How to Be on Time (And What to Do if You Can’t)
For the first time in my 11-year career, I almost missed a deadline this week. I somehow got two deadlines mixed up, so I turned in one article several days early and didn’t realize the mix-up until the day the second article was actually due. Thankfully I’m a fast writer and I had already done all my research, so I wrote the article as quickly as I could and turned it in by noon on deadline day.
It should be the simplest and most obvious rule for writers: Always meet your deadlines. But judging by how many editors I hear complaining about AWOL writers, I thought we could all use some discussion into the topic.
First, let me say that it’s never acceptable to just bail on a deadline and think the editor won’t notice that your article was due on Monday and he’s article-free on Tuesday. But with proper notice, these are the times when it’s acceptable to ask for a deadline extension:
* Someone in your family has died.
* A main source has gone missing and you must interview this person.
* You’re violently ill and don’t think you’ll be able to make up the lost time before deadline.
In any of these cases, you need to call your editor right away, explain the situation, and ask if you can have a deadline extension. When I’m having trouble getting a key source to speak, I don’t wait until the day before deadline to tell my editor, hoping that the source will come through at the last minute — I let the editor know at least a week ahead of time. When my father-in-law passed away two weeks ago, I wrote to my editors on the day I heard the bad news, even though there was a possibility I would be able to write my articles while I was away. I didn’t want to take the chance. I may come across as an over-reactor to other writers, but I like to cover my butt.
Here are a few ways to avoid missing deadlines:
Get moving. One way to avoid bailing on deadlines is to start your assignment as soon as you get it. I know lots of writers say they work better with a little fire under their butts, but if you wait until the last minute you can easily be derailed by any small setback. Whenever I get an assignment, the first thing I do is call and e-mail sources to set up interviews.
Negotiate. Just because an editor asks you to write an article by X date doesn’t mean you have to accept that. Just as you can negotiate for pay and rights, you can negotiate for time. If you have a lot of other deadlines around the same time or you know you can’t write an article in X weeks/days/nanoseconds, it’s fine to ask if the editor can give you some more time.
Know yourself. You need to have a clear knowledge of how long it takes you to complete various parts of an assignment. For example, I know that for a certain trade magazine it takes me two weeks to round up the sources (they’re notoriously hard to get ahold of), about a half hour for each interview, a day or so to get each transcription back from my transcriptionist, and three hours to write (I told you I’m a fast writer!). This helps me schedule my work so that I can be sure to be done on time.
Play tricks with time. I always consider the day before my deadline to be the day I will turn in my article. Except for the deadline snafu I had this week, you will never see me furiously typing out an article the day it’s due. Try entering the assignment deadline into your calendar the day before the article is actually due. You can then turn in the article a day early, or use the extra day to set the article aside to give it a fresh look on deadline day before you send it in.
Lie. When a potential source or a PR person asks when your deadline is, for goodness’ sake don’t give the actual deadline. I’ve done this and heard back from the source or PR person the day before! Give yourself some leeway, or fudge by saying, “I’m hoping to get my interviews done next week (or whenever).”
What are your tricks for making your deadlines? Please post in the Comments below! [lf]