What do you do when you’re under a time constraint and/or deadline?
How do you manage stress?
by Charlotte Huang
For most writers, time constraints, deadlines, and stress are all familiar territory. Probably too familiar. Many of us have to write while juggling a day job (or two), a family, or both. And while these things can feel like insurmountable obstacles, with a little bit of practice we can develop some strategies to help our writing stay on track. Different things work for different people but here are a few of the ways I tackle these writer demons.
- Make use of short sprints. If your schedule is jam-packed with things that aren’t writing, short writing sprints can go a long way. Even as little as ten minutes will help you get words on the page and get you closer to the finish line. The key is to use the blocks of time to focus intently. Tune out the distractions (read: get off the internet) and write. Save the editing for when you have longer stretches later.
- Use time when you can’t physically write to brainstorm. Like many people who live in LA, I spend a lot of time in the car. While it wouldn’t be practical to think about actual sentences (and hopefully remember to write them down later), I find car time to be ideal for brainstorming. I like to think about my characters and imagine them doing things outside the story. It helps me get to know them better and helps me ignore the fact that I’m stuck in traffic.
- Get creative about where you work. If time constraints mean that you’re forced to be somewhere other than your desk, consider bringing your laptop or some other writing set up with you. I like to make use of as much waiting around time as I can, whether it be in doctors’ offices, during a kid’s practice, or even while getting a pedicure. All those little bits of found time add up!
- Use daily word count goals. This is the only way I know how to do it. Estimate the number of words you need to complete your project and divide it by the number of days you have left. And if you have a day when you don’t meet the minimum, make it up the next day.
- Have an accountability partner. My critique partner and I do this for each other. We email in the morning with our goals for that day and check in at night to report our results. And if we’re lagging behind, we gently encourage one another to get on it.
- Reward yourself when you meet your goal. Pretty self-explanatory but easy to forget. If you’ve been pushing hard to meet a deadline and achieve it, that deserves some recognition! Whether it’s taking yourself to a movie or out to a nice meal, find some way to celebrate.
- Work out. This is a must for me. It helps clear the cobwebs and gives me energy for the day.
- Be social. Only if this happens to be relaxing for you. Sometimes your brain needs a break. If the words aren’t coming, it’s okay to switch gears for a little bit. The change of pace may be just what you need to get your creative juices flowing.
- Get out in nature. I love going for a hike or a walk along the beach when I’m really and truly, can-barely-function, stressed out. Nature is a wonderful reset button and a great reminder that the world is bigger than this particular problem. You and your writing will get through this and be okay!
Hope you found this useful! Please follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (@charlottexhuang)
Charlotte Huang is a graduate of Smith College and received an MBA from Columbia Business School, which is clearly something every aspiring writer should do. When not glued to her computer, she cheers her two sons on at sporting events and sometimes manages to stay up late enough to check out bands with her music agent husband. Charlotte lives in Los Angeles and is the author of For the Record (Delacorte, 2015) and Going Geek (Delacorte, September, 2016).
A girl forced out of her comfort zone finds that being true to herself is the best way to live her life, in this second novel from the author of For the Record.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Skylar Hoffman’s senior year at her preppy East Coast boarding school should have been perfect:
the coolest friends
the most desirable dorm
But it’s far from it. To her dismay, Skylar’s not going to rule senior year because she’s stuck in Abbot House, a tiny dorm known for, well, nothing. Living with a group of strangers everyone thinks is lame is bad enough. Worse is that Skylar wasn’t exactly truthful about how she spent summer break in Los Angeles—and her little white lie is causing her once rock-solid romance to crumble fast. And when it turns out that Skylar’s best friend is the one responsible for having her booted from Lincoln? It’s an all-out war.
Stepping out of her comfort zone never felt so scary—or necessary. But everything is different now. Including, maybe, Skylar herself . . .
Thank you so much to Charlotte for being a part of this feature! I know many of us, myself included, struggle with deadlines and keeping to time restraints. It’s not easy, and managing the stress is hard! So thank you for sharing your advice and experiences with these factors. =)
As always, a special thank you to everyone who is a part of this feature! You’re words, advice, and experiences are worth so much more than you know.
We hope everyone has a great rest of your week!