How to Wrestle Deadlines and Win (Even When You Think You Can’t)

How to Wrestle Deadlines and Win (Even When You Think You Can't)

You don’t get to be on big-name sites like Men with Pens, Copyblogger, Problogger and Daily Writing Tips by fluffing deadlines like some flaky moonlighter. And Ali Luke (yes, she’s back!) knows that very well.

Unfortunately, meeting deadlines is still a huge issue. Writers aren’t known for their planning and scheduling skills, after all – but nail deadlines, and you’ve turned yourself away from flaky and straight onto fantastically competent. (Keep reading to learn how.)

By the way, if you’ve become one of those deadline vigilantes who always gets work in on time, come share a secret or two in the comment section – or tell the story of the Deadline from Hell that made you swear never again.

Nasty creatures, deadlines. They creep up on you slowly but inexorably, a bit like zombies on the march.

And then they loom, larger and larger, until they’re blotting out all the light in your world.

By the time you realise that you have a monster in your world, it often seems like it’s too late to hit that deadline. You’re a writer, not a warrior! You just want to curl up under the duvet and pretend that deadline doesn’t exist at all.

Hey. Take heart. You can fight that deadline – and win.

Step 1: Spot Your Monster Early

Deadlines move at a constant rate. You can see them coming closer… and closer…. and closer. So when you realise that your deadline’s becoming a monster, do something.

Don’t turn your back. Don’t cross your fingers and hope for a last-minute miracle. Acknowledge that deadline. (Give it a little wave, if you like.) Let it know that you are in control.

How can you spot a monster deadline creeping up on you?

  • You thought the first draft would take ten hours. It’s taken twenty already – and you’re still not finished.
  • You wake up with a sinking feeling in your stomach when you think about how much work you still need to get done.
  • You find yourself procrastinating – chatting on Twitter, watching re-runs of The Simpsons, playing Flash games…
  • “Write mega-huge client project” keeps slipping down your to-do list.
  • You don’t have any slack in your schedule. And you know you need to write every single day to hit this deadline.

You’re looking that deadline square in the eyes. And you can feel the panic bubbling up…

Step 2: Win the Psychological War

It’s easy to lose perspective when you’re facing a nasty deadline – and especially when you panic. It’s almost impossible to write.

Take a deep breath.

Remind yourself that no deadline, however monstrous it may be, can kill your career. You’re a good writer. You’ve turned in great work before, and you can do it again.

To quell that sense of panic:

  • Ditch everything on your to-do list which isn’t urgent and essential. Your email inbox won’t implode, don’t worry. Just focus on the project at hand.
  • Write a quick outline if you don’t already have one. When you can see where you’re going, it’s easy to keep writing.
  • Tackle the easiest sections first – the ones where you’ve already done the research, where you have a good idea of what you’ll write.

Once you feel calmer, figure out how much time you have left. Deadlines creep closer every minute, so you need to keep up your momentum.

Step 3: Set a (Sane) Schedule

It’s Monday. You have five days to finish an ebook of 20,000 words. You have an outline, you’ve done all the research, but you’ve only written a paltry 500 words (and you’re pretty sure you’re going to scrap those).

Five days. 20,000 words. That’s an average of 4,000 words per day.

To create a sane schedule, do this:

  • Allow for some slack at the end. Aim to write 5,000 words every day so that you have Friday to catch up if necessary.
  • Write at your best time. For me, that’s in the morning. It could be afternoon or evening for you. Refuse to allow other commitments to sneak into your best writing time.
  • Work in short bursts – maybe 45-60 minutes – with breaks in between. Don’t plan to write for hours in a marathon.
  • Make sure you get some down time. Give yourself something to look forwards to mid-week – perhaps a movie or a meal out. You can afford to take a proper break, because if you don’t, you’re probably going to end up making silly mistakes that cost you more time.

If all that isn’t enough – if you can see there’s no way to beat that deadline – then move the goalposts.

Step 4: Get an Extension

Deadlines are rarely set in stone, and most clients or editors can be flexible if necessary.

However, this is a last resort. Flaking out on deadlines gives you a bad name, and while your clients may be accommodating the first time it happens, they’re not going to put up with a flaky writer for long.

To stay on the client’s good side:

  • Contact them promptly. Don’t leave it until the day of the deadline and then email to say you need more time.
  • Be polite. Don’t imply that it’s their fault the deadline was too ambitious. (Maybe it was, but as the contracted writer, you should have let them know that up front.)
  • Offer part of the work. Tell them what you can do, not what you can’t. For example, say you can have 15,000 words of the ebook completed by Friday.
  • Suggest a new and more realistic deadline that you’re confident you can meet. Give yourself a day or two more than you think you’ll need – you can always turn the work in early.

Deadline nightmares don’t need to keep you awake at night. You just need to deal with the situation now and make sure you stay well away from more monsters in future.

Step 5: Avoid Monster Deadlines – Forever

It’s not much fun wrestling a huge deadline – though it can be exhilarating when you win. Still, you want to make sure that monster never comes back, ever again.

When negotiating deadlines:

  • Allow more time than you think you’ll need. Life gets crazy sometimes – especially when you least expect it or during weeks when you need every minute of your writing time.
  • Plan to turn in work early. Set yourself a personal deadline that’s a few days ahead of the real one. That way, you’ll feel calm and in control, and you can cope with last-minute problems.
  • Set milestones and agree on deliverables. That way, you’ll get started early (rather than leaving the whole project till the last minute), and if the client wants a slight change in direction, they’ll let you know sooner rather than later.

So – over to you. I’m sure you have plenty of thoughts on deadlines – and some horror stories to share. Comment away!

Ali Luke is the go-to gal for all things blogging. Check out her newest ebook, The Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing. It’ll teach you everything you need to know to be an awesome on-time, on-demand blogger they’ll love.

Post by Ali Hale

Ali Hale is the go-to gal for all things blogging. Check out her newest ebook, The Blogger's Guide to Freelancing. It'll teach you everything you need to know to be an awesome on-time, on-demand blogger they'll love.