The Deadline: How to Push Your Fingertips to the Finish Line

By Eric Owusu · July 29, 2014

It’s nice visiting a place I’ve never been before. When I’m in a new place, I like to check out the scene and relax in fresh and comfortable places. I don’t always like going to see tourist attractions, but I figure since I’m in a place that has them, I might as well check them out. But I relax. And I relax some more. Then I realize I’m leaving this new place in a day and I’d better get going to see that attraction I had been meaning to see. Otherwise I’ll miss my opportunity. Then I go see it and I think “Oh. I’m glad I did this. I should’ve done this earlier and not waited till the end of the trip.” When writing scripts, deadlines are the equivalent to the last day of a trip. I can either do what I’ve been meaning to do by meeting the deadline or let it pass and miss out on a great thing.

Nothing makes me produce better than having a hard and fast deadline…

I wish I didn’t need deadlines to get writing done as much as I do, but I do. They provide pressure to get moving. I love writing and contest deadlines help me do so in a timely manner. When I know there’s a deadline/due date/a reason to stop flipping through channels, I hunker down and get writing done. Which is especially true because I love writing in the moment but it’s hard to sit myself down to actually start writing. Procrastination is the deadline’s reason for being. And deadlines make me stop procrastinating because they remind me that there’s a closing window that I want to get to the other side of.

Screenwriting contests and assignments exist and have deadlines for one reason: They work. There are deadlines in many different fields. Contracting work, tax preparation, catering, television and film production. The list goes on. Even in politics, deadlines help ensure that elected officials don’t wait to vote on or pass bills until they’re ready, which is usually never, so that things get done. Deadlines help us be less lackadaisical and more productive, especially when writing. I have plenty of story and screenplay ideas I’ve been meaning to write and when I try to meet deadlines for contests, they help me get them done. Deadlines give me lots of excuses to get writing done.

With the above in mind, seek out reputable writing contests. Contest deadlines push me to finish and give me a reason to believe that if I get my writing sample in on time and do it well enough, I can get the attention of someone there. Submitting for contests can provide professional criticism, pointers, suggestions and maybe even an opportunity for work in the future. That’s a great payout for simply adhering to a deadline.

In the Civil War, a deadline was a line that would lead to a person being shot if they crossed it. Though it isn’t nearly as literal now, it does translate to a piece of writing not being finished at a certain date and time dying. If I miss a deadline for a contest, that script I was writing for the contest is as good as dead after that. I’ll be far less motivated, I’ll get to it when I get to it, I’ll get preoccupied with other things and lose a lot of the motivation I had to finish it. But having a deadline to meet keeps my script alive. And there’s a sweet satisfaction in meeting a deadline. It’s like winning in and of itself, especially for me and the other chronic procrastinators staring at their laptops.

I know there will be other trips to new places when I get back home from an excursion. Just like there will be other days to start, continue, or finish a script. But if I didn’t get to see a sight that was only at the place I just left because I didn’t get around to it, I feel like I missed an opportunity that was right at my fingertips. That’s why I push my fingertips hard to meet deadlines. In my mind, I’ve got plenty of sights to see. Those deadlines help me finally see them.