Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tips to Meet Those Writing Deadlines

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell @LucindaSMcDowell

How well I remember hearing the phrase, "Interruptions are my ministry!”

At the time I was on the staff of a large church and I totally got it—at any given time I was called up to meet with a parishioner or counsel a walk-in or fill in for another teacher. I was also mothering four young children and learning that key parenting moments occur when there's a knock on the bedroom door or a phone call from school or a simple cry of "Mama....." from another room.

In all those cases it was the distractions from my immediate task that propelled me to an even more important task. I get that.
However, distractions for the writer rarely lead to a more important task. Real writers know that writing is hard work. There is always, always, always something more enticing or immediate or tempting to see or read or do.

But that won't get the manuscript written or the research completed.

When I'm distracted in my writing I turn to these 5 helpful tips:

1. Unplug. Yes, you heard me right. Type on a computer that is NOT connected to the internet. Turn OFF your cell phone. And unplug the cord of your landline phone, if you happened to be one of the few who still has one. What you will discover (after fidgeting for awhile) is that it is much easier to focus on writing when you are not constantly checking in online with every vibration, beep or trill.

2. Set small goals. I'm much more productive when I have a plan. That small goal might be to write the opening paragraph. Or it might be to finish a whole chapter. Many writers set a goal of a certain number of words written for a time period. The guideline is to have a plan and then do it. When that work is finished, take a break. You will feel a sense of accomplishment, which will encourage you for the next small goal.

3. Go away. If you are able to leave your place of primary responsibility and write for a time at another place where you have few or no responsibilities, you will find many less distractions (well, unless it's a seaside resort at which point all bets are off). During the intense creative process of putting a new book together I will often housesit for a friend way out in the country. All I have to do there is think, pray, focus and write. Yes, it's a luxury but often works with trading places or perhaps renting during the off  season.

4. Take a break. If someone you love is in a crisis and you need to touch base or if the bills are overdue or there is something hanging over your soul that refuses to let go, then take a break and deal with it. Call the person. Pay the bill. Take a walk and ask God to help release you from the nagging concern. Be open to the fact that it might be the Holy Spirit nudging you to do something. Then, return to your writing.

5. Pray. I listed this last, but I actually use it first as my 'go to' response to distractions. Here is one of my favorite prayers in such a situation:

Celtic Prayer for Spiritual Concentration
“God, help my thoughts! They stray from me, setting off on the wildest journeys. My thoughts can cross an ocean with a single leap. They can fly from earth to heaven and back again, in a single second. They come to me for a fleeting moment, and then away they flee. No chains, no locks can hold them back. No threats of punishment can restrain them. Dear holy Christ, who can see into every heart and read every mind: Take hold of my thoughts. Bring my thoughts back to me and clasp me to Yourself. Amen."

I sincerely hope you are having a productive summer of writing, even as you take a break and read this blog. Full confession: I have enjoyed the "distraction" of writing my monthly offering for "The Write Conversation" but now I have to get back to the task at hand—one more chapter on my manuscript before supper break!

Life happens - @LucindaSMcDowel offers 5 tips for the Distracted writer on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Meeting #writing deadlines can be tough, tips form @LucindaSMcDowel on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is the author of 11 books, contributing author to 25 books, and has published in more than 50 magazines. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, she studied at the Wheaton Graduate School of Communication and served as Communications Specialist for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (Thailand) and Editor for Billy Graham’s International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists (Netherlands). A member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA), she has received “Writer of the Year” awards from both Mt. Hermon and Blue Ridge Writers Conferences. Cindy speaks internationally through her ministry “Encouraging Words” and co-directs the New England Christian Writers Retreat. Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England. Visit her online at www.EncouragingWords.net 


  1. I LOVE the Celtic Prayer for Spiritual Concentration!! Thanks so much for including it in your excellent post.

  2. Great advice, Lucinda. I usually unplug while I'm writing without physically unplugging. Let those callers, cell or land line, leave a voice message. I can ignore the rings. They are only telling me I need to check voicemail later. If you find it too hard to resist your cell's siren call, silence the ringer like you do during worship. If your computer is normally online, "unplug" by turning off the speaker (click icon in lower right corner by the date/time on a Windows PC. MACs have a handy single-click speaker control, too). If that's not enough, you can get totally offline by clicking the WIFI icon and disconnecting. It's down there where the PC speaker icon is. When you're ready to go back on, click again and tell it to connect. If you have to be online for research and you can't resist Facebook pings, close the Facebook tab to turn it off. All those messages will still be waiting for you when you turn it back on after you've created something special while unplugged.

  3. Love this prayer. Definitely a keeper. Going up on my bulletin board. Thanks for these great ideas. Blessings!