Beating the Deadline

Except for blogs, publication involves people working together in production teams, mostly end to end. Your success as a writer depends on the editors, graphic artists, photographers, copy editors, etc. who turn your text into publishable form. You need to help your colleagues by submitting copy on time, by making the deadlines.

Some prima donnas pride themselves on violating deadlines. They fantasize that they’re showing their creativity by not playing the game of the management types. They think they’re so important that others can wait. They’re missing one key factor they would never think of: people who turn things in on time get better editing and better visuals and better play.

The secret is not just making the deadline. The secret is turning things in early.

First of all, there has to be a deadline, and it has to be exact and understood. As a consultant, I’m often surprised by daily newspapers that don’t have deadlines, in my experience, about a third of them. When I ask their reporters to tell me their deadline, I get answers like this: “We don’t have one.” “Sixish.” “In the evening.” “Just after I go home.” (By the way, they’ve usually hired me because the paper keeps coming out late.) In such an organization, you have to create your own deadlines.

Good deadlines are exact dates and times. If your editors don’t specify a deadline, you ask them for one. If they don’t set a deadline, you set your own. Writers without deadlines write too long in both space and time.

Sometimes you can’t make your deadline, for perfectly good (but rare) reasons. So you put up a warning flare early, alerting the rest of the production team to adjust their time scheme. Sometimes editors can modify the assignment to maintain the deadline.

How do you finish pieces early? First of all, you use the methods in this book to tune your writing process. Many of the techniques you have learned in the past actually make you slow, so you change them. Your new effective sequence of techniques, once you get used to it, will speed you up. And you keep tuning your process throughout your career to get even faster. The assignments get more complex, and you get more efficient. Bill Blundell, the fastest writer I ever met, told me, “If I write fast, I can report longer.”

Here’s a magic technique for speeding up complicated pieces, which works especially well for books. You divide the project up into parts, such as the chapters of a dissertation. Working back from your overall deadline, you set individual deadlines for each of those parts. Then you draft as fast as you can toward the first deadline. If you make it earlier than scheduled, you move all the other deadlines that much closer. For example, you’re writing a five-part book, and you schedule five section deadlines and a final deadline:

Drafts: February 1, April 1, June 1, August 1, October 1.
Final: December 1.

All goes well, and you make your first chapter draft deadline on January 24th. Then you move all your other deadlines one week closer. Students of mine have cut their drafting time in half using this technique.

By the way, as a writing coach, I can tell you that fast writers have fewer problems than slow ones. And freelancers who make deadlines get invited back.

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 10:28 am  Leave a Comment  

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