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For writers, deadlines are as much a part of day-to-day life as are rejection letters. If you’re hoping to have some success as a creative writer, Writer’s Relief has strategies and shortcuts to help you meet your deadlines so you can submit work regularly and boost your chances of getting an acceptance.
The best thing for my creative process is a deadline. —Jeff MacNelly
The Best Strategies For Creative Writers And Freelance Writers Who Have To Meet A Deadline
Don’t accept deadlines you can’t meet. If a deadline is impossible, it’s impossible. Holding yourself to an unattainable standard is only going to damage your self-esteem as a writer, your outlook regarding your ability to meet future deadlines, and even your reputation. Freelance writers who miss deadlines run the risk of not being hired by that client again.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about whether or not you can realistically keep a promise to meet a deadline:
- How many hours do I have available in my schedule to devote to this deadline? (Count them!)
- If I accept this deadline, will I still have enough time to take care of myself mentally and physically? Will I be able to meet my prior obligations?
- What are the advantages of taking on this deadline? Do the advantages outweigh any possible challenges?
Learn more about how to create realistic goals and deadlines for your writing.
If you don’t believe you can meet a given deadline, open up a dialogue with your editor, agent, client, or even yourself (if your deadline is self-imposed). You might discover that the manuscript is not really needed on the date you’ve been given—there may be spare days built in as a cushion.
Or, you may be able to slightly modify the terms of the deadline in order to improve your ability to meet it. For example: It might be possible to negotiate turning in fewer pages/words.
A goal is a dream with a deadline. —Napoleon Hill
Hold your deadlines sacred. Professional writers would rather put their library card through a shredder than miss a deadline. What is your attitude about your deadlines? Are they fundamental, respected, and even essential in your writing life? Or are they more like…suggestions?
If your attitude about deadlines is lackadaisical, it may be time to rethink your philosophy. As a writer, your career is going to hinge on deadlines—those you set for yourself and those handed to you by literary agents and editors. Might as well make peace with them now. Learn to welcome deadlines as the hidden ironwork that holds up the edifice of your entire writing career.
For us, there is no such thing as failure. You can’t miss a deadline; you can’t come up short on an assignment. You have to perform, period. —Daniel Berehulak
Face your secret reasons for procrastinating. If deadlines are sacred to you but you still can’t manage to meet them, ask yourself: Is there some kind of emotional benefit to me for procrastinating?
Sometimes, procrastination is a form of self-sabotage caused by the inherent insecurities that riddle the writing life. (Read more: Five Signs You May Be Sabotaging Your Writing Career.) Other times, writers procrastinate simply because their basic needs are not being met in a way that allows them to turn their focus and energy to the job of writing. If you’re procrastinating, it may be time to explore your reasons for needlessly stalling the inevitable.
Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder. —Mason Cooley
You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today. ―Abraham Lincoln
Break your big deadline into smaller deadlines. When you have a lot to write but not a lot of time for writing, breaking up your big projects into manageable sections could help you reach your word-count goals. Make a point of establishing a strict schedule that allows you to meet benchmarks along the way so you’re not left with the entire project to write on the day before it is due.
Here are some ideas for creating a schedule that will allow you to meet a deadline:
- Track your personal word-count-per-hour rate so you can get a better sense of your productivity.
- Block off a certain amount of time each day for your writing.
- Establish word-count goals (I will write five hundred words a day).
- Nail down some numbers (I will submit five short stories to literary journals this week).
The ultimate inspiration is the deadline. —Nolan Bushnell
Embrace technology. Lucky for you, there are some really cool apps that can help you stay on track when you’re approaching a deadline. Although not all of these apps have been built specifically for writers on a deadline, you may be able to modify them to meet your needs.
Here are a few worth trying (read reviews and decide for yourself!):
If you don’t like the idea of depending on technology to manage your schedule, consider other ways you can make your deadline an omnipresent factor in your day-to-day life. Stick notes on the fridge, tie the proverbial string around your finger, or set out your writing gear (notebook, laptop, etc.) where you can’t ignore it.
Lie to yourself. Okay, okay—we don’t actually mean you should convince yourself that two plus two is five. But if you build a cushion into your deadline, you may be surprised to discover you actually hold to the imaginary due date—even though you know it’s not your real deadline. It’s weird, but this trick actually works.
And if you don’t meet your self-imposed deadline, there’s no need to beat yourself up. After all, your manuscript is technically not late yet!
The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others. ―Friedrich Nietzsche
Enlist others to hold you accountable. Ask your spouse or writing partner to check in with you periodically to make sure you are meeting your deadline milestones. Sometimes, knowing you have to look someone else in the eye and say, “Nope, I didn’t meet the deadline” can be enough to get your butt into a chair for some dedicated writing time.
But perhaps more importantly, discussing your reasons for procrastination—and getting to the root cause of it—might lead to invaluable benefits in your long-term writing career. And finding support for your writing may be an essential step toward creative longevity.
Consider speech-to-text software. Although still not perfect, widely available software programs that convert your spoken word into written text could be a writing career game-changer. Speech-to-text software not only helps you get your thoughts down in writing more quickly, it also saves wear and tear on your typing fingers.
But be warned: Speech-to-text software is no magic bullet. First, you may find that your writing becomes long-winded and rambling (following speech patterns) because you’re not mentally editing your words as you type or write. Second, speech-to-text software can be a little bit expensive (depending on your definition of “a little bit”). Third, some versions of the software can take up a lot of room on your hard drive and occasionally slow your computer down—or even crash it. Finally, speech-to-text software requires a keen eye for proofreading; otherwise, you may find embarrassing and inexplicable mistakes riddling your text.
