I keep a variety of tools in my writer's toolbox designed to kick my muse in the pants. Deadlines are one of them. Some are self-imposed. Others come from outside sources by way of a contest, submission deadline, or editor.
Self-imposed deadlines are nefarious in my mind because unless you're a drill sergeant, it's easy to let them slide. Fixed deadlines, on the other hand, are my very best friends. With few exceptions, outside due dates are non-negotiable, despite family obligations, illness, or procrastination.
I work best under the pressure of a fixed deadline. The habit stems from my days as a columnist and before that, from college, where I learned how to write news on deadline. Staring at a blank screen with a deadline looming was unnerving at first. But the consequences of not doing the work on time were so extreme--getting an F for the assignment, for example--that I learned quickly.
Learning how to cage the inner critic and summon the muse at will is good practice for any writer. It's also an excellent way to learn about letting go. Which is why I've given myself a writing deadline for the weekend.
Monday is the submission deadline for a proposed story for Stay at Home Moms and Power Moms, a book in development for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. The market's a paying one and the required length is only 300-1200 words. I'm on it.