Deadlines: Pre-Emptive Strike

Last week I wrote about a process on how to manage deadlines. Despite our best efforts, events may put us awry. To avoid this, eliminate overconfidence.

When you see a contract and the advance – one you may desperately need, you may be tempted to say, “You know what? I really don’t need to go to the beach this year. I’ll write all summer instead.” Or, “Sure, I can write 3,000 words a day, seven days a week. I’m up for it.”

If you find yourself talking yourself into an unrealistic writing schedule, stop. Talk to your agent or another trusted person and be sure you can comfortably meet your deadlines before making too many promises.

Underestimating Time

Even if you’ve been able to meet a ridiculous schedule in the past, can you keep this up? Have you accounted for the unexpected time gobbler – usually illness or surgery for yourself or a family member – that can happen to us all? Or what if your family insists that even if you don’t want to take a beach vacation this year, they do. Do you want to sit in the hotel room typing away while they swim and sun?

Underestimating Quality

If you’ve been swamped unexpectedly and are racing to meet a deadline, sometimes revisions are neglected. Do you really want to be the author whose editor says, “Wow? Did this author give me a rough draft?” The less heavy lifting an editor has to do, the better for your career. That’s not to say that awesome, experienced authors aren’t ever heavily edited. But I remember my own first error-filled drafts in all their glory. Don’t shame yourself by turning in an early draft. You must turn in quality work each time, at every stage of your career. Allow yourself time to revise.

What to do

If you are looking at a new contract and don’t think you can meet all the proposed deadlines, ask your agent how much the new deadline can be extended. Most of the time, editors can accommodate. But if the deadline cannot be extended so you can meet your existing deadlines, you may have to walk away from the contract. As terrible as this seems, it’s much less terrible than causing a major problem for yourself, your agent, your editor, and the publisher. And if you do walk away, be grateful you have such a happy problem!

Your turn:

How do you cope when you have too many deadlines?

How do you avoid getting into a big crunch?

What additional tips can you offer us?


17 Responses to Deadlines: Pre-Emptive Strike

  1. Jackie Layton January 28, 2016 at 6:05 am #

    We haven’t had internet at my house in a over a week. To get online I’ve gone to a coffee shop to check email etc. I’ve discovered limiting myself to once a day online gave me more time to write. I’ve been way more productive and I hope to use this experience to better manage my time when our provider finally fixes the problem.

    Thanks for the great advice on assessing our limitations and making realistic commitments!

  2. Carol Ashby January 28, 2016 at 7:51 am #

    If you have trouble keeping track of how close a deadline is, let technology help. A “retirement clock” will count it down for you.

  3. Carol Ashby January 28, 2016 at 7:58 am #

    I used to have multiple deadlines all the time. I kept deadlines posted where I’d see them daily. I avoided crunch by setting an artificial deadline ahead of the real one. The bigger the task, the earlier I set the fake one. Just remember the last 10% can take 30% of the time and plan accordingly.

    • Christine Henderson January 28, 2016 at 9:36 am #

      I do the pre-deadlines as well so I have extra time if needed.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 28, 2016 at 9:58 am #

      I always did the same thing. Sometimes I needed that extra time, too!

  4. Christine Henderson January 28, 2016 at 9:34 am #

    Like many of you, I have a lots of projects and tasks competing for my time. I put notes on my refrigerator reminding me of deadlines and meetings as well as time reminders in my phone because it’s easy for me to procrastinate.

    If I find myself falling behind in a commitment I’ve made, I don’t wait till the last minute to tell the person who is counting on me. I follow up and see what other accommodations can be made. By waiting until the last minute it puts everyone in a bind and puts me in a bad light that could have been easily avoided.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 28, 2016 at 10:01 am #

      Christine, thanks for adding that. As an agent, part of my job is to navigate deadline extensions when needed and I feel much more relaxed when I’m asking for accommodations two months in advance rather than two days in advance. Of course the “two days in advance” sometimes can’t be helped. But writers who realize there may be trouble down the road are well advised to tell their agents immediately.

  5. Linda Riggs Mayfield January 28, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    This “tip” may be obvious, but I have at least one friend with frequent deadlines who doesn’t practice it–she never takes off her Super Woman cape; so I’m posting. Get help! When you don’t have a deadline, you may do all the household’s correspondence, business, shopping, cleaning, laundry, cooking, gardening, yard work, etc.. When you have a deadline, make that project at least the top priority, and maybe virtually the only priority. Accept help, delegate, call in favors, eat carry-out, let things go that can be fine with benign neglect, and do not beat yourself up for it. Congratulate yourself on your ability to prioritize.

    • Tamela Murray January 28, 2016 at 10:58 am #

      Linda, you are so right!

  6. Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild January 28, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    This is all excellent advice. I suggest people move it to a file to review as needed. Thank you again for looking out for us.
    Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild
    Her Majesty’s English Tea Room
    Author: Estate of Mind,-life

  7. rochellino January 28, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

    To me, a deadline is a commitment. A commitment, once made, puts your reputation (for reliability, honesty integrity and many other things) on the line.

    I view reputation in these areas as near sacred. Accordingly, earthly commitments on my ranking of priorities are second only to commitments to the Kingdom.

    Self indulgence of every type are moved down the list of priorities. I only allow myself to resume activities of self indulgence as a reward system for having met all my responsibilities first. As a result I have been rewarded with many opportunities that I may not have received.

    A remarkable story I’ve heard time and time again is that the legendary Hank Williams (senior), one of the most gifted songwriter/singer talents of all time in the history of country music was not hired by many venue’s during his heyday that really, really wanted him because they could not rely on him to show up or be sober. A real tragedy for everyone, all because his commitments could not be relied upon.

    Tribute song to Hank with many parallels to creative writers, pure storytelling.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray January 28, 2016 at 12:15 pm #

      Excellent song! Country music fans will especially love this one.

    • Carol Ashby January 28, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

      I agree that a reputation for reliability is precious. Do everything as unto the Lord. I tried to impress on my kids a family motto: work first, play later.

  8. Carolyn Miller January 29, 2016 at 4:46 am #

    Thanks for the great advice, Tamela. Good to know!

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