Deadlines…A Date With Destiny

We need to create some new English words to describe certain things.

For instance, I do not like the fact that people who handle money for others are called “brokers.”

I also dislike the term “deadline” as it indicates something negative will occur at a certain date or time. Maybe it is why some or most people are fearful of deadlines.

I do not like a “line of death.”

Even “target date” has a connotation of someone aiming a weapon at you as you approach.

“Drop-dead date?” I don’t think I would want to get out of bed that morning.

Some people are not bothered at all by the tyranny of a finishing line. Author Judy Blume said, “I’m very good at setting goals and deadlines for myself, so I don’t really need that from outside.”

But others find writing enjoyable when there are no deadlines and less enjoyable with them. Author George R.R. Martin said, “I’ve never been good with deadlines. My early novels, I wrote by myself. No one knew I was writing a novel; I didn’t have a contract.”

If you want to be a professional writer, deadlines will always (emphasize always) be part of your life. There will be a date when you need to be finished. If you need to write a 50,000-word manuscript in the next 100 days, manage your time accordingly.

A number of years ago I discussed with a friend the issue of some people being perpetually late in everything they do and asserted it was a lack of consideration for others who do their work on time, arrive on time or finish their work on time. I viewed it as a character issue.

My friend had a different opinion of it. He thought some people needed the “energy” of an impending deadline to drive them to action. In some cases, people “liked” being late because of the adrenaline rush.

Interesting concept, but far beyond my pay grade as a freelance non-credentialed psychologist.

The point is, if you want to be a writer, meeting deadlines will be part of your success and missing deadlines will contribute to your failure.

Chronic missed deadlines have caused any number of very talented people to never be published again. It’s the proverbial “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”

The only people who can get away with missing deadlines are authors who are so successful a publisher will adjust everything just to accommodate them. People at publishers have lost their jobs in cost-cutting moves because a major author was going to need another year to finish their book.

But this is not the case for 99% of authors. You miss, you lose.

Even successful self-published authors feel this when they tell their constituency their new book will be available on a certain date and it doesn’t happen.

How do you learn to keep deadlines? Here are some tips:

  • Treat your work like a job. Every day you go to work and accomplish a certain amount of work. Using the example above of the 50,000-word manuscript due in 100 days, this means you need to write 500 well-chosen words per day on average. Easier said than done.
  • Train yourself by committing to doing something small on a regular basis. Blogging regularly is good training to honor deadlines.
  • Have a deadline accountability partner – sometimes this could be an editor at your publisher. Having a regular meeting to report progress has an amazing effect on your view of deadlines. It will also eliminate the “deadline surprise” which is a terrible thing to spring on your publisher. A week ago everything was “on-track” but today you will be a month late? Bad karma for everyone.

In the end, meeting deadlines should come from within you. A little internal clock, which tells you, it’s time to get to work. The mindset of the high school or college student waiting until the last minute is always present, laying dormant, waiting to jump out and devour your project.

A little accountability antidote will keep it dormant and make your life as a writer much more enjoyable.


12 Responses to Deadlines…A Date With Destiny

  1. Avatar
    Michael Emmanuel November 29, 2016 at 4:38 am #

    May I propose a new word: lifelines. My mum teaches in an organization where they meet bizarre deadlines. In a bid to persuade workers to meeting the targets, and to paint a positive light since they’re religious, they use lifelines.

    While I concur that there are circumstances that could go beyond writers, missing a deadline after being offered a contract isn’t what I’d want to do. Factoring the self-editing the author must do, plus the fact that most novels usually exceed 70,000 words, it really is easier said than done.

    I’m doing NaNoWriMo for this reason. Though not yet done, hitting 50,000 words by tomorrow would be a good opportunity to self-assess.

  2. Avatar
    Brennan McPherson November 29, 2016 at 4:55 am #

    Being able to hit hard deadlines are part of what separates a hobbyist from a professional. If you want to make a living as an author, then you want to be a professional author. We have to be careful to live up to our words whenever possible. “I’ll be done by Thursday,” yet Thursday, Friday, Saturday go by and you’re still not done. It can begin to impact your personal integrity (or at least your ability to project with accuracy). Signing a contract is the same as saying, “I promise to do this exactly as stated.” But thank God for grace, right?

  3. Avatar
    Lorett Eidson November 29, 2016 at 5:43 am #

    Regardless the play on words, meeting deadlines has been part of my life for years. I look at it as a challenge to complete the task at hand. Deadlines can be positive motivators and can produce a sense of well-being when met. Since I love a good challenge, I’ve learned to appreciate the finality of deadlines.

  4. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee November 29, 2016 at 9:17 am #

    Super posting, Dan. I actually enjoy deadlines- I am an early bird, having been born 8 days early and showing up early for the rest of my life. Last minute panic has never been my thing! When I wrote my dissertation, I finished ahead of all of my cohorts. That gave me the chance to cross the finish line early and then turn around and clap for them as each one passed the goal.

  5. Avatar
    Jay Payleitner November 29, 2016 at 10:56 am #

    After frantically and responsibly meeting deadlines for my first five books, I happened to blow past the deadline for book number six by two or three weeks. And the world didn’t end.

    As you suggested, Dan, early communication is critical. If you give your editor a month’s notice that you’re going to need a couple more weeks, they’ll say, “No problem.” But if they are expecting to begin editing on Monday morning and you send a note Sunday that says, “Oops. Sorry,” that will not sit well.

    Finally, Dan, whenever you blog, “I was talking with a friend,” my spidey-senses start to tingle and I think you may be talking about me. Hmmmm.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow November 29, 2016 at 11:36 am #

      I would never think about using something from “real” friends. But if ever I use the metaphor of “easier to steer a moving car” you have my permission to reply in a forceful eye-rolling manner.

  6. Avatar
    Norma Brumbaugh November 29, 2016 at 11:07 am #

    Well, I’m in the procrastinator camp. I’ve not written for deadlines other than my own with one exception, a book printed by a vanity press. However, this year I joined a Christian group of writers. Every few months they have the members write down a couple of goals to complete by such-and-such date. Three or four months later, these goals are read to the group and the person responds with how they’re progressing. I find this to be motivating! I want to meet most of the goals I’ve set for myself. For the newbies, it can be as basic as starting a blog.

  7. Avatar
    Davalynn Spencer November 29, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    I learned about deadlines as a crime-beat reporter. If I didn’t get the story in on time, I was the dead guy. Aside from that, I’m in total agreement about our need for a few new words in the English language. One word that I find to be completely overused and usually misinterpreted is “friend.” The word has been stripped of its merit and devalued. Overuse does that, I believe. Too bad.

    • Avatar
      Davalynn Spencer November 29, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

      PS – My reference to “friend” relates completely to the overuse in my life and not to any references in this post or other comments.

  8. Avatar
    Peggy Booher November 29, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    Thanks for the idea of blogging as training to meet deadlines. I can use the help! 🙂 I have a blog but haven’t kept up with it, though a couple people urged me to do so. I couldn’t see the sense of it because most likely few people would read it. But blogging simply as practice to meet deadlines does make sense. If I’m the only one who read the posts, that’s OK; I’ll still get the result I want.

  9. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson November 29, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    I work better and am more creative when I have deadlines. Great message. Thank you.


  1. Writing Links in the 3s and 6…12/5/16 – Where Genres Collide - December 5, 2016

    […] Meeting deadlines leads to success, failing them leads to the risk of not getting published. Even Indies need to worry about deadlines. […]

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