Ayn Rand’s advice on deadlines

Author Douglas Adams was one of many writers who suffered from writer’s block and is often quoted as saying, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

Feel familiar? On the back of our recent look at author and journalist Ayn Rand’s take on writing and editing, here are some of her thoughts on deadlines. They are recorded in The Art of Nonfiction: a Guide for Writers and Readers:

“There is no general rule about deadlines. Whether they come from the outside or are self-imposed, they can be helpful or harmful. They are helpful if, for instance, you are writing a book, feel you will never finish, and have attended to none of the practical details—such as approaching a publisher…

“However, if you must deliver a certain number of words on a given subject by a certain date, that too can be disastrous. You will either write carelessly, because you lack the time to think, or be completely paralysed. The tendency is either to become a hack (writing only what comes to you easily) or not to write at all.

“The important issue, however, is not outside deadlines, but self-imposed ones. The ideal condition for writing is to set aside time, work as you can, and not panic if a day passes without your producing something new. Nevertheless, you must set deadlines for yourself – not as absolutes, but to avoid concluding subconsciously that there is no time limit on the assignment. Making your project indefinite is demoralising.

“Do not make time a constant pressure. Do not judge your progress by each day; since the production of any written material is irregular, nobody but a hack can be sure how much he will produce in a given day…

“Writing is an unpredictable process; it does not proceed regularly at so many words per minute. You can judge your pace only in larger instalments; your standard should be roughly the production of an average week.”

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