Other People’s Deadlines

Using peer pressure to power creative dreams!

How do I get better at shipping stuff?

I don’t think I’m lazy, because I do seem to make a lot of time for writing. And now that I’m lucky enough to work part time, I make more time than I’ve ever done before. And yet… I often get to the end of a day or a week or a year and feel like I haven’t done as much as I should have.

For some reason, I struggle to convert that effort into tangible, finished things that give me a warm and fuzzy sense of accomplishment and / or could finally be exchanged for my dad’s pride.

And so I often jump to solutions like I need to make a plan or I need to wake up at 5am1 — but the truth is, I know how to ship stuff, because I do it for other people all the time.

For example: I show up to work, on time, and do everything that I’m expected to. (And I’m not just saying that because a bunch of people from work started following me on Twitter. Hello!)

So I’ll make an excuse like: oh, that’s different, because it’s not really creative work — but then I’ll sign up for a writing course and (more or less) finish the homework when it’s due. Or I’ll help a friend redraft their script, and wake up earlier every day to make sure it gets done — even if they go out of their way to explain that their deadline is totally relaxed and with no expectations whatsoever.

But as soon as it’s time to focus on my own work, the excuses start creeping in.

Like: “I’m not really in the zone today.” Or: “It’s okay to take a two-hour lunch break and rewatch another episode of How I Met Your Mother, because that counts as research.” Or: “I need to spend a few more weeks on this outline, so that it’s perfect before I start writing script pages.”

Basically: I respect other people’s deadlines more than my own.

So I have two options here. I could either delve deep into my personal issues to understand why I’m willing to bend over backwards to please others while de-prioritising my own needs…

… or I could just start tying my work to other people’s expectations.

I’ve seen this work already. I’ve started a blog dozens of times since 2004, but never made it past three or four posts in a row. This is the seventh consecutive post in this batch. The only difference? I send each post out as a newsletter, so I know people are expecting them every Sunday at 4pm.

So to replicate this effect, I’ve added a new page to my web space: The Wall of Personal Deadlines. (First up: I’m going to apply to the Felix Dexter Bursary, which is open to applications until Friday, March 19th.) I’m also going to add a new section to my newsletter, where I summarise how those deadlines are going — which means I’ll need an update to share every week.

Of course, it’s a bit solipsistic to do this all on my own, so if you have any personal deadlines you’d like to stick on the wall, please let me know! I’ll include your updates in that summary too, and we can all enjoy the warm glow of peer pressure and external validation together!

Let’s ship some stuff.


  1. This has happened exactly zero times.

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