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7 Steps to Completing Anything: The Power of the Deadline

Yesterday, I turned in my new book to my editor at St. Martin's Press! This is my latest book since "The Comedy Bible" and I've been working on it for 1 ½ years. If (before I started this project) you'd told me that I could write for nine hours a day -- I would have said that it's impossible. I'm like most comics. We write when inspiration hits us, which is usually while driving, working out at the gym, or having sex - in other words, anytime other than actually sitting down to write. Inspiration rarely strikes when it's supposed to.

So how am I able to make a deadline?

Fear. Yes, the power of the threat of humiliation over writing a shoddy book -- not to mention having to return a substantial advance -- is a great motivator.

The results? At night I'm dreaming about the book. I'm up at 5am working for 4 hours, then a gym break, and then another 4-hour stint.

Of course, now that it's done, I plan on having a life, seeing what my peeps are doing on FB, taking a Sierra Club hike, getting my roots done, and actually getting out of the house. But, if you're having a hard time finishing projects, I've learned a lesson I want to share with you. We all can't wait for a book deal, an HBO special, or a starring role in a sitcom to motivate us.

You have to show others that you can finish what you start before they'll invest in you. So -- here are some tips to complete your projects:

1. Have a deadline with consequences. We've all seen deadlines come and go with nothing done. That's why you need a deadline where you are accountable to someone else and there are grave repercussions if you don't hit your deadline. Find what motivates you. (Humiliation? Having to pay money if you don't finish? A trip to Maui if you do finish?)

Then, find someone to hold you accountable to complete your project, so that if you don't get it done, they will be handing out the punishment, or reward.

2. Spin only one plate at a time. Many of us are spreading ourselves thin by trying to do stand-up, put together a speech, write a book, and not doing any of them well. Focus on one project and don't start another until you've completed it. We funny people tend to have a lot of ideas. Just know that ideas are worthless unless they are nurtured, evolved, and developed.

3. Money is a great motivator. Before putting all your resources into a project, make sure it's time well spent. There should always be a realistic possibility of making money off your project, or advancing your career.

4. Passion only gets you so far. You need passion to get any project out of first gear. But just like a fizzled love affair, passion wanes and you find your marriage to your idea in trouble. So, pick a project that's not only meaningful to you, but also meaningful to others. Doing things for others sometimes can keep you going when your own ambition fails.

5. It takes a village. Very few people have what it takes to create alone. Have regular meetings with supportive people and assess your progress. Go to to find a Comedy Buddy.

6. Make your goals manageable and incremental. Start with small commitments and keep them, like weekly writing one blog or one minute of new material.

7. Have a huge reward for yourself when you finish. Thank yourself for following through with a trip, a party, or a binge night. Go ahead, you deserve it! 


Lyn Fisher said...

Congrats on completing the writing of your book. It's a huge job. Can't wait to read it!

Cheryl Oberg said...

Way to go Judy! WHOO HOO! I can't wait to get a copy of your new book! This weekend is going to be an amazing weekend up at Sunshine with so much fresh snow in the past week. I am off to Chicago in the morning for the 25th Anniversary of the Association of Applied & Therapeutic Humor Conference. Looking forward to seeing all of my Humour family. Have a terrific day celebrating you! Until next time . . .

Laugh & Play Everyday!
Cheryl Oberg
Edge Of A Smile Inc.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Gabrielle Birchak said...

CONGRATULATIONS JUDY!! I LOVED the Comedy Bible and so I can't wait to read your new book. Thank you for your deadline advice and THANK YOU for being such a wonderful inspiration!

Unknown said...

Way to make that next book happen Judy. I still refer all my comedy students to your first book, because it is the one I have from 23 some years ago, maybe I should refer them to the new one? I will soon be on the roster at LaRoche Productions too, so my comedy to speaking career is segueing nicely. Hope to see you out on the road one day.

So, are you taking yourself to Maui now?

Kat Simmons
Lake Tahoe, NV

KAYODE George said...

Good advice...Very practical, sometimes I find myself trying o balance too much and have to focus in on one thing at a time in order to get the most out of it.
Congratulations on the new book, its sure to be a best seller.


Vegas Linda Lou said...

Great advice! One of the biggest obstacles in the creative process is the lack of accountability. We're accountable only to ourselves, and we're too forgiving when we have nothing to show for ourselves. Yet when it comes to projects for our day jobs--which we probably can't stand--we're very industrious. Too bad we put other people's priorities ahead of our own.

Looking forward to your book! Congratulations!

Linda Lou
Author, "Bastard Husband: A Love Story"

Patra Gupta said...

As a writer and performer, I love reading and implementing your tidbits of advice, particularly this one as I'm a huge procrastinator mainly because I have trouble focusing on one thing at a time and a zillion ideas hit me at a time...and I'm still hesitant to take ADD pills, so these are good (healthier) principles I can use. If you have any more notes on 'overcoming procrastination' please send 'em along will yer. Cheers Judy!

Jimi Land said...

The Comedy Bible is a must have if you want to do it right. Judy can take ANY situation, no matter how not funny it may seem at the time and turn it into sidesplitting fun for all and more often than not, it is a source of healing for the person that is swimming in that bad for life cesspool of negativity. Judy says, "Bad for life's are GREAT material. Bad for life, good for comedy. Take it from me, the career criminal and chronic relapser. Judy erased all that guilt and shame I had in me and showed me that it can really be funny. Solitary confinement for 6 months, UGH!!! Not to Judy, she would say, That's GREAT Jimi. She's the best of the best and you won't be scared to get up on that stage after she gets done with you. You'll want to do it every night.

Anonymous said...

Hi Judy,

I have an idea for a fantasy style sitcom or dramady. I'm not surwe how to get it started? I have several episodes in my head. Not sure how to write a piolet or the proper way of writing a half hour teleplay? Help!

Woodi Bruce