The first time I ever had a real contract deadline I worked right up until the very last second I could, then rushed to the post office right on the nickel. My manuscript made it to the publisher on time, thank goodness, but the next day when I spoke to my editor by phone, she told me I was "very slow." Wow. I was a newbie at that stage and didn't know much about the publishing world. There and then I vowed to not make the same mistake twice.
Since that first professional submission, I can't say I've made friends with deadlines, but I've also learned a few ways to make them bearable, and perhaps more importantly, do-able. These include:
- Deadlines are not about killing yourself--or the work. Pacing is everything! Take some days off in between writing.
- If you need to move a deadline forward--be honest with yourself (and your editor), but don't use the opportunity to change dates as a way to procrastinate and avoid completing the work.
- If a serious emergency occurs that may delay or prevent you reaching your deadline--let your editor know ASAP. Don't be embarrassed to be human.
- The best thing about assigning a deadline to your own private work schedule is it makes you STOP working on a piece before you take all the life out of it.
- Always keep a deadline calendar that is only for your manuscript or other creative project deadlines. Work out realistic stopping points.
- Try not to be too public about personal deadlines--letting everyone know a certain date for being finished with your WIP or similar, and then not being able to deliver might keep you from working with deadlines ever again.
- If possible, do your best to be a few days early with your professional deadlines.
- Don't agree to absurd deadlines unless you really, really know you can comply. Sometimes we can be so hungry for a sale or a shot at publication we'll agree to unreasonable demands--and then find we're mired in an impossible task. Better to walk away without signing if something doesn't feel "right."
- Know your boundaries and energy limits. Know your working style and how much you can (or can't) do.
- Schedule and plan out your work pace. Don't be a "last minute sprinter" working on sheer adrenaline. Just like tackling exam questions, work on the easy parts of your manuscript assignment first, then take the more difficult areas line by line, one paragraph at a sitting.
- Give yourself space between deadlines to breathe and regroup.
- Even when you finish a piece, give it 24 hours to gel. Whether it's a blog post, a query letter, or a finished manuscript, don't push "send" the second you finish writing. Let it wait.
- Whenever possible, practice working with deadlines. Finished work is the key to success; deadlines will help you get there.