Monday, May 28, 2018

The whooshing sound deadlines make when they fly by

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” 

A great quote by Douglas Adams. Not useful, but entertaining, and uncannily reminiscent of the writing journey.  Which you expect from Adams ... being a writer.

Deadlines drive us as writers. There are deadlines (mainly the ones we set ourselves) to deliver a first draft, a final draft, proposals for agents or editors, dates for production if we're self-publishing.

Now that I’m working with a publisher, there are still deadlines to be met. And not the kind of self-imposed deadlines that always carry with them the hint of flexibility, which can be enough to widen any crack in your determination. With industry pressure, these deadlines carry with them every heavy sense of the first half of the word.

Deadlines don’t seem like fun, but they’re necessary. And they’re scary because they make you accountable.

I’ve known this my entire career. As a corporate copywriter, I’ve needed to meet deadlines because the next step in the process needs me to. The designers need my words to mock up designs. The web site developers need my words to build the development site. The newspaper needs my words because the advertisement is running on Saturday.

As I’ve moved into working with publishers, it’s no different, and what I’ve learned over those 25 years still applies now. Yes it’s somewhat methodical and that’s seems out of place in writing, but this is where the rubber of business hits the creative road. You need to deliver if you’re going to see your story brought to life.

So what do you do if you if you’re faced with a deadline? These are some of things I've learned to rely on over my career, and I offer them to you as suggestions if deadlines are something with which you struggle:
  • I never – ever – think of a deadline in terms of the date it actually is.  The minute you look at a deadline as June 15, for example, you sub-consciously focus on that date. I’ve found that’s not ideal. That’s not the date you should be focussing on. That’s the date you can’t miss. So instead what you should be doing is bringing the deadline in by a day/week/whatever’s appropriate. Then forget about the original deadline. If you know you’ve got some leeway, you’ll use it.
  • Break it up in terms of time. With the deadline I was set for my major edits on my manuscript, I knew I had six weeks total. (Five weeks when I move the deadline in). Two weeks for first draft, two weeks for edits, one week to polish it. And one week up my sleeve.
  • Break it up in terms of milestones. I had six chapters that needed work. Two weeks for the first draft – easy. Three chapters per week.
  • Identify what you’re likely to procrastinate about. For you, it might be “you know what, I haven’t checked if I got any responses to my Facebook post”, you check for, you know, just a minute, and the next thing you know you’re watching some Korean schoolkid playing Abba songs on a bassoon.
  • Do something. I had a couple of writing sessions where I couldn’t start. It just wasn’t flowing. So I decided to search for every time I used the word only, then replaced it. That unblocked the pipes a little. A second search-and-destroy on adverbs and the flow resumed. And writing is about momentum. I find that when I’m back in the groove it keeps coming.
  • And lastly – and this is an important one - give yourself a treat for meeting the deadline (or a major milestone). You’ve worked hard and kept your promise to yourself (or an agent or a professional). Celebrate that.
 So those are some of the ways I've used to get through deadlines. What are some of yours?


  1. Deadlines are so fun! My technique for dealing with different deadlines for multiple projects is to get stuck into it. Procrastination leads to stress, and I’ve found that protecting my headspace is vital, so getting on with it and aiming for at least a fortnight before due date allows time for life to happen, while not stressing me out! :)

  2. Hi David, great post! I’m generally good at working under deadline pressure and can focus on making tight deadlines. I delivered 6 books in 18 months for my first trad contract. But... it’s not a good way to live and tight deadlines create problems in other areas of your life when the deadline becomes all consuming. My solution for reining in my work-a-holic tendancies is to 1) have less deadlines and 2) break the deadlines down into staged smaller deadlines to stop everything from snowballing at the end. :)

  3. So true. I always figured there was a reason they called them "dead"lines. But then, there's the one about what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.