Check out these real-life typos. (But not right now, because you’re on a deadline!)
Write just one sentence. Sometimes, the biggest obstacle to sitting down and writing against a deadline is just getting your butt in the chair. After all, life is full of distractions and “better” things to do.
If you find that your deadline hang-ups stem from an inability to get going, you may be overwhelming yourself with the belief that you must finish your whole big project all at once—as opposed to tackling it line by line. For those moments, remember the old proverb: Well begun is half done. Take the first step and get yourself started!
Here are some ways you can get motivated to write:
- Set a timer to write for just five minutes.
- Commit to writing one sentence (or maybe three) with the understanding that you really can quit once you have those lines.
- If you really can’t get excited about writing, focus on editing instead. You may discover that the act of revising prior text gets your head in the game to create something new.
When you wait to the last minute, you rush to get things done, and the closer you get to the deadline, the less options you have. —Dan Webster
Take care of yourself. If you’re tired, hungry, exhausted, and depleted of energy and focus—you physically and mentally may not have a fighting chance to meet your deadline. Self-care is truly essential for writers. While some jobs allow people to function on autopilot with tasks like taking orders, filling out forms, and zoning out during meetings, writers must always bring their A game to the page. The creative writing industry is far too competitive for writers to offer anything less than their best shot at excellence.
Here are some important articles to read about self-care for writers:
- Organization And Creativity: How To Free Up Brain Space And Be A Better Writer
- Prewriting Ritual: Boost Your Brain Power Before You Write Another Word
- The Body-Brain Connection: Does Your Sedentary Lifestyle Damage Your Writing Talent?
- Brain Food For Writers: What To Eat To Support A Creative Mind
Ride the eleventh-hour energy buzz. Some people do their best writing when they are coming up against the hard edge of the deadline. There’s something powerfully motivating about knowing that what you are writing must must must be finished, fast.
I work best after the deadline has passed, when I’m in a panic. —Tony Kushner
That said, until you know you are the sort of writer who is empowered by racing against the clock—and who can actually make that strategy work—you may not want to take the risk.
There is a way to get that last-minute rush of creativity without actually pressing your luck against a looming deadline. Create an early, artificial deadline for yourself—one that is absolutely unbreakable and chiseled in stone—and let that drive your motivation.
How Creative Writers And Freelancers Can Ask For A Deadline Extension From Their Agent, Editor, Or Client
As a deadline nears, you may become aware that your once-optimistic plan to meet your commitment suddenly isn’t looking so good. Moment by moment, the likelihood of actually meeting your deadline grows smaller and smaller. Yikes! What should you do?
If you are a natural-born worrier and inclined to see worst-case scenarios—be careful that you’re not jumping the gun and immediately emailing your editor with a note about how you suspect you’re going to fail. Take an honest look at your schedule and your calendar. How many hours do you have available to dedicate to your project? What is your word-count-per-hour rate?
Once you examine the numbers, do you think it might be possible that you actually will meet your deadline—and therefore are worrying over nothing? Being aware that you may have a propensity to be nervous about failure can stave off the inadvertent (and unnecessary) panic that can result when your editor/agent is told you might not be able to deliver on your promise.
Make a strategic request.
If you can’t meet a deadline, then you have no choice but to ask for an extension. Don’t worry: Editors, agents, and clients are human too. They may be more forgiving than you expect.
Some Tips For Asking For A Writing Deadline Extension:
- Don’t wait until the last minute. Once you are certain that you are definitely going to miss a deadline, nip the problem in the bud by taking quick action.
- If possible, pick up the phone to talk one-on-one about your deadline. You may be able to curtail unnecessary stewing, mulling, and grumbling by having an honest conversation that gets immediate results.
- If there are professional reasons for your missed deadline (for example, someone else’s lateness affected your ability to turn your work in), mention the reasons without whining. Just be sure you don’t look like you’re passing the buck.
- If your reasons for missing your deadline pertain to your personal life, mention them with utmost care. Be aware that your explanation will be better received if your challenges are significant as opposed to superficial.
- Own your mistake. Take full responsibility for your inability to meet the deadline, as opposed to blaming others or pointing to circumstances.
- Offer a solution. Give alternative dates or specs for your project, and ask for feedback or suggestions.
- Point to your history of professionalism. If you’re not regularly blowing off deadlines, you can subtly remind your partner/agent/editor/client that this moment of your life is an anomaly.
- Say thank you. Let the people who are granting you an extension know how much you appreciate their open-mindedness and understanding.
Writer: Make Peace With Deadlines Now And Save Yourself Trouble Later On
Writers work on deadlines. Even if you are not writing professionally (getting paid to write), you can establish habits that will support a successful writing career by building deadlines into your writing schedule. Establishing a positive relationship with deadlines now will serve you well in the long run!
And the best-kept secret that many professional writers have about deadlines?
They actually love them!
When you have a deadline, it forces you to sit down and write. No excuses. You have to decline requests to put in extra time at your day job; you have to turn aside suggestions from well-meaning friends that you “absolutely have to read this particular best-selling book.”
In other words, you get to utter the most powerful and magical words in a writer’s career—words that immediately eliminate all the obstacles keeping you from indulging in precious butt-in-chair time.
“Sorry, I can’t! I have a deadline!”
Question For Writers: Love deadlines or hate them? Leave your answer in our comments section!