The Benefit of Little Bitty Deadlines by Irene Latham


I love deadlines, and I hate them. 

I need them, in the same way that I need to know the rollercoaster ride will end, after our cart goes backward through that last loop-de-loop. A deadline is a promise that life won't always be this full and intense; rest is coming.

Yet they are always always overwhelming. When I first make that red circle in my calendar, I don't know how I'm ever going to get there. I'm filled with self-doubt: what was I thinking, selling this book on proposal?! How can I deliver what I've promised? And what about that trip I've got planned? My son's graduation from college? Etc.

And that's when I start breaking it down. I go through my calendar and mark out the days I'll be out of town and the days I'll need for preparing for and celebrating my son's graduation. I mark out the school visit days, and the days with other commitments. I force myself to be 100% honest about which are "writing days" and which aren't.

I also block off the two weeks prior to the deadline for revising. 

Then I take my word count (or, if poems for a collection, I calculate the number of poems that need to be written) and divide that number by the number of days left. 

Maybe I need to write 1,000 words per writing day. Then I divide that number: 500 words before noon, 500 by bedtime. If I'm still overwhelmed, I break it down further and further, until it feels manageable.

And then I get after it! Some days I over-produce. Other days I may be a little shy. And that's okay.

Sometimes on a non-writing day,  I'm able to squeak in a few words. Bonus!! 

I try not to worry too much and trust things to balance out over the course of a week. I typically use Mondays as a check-in for myself, just to take stock and see how I'm feeling about my progress. If I need to adjust my grand plan, I do. If I need to adjust my micro-plan, I do.

What I've learned is to change my relationship with deadlines. They aren't a brick wall; they're bouncy, flexible. More like a trampoline. Yes, there's an ultimate structure, but when we move, they move, too. 


Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.


  1. Such a good way of thinking. Thank you!

  2. I love the idea of stretchy, bouncy deadlines.

  3. SUCH a great way to approach deadlines. I especially like carving time for revision.

  4. Deadlines, indeed. Can't live with them. Can't live without them. What a great discussion!


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