[Day Whatever Of 90] The “19th Century Prisoner Method” For Faster Writing

Here’s a history lesson that’ll make you more money as a writer (I know from experience):

On May 10th, 1864 Confederate Captain Walter Bowie* was visiting an American Civil War POW camp called Andersonville. About his visit, he wrote:

“On the inside of the stockade and twenty feet from it there is a dead-line established, over which no prisoner is allowed to go, day or night, under penalty of being shot.”

And there, my dear reader, we find the origin of the most useful word for writers in the entire English language:


For prisoners of the American Civil War that deadline was a literal line in the sand that separated life and death. Freedom and captivity.

The very same force is at work for writers serious about building a career.

The good news is that you don’t have to write “with a gun to your head”. That kind of stick-before-carrot self discipline has been proven time and time again to fail.

Instead, what good (wealthy) writers do is set positive deadlines for themselves.

“As soon as I finish this next chapter I’m going to watch another episode of Peaky Blinders.”

“When I finish this novel I’m getting a sitter for the kiddos and the Mrs. and I are getting massages.”

This past week I wanted to prove this point to you. Some of you may have caught my sneakiness.

I offered a free critique of your work if you submitted a 5k (or under) new, not ghostwritten, short story by May 1st.

Here’s what has happened so far (from readers submitting work):

“… I wrote every word of it today; that’s *by far* my highest ever word count for
a single day, so thank you for that even before you take a look at it!
If it wasn’t for your encouraging series of emails, I don’t think I
could have done it.”

“I’m working on mine and am so happy you’re providing honest feedback.
Will send it by the deadline!”

“Thank you again for imposing the deadline for doing the short story, as another side project. As it turned out, it forced me to get off my butt to really get shit done, and my short story is morphing into a novel, but I am happy with the progress of it”

And on and on and on…

Point is: Deadlines work when there is a reward for hitting your mark.

Some people didn’t consider a free critique from me a reward. This deadline did nothing for them.

Those that saw the value, and wanted the reward, have already met the deadline. More will do the same between now and the 1st.


Because deadlines work.

These writers achieved record word-count days, finally got started on their novels, had breakthroughs in productivity and more…

Not because of my “inspiration”…

… But because of the deadline that they bought into.

The key as a professional writer, is to learn how to set deadlines that YOU believe in.

WORD OF WARNING: The easiest trap to fall into when setting deadlines is to say, “As soon as I finish this novel I’ll make money.”

That kind of deadline never works. Here’s why:

1. You can’t control the reward. You might not make money, or you might not make as much as you thought. It’s out of your hands.

2. Your mind knows this and will self sabotage any attempts at trying to meet a deadline without a guarantee of the promised reward.

To counter this, set rewards that you can control.

Got it?

Ok, now do it.

Set yourself a deadline (you still have time to send me a short story if you want to use that offer as a your first reward).

Plan your reward.


Rinse and repeat until you are so filthy rich that you can buy one of these for each your friends:

Mike “The Giver Of Dead… Lines” Shreeve

*For the non-US readers:

Confederate was a term used to describe a soldier of the southern rebel forces in the American Civil War.