Writing Deadlines When Push Comes to Shove, Try These Five Easy Steps

You fall into bed, exhausted from the week’s worth of activities you crammed into your nineteen-hour day. Your head gently nestles into goose down, a hearty sigh expels the demons of the day and your mind begins to explore the far reaches of your personal universe of favorite dreams. The tension drains away and… Argh! You bolt upright in a panic. Your heart pounds erratically, beads of sweat racing across your forehead, as you come to a stark realization: “I missed my deadline!”
Ah, deadlines. Whether it’s a speculative work in progress, or a firm commitment to a publisher, deadlines often seem to deny the laws of physics, traveling toward you in a maniacal hyper-speed world of doom. It doesn’t have to be this way. The next time you have a project to complete, try these five easy steps to tame the dastardly deadline:
1. Write it down. This first step is your connection to the real world. When you attempt to keep your schedule, and your commitments, locked safely away in the deep recesses of your mind you ask for trouble. The mind, in its inscrutable manner, often ignores or even redefines reality. The I-can’t-miss-it Wednesday deadline bearing down on you somehow becomes the maybe-I’ll-give-it-a-look Friday second thought.
Writing your deadline down is the only defense. Write it in a bold scrawl and place it somewhere you simply can’t avoid. A wall calendar, dedicated to work and deadlines, is ideal. Place it above your workspace and make a habit of checking it first thing each morning and last thing each night. In the battle against the delusional persuasions of your brain, the calendar is your comrade.
2. Calculate your time requirements. Don’t set yourself up for failure by failing to appropriately assess your needs on the front-end of a project. Unless you enjoy the challenge of maintaining sanity amidst the sleep-deprived race to complete a longer than expected piece, this step in the process is crucial. Make sure to include all aspects of the project when estimating your time. Include research, both online and any that may be required at the library or among special collections. Do you need to schedule time for interviews with expert sources? If so, allow some additional time for missed calls, schedule conflicts and phone-tag. Finally, be realistic with the time allocation for both the initial draft and the revisions. Don’t short change yourself – ample time budgeted at this step is a far better tonic than late night stale coffee and doughnuts. Did someone say doughnuts?
3. Schedule your writing time. This is the cousin of the “write it down” step. Yes, writing it down was a good first step to basing one’s intentions in reality. However, there is still the issue of the hyper-speeding deadline with which to contend. Now that you’ve established your goal in step one, and budgeted your time requirements in step two, it’s necessary to set your literary ship assail. For that, it’s back to the calendar.
Be realistic. As you survey your upcoming schedule use a critical eye. This is no time to be squeezing or rushing because, in the end, it’s always going to be you who gets squeezed and rushed. Carve out a realistic schedule for your project, not overly extravagant, but one that allows ample time for playing with a word here or there, or experimenting with a new sentence structure when the whim strikes. Scheduling your writing time, and blocking it out on your calendar, is a step toward freedom in this deadline-crazed world.
4. Plan an escape route. This is the failsafe step of the process. While technically having little to do with writing, and everything to do with the capricious nature of life, it is a vital step nonetheless. The most judicious planning and execution of the first three steps can quickly crumble in the face of the unforeseen. The water heater goes out and, with the first frost of the season upon you, hosing down the kids in the backyard is no longer a viable option. The roof, newly replaced last week, springs a series of leaks that, if you look closely enough, seem to drip the word “DEAD-line” across your living room ceiling. The bathroom faucet… You get the picture. It’s all about the waters of life running amok and ruining your well-constructed plan.
Consider what will happen if you lose a few hours, or a complete day, due to a minor emergency. Where will you find the time to make it up? The same principles of writing, calculating and scheduling apply here. Calculate an estimated “disaster catch up” time, asses your schedule to see where it will fit and write it in as a firm commitment. Then relax. If disaster strikes, you’ve already got your backup plan established. If things go smoothly, you’ve just discovered an oasis of free, uncommitted time in the midst of your daily nineteen-hour marathon. Enjoy it.
5. Tell someone. This is the pushing and shoving step in the process. Unfortunately, for it to have its full impact, you must volunteer to be both pushee and shovee. The first steps above rooted you in reality. However, it is still very much a personal, private reality. The key to ultimate success in the above process involves expanding your horizon and inviting others to gaze at the nakedness of your literary, and literal, intentions. It’s painful, but necessary.
Have coffee with a friend, or join a weekly writer’s group, and tell them about your projects. The more detail you provide the better. People have an innate sense of curiosity that, once engaged, will put to shame even the most rigorous of self-imposed disciplines. After you let them in on your secret, your friends and fellow-writers will gladly grill you on your progress each time your paths cross. You’ll find yourself surprised at the proficiency of their third-degree, the insistence with which they extract details.

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