to their writing schedule, then beat themselves up for being behind. In fact, they often develop a sense of amnesia, forgetting about the disruptions to their schedules and instead blaming themselves for being “too slow.”
When I hear this, I remind them that there were conditions out of their control. Only then will they acknowledge that it was those very conditions that slowed them down, not their inadequacies as a writer or thinker.
You have poorly thought out deadlines.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever done this. You have an article to write, and you decide to organize your work by dividing your tasks by article section. You’re pleased to have added some structure to your writing schedule. Great work!
However, you give equal writing time to each section. For instance, say there are three bodies of literature you’ll discuss in your literature review, and you allot one hour to write up each. Why? What is the reasoning behind thinking each section will take you the same amount of time? Each body of literature is different and your level of expertise with each likely varies.
Inevitably, one section takes much longer than you predicted. Yet, rather than thinking that your estimate was wrong, you begin the self-blame game. “I can’t believe this is taking so long,” you think to yourself, conveniently forgetting that the section you’re working on is the cruz of your argument, while the other sections play a supporting role.
Of course, predicting how much time you need to complete a task is difficult. It’s because it’s so difficult that we should give ourselves grace when our estimates aren’t accurate. What we end up doing is the exact opposite.
Some might argue that shifting your deadlines is a game of moving the goalposts. However, if your deadlines are poorly thought out in the first place, you should abandon them. Changing a deadline is not cheating. Rather, it’s a simple acknowledgment of reality. Publish or perish culture notwithstanding, one thing is true: good writing takes time.
The two mistakes I discuss above have nothing to do with your talent as a writer. Rather, they reflect your ability as a planner. Part of good planning is accepting that your plan is not your destiny. Plans change. Like writing, planning is an iterative process.
If you’d like to learn how to make better writing plans, I invite you to download my free 5-Step Planning Guide. As you complete the exercises, you’ll learn how to make realistic plans, convert goals into small, manageable tasks, and make better predictions about the time you need to complete projects. You can get the guide by clicking here.