Five ways to beat a deadline

I love deadlines! Yeah, no. Not really.

 

Oh, deadlines. How I love thee in my weird yet obnoxious way.

Recently, as I was reading articles on my Zite app, I came across this post at Writer’s Digest by another writer. In it he gives tips on how to make your deadline. What a brilliant post idea! Every writer has to deal (or not deal) with deadlines in one way or another. Whether you’re a journalist or a novelist or even a grad student, deadlines are everywhere and the necessary evil of our profession.

I’ve had a relationship with deadlines for the past 10 years as a reporter, so I’m well accustomed to its demands. While I was a grad student one of my strengths was being able to write with a deadline looming.

Like I said, I’m good with deadlines.

So, if you’re not good with them or if you want some advice, here’s five additional tips to deal with deadlines that may help.

1.) Embrace procrastination…to a certain point.

We are creative people and part of being able to create is to have some sort of freedom. In fact it feeds it.  However, don’t go all crazy with this–limit your freedom. Give yourself a deadline before the deadline to end the procrastination.

One of the ways I deal with this is through cleaning. It’s the weirdest thing. When I’m up against a writing deadline, I wash dishes and clean the kitchen. By the time I’m done picking up the living room, it’s time to get some work done. For me, doing something that doesn’t take much creative thinking allows my brain to ponder what to do when it is time to get some creative juices flowing. It’s part of my process.

2.) Take advantage of your natural writing rhythm

Do you write better at night? Early in the morning? There’s a reason for that. Creativity has a favorite time to come and play. Now, I’ve never been a complete fan of write when you feel like it. I believe that you should develop a writing habit and train yourself to do so. However, you do have to listen to your rhythm.  If you do better at night then make that (your nightly writing) your habit: “I will write for an hour starting at 10:30 every night.”  This is the dedicated time to write and work on your writing project so use it well.

When I was reporting regularly, I knew that my natural rhythm to turn in a daily story started around 3:30 or 4 p.m. I knew that my reporting needed to be done around 2 p.m. The time in between was to do all the non-writing things I needed to do — meetings, talk to editors, etc.  But like clock work, when the time came to write, I tore up the keys to make my 6 p.m. deadline (5 p.m. if things needed to be done early.)

3.) Schedule bite size pieces

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Have you ever heard that? It’s true. If you have a deadline on a big (or bigish) project, don’t expect to get that done in a day or even a week. Whether it’s a novel, a short story for a competition or journal, or or even an essay, think about the process and what you think it will take to get there.

However, be careful to evaluate your project correctly. You may under estimate how much time you need to get things done and then you’ll miss your deadline, or worse, make your deadline with a sub par product. No bueno. Always evaluate your writing project as you work on it. Make a list of what you need to do if needed. And always, always, always, give yourself time for revision.

4.) Talking about revision…schedule that first.

One of the biggest regrets when I turned in my thesis during my grad program is not scheduling enough time for the actual revision. I had given myself one week and I really should have scheduled two.

Revision is one of those things you hate to do but love that you did it when you’re done. It’s hard for me to reconcile this in my brain since so much of my professional life has been about reporting so I had to write most things as perfect as it could be the first time. But now, as a fiction writer, I have to go back and revise. There is no getting it right the first time. Since first drafts are crap, the writing is in the revision, therefore this takes more time. Polish takes effort, and time, and, well, more time. You have to let the piece sit, and then polish, and sit, and then re-polish. Therefore, schedule this time first and work backwards from there.

5.) If all else fails, bribe yourself.

That’s right. Bribe yourself. “If I make this deadline, I’ll going to have chocolate cake.”  At the end, you’re about to run out of steam and, really, you need something that’s going to get you over the finish line, a second wind. Promise yourself anything you can get or afford — new music, new clothes, food, a workout, a phone call to a friend, ANYTHING!  You’ve done all this hard work and you need to reward yourself. Bribing yourself could be the thing you need to get things done on time.

My favorite thing to bribe myself with: jewelry, food, or a movie. Shopping is good, too. Mostly books.

Alrighty, folks. Ironically, I have a deadline (or is that a coincidence?) Gotta go!

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