Writing Deadline Dos and Don'ts

It happens to every writer sooner or later. You’re planning on submitting work to a literary journal, entering a contest, or completing edits for your publisher; and of course, there’s a deadline. You sincerely intended to complete your writing on time, but things got in the way: work, running errands, catching up on all six seasons of that show everyone’s talking about. Before you know it, the due date you had plenty of time to meet is now pressing down on you; it’s crunch time.

Don’t panic! Here’s what you should -- and shouldn’t -- do to meet your deadline without losing your mind:

Do break it down. When you’re short on time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything you need to accomplish. Break your writing down into manageable parts. Set realistic daily (or even hourly) goals to complete tasks such as writing, editing, proofreading, formatting, etc.

Do the worst first. If possible, make the task you like least the one you do first. Once the activity you’re most likely to procrastinate about is out of the way, everything else will be easier to accomplish.

Do some multitasking. Time is of the essence? Reread your work on the subway, or edit as you wait for your children to finish their after-school activities. Just don’t go overboard and try to do too many things at once -- you’ll lose your focus, and the results will be less than your best.

Do know when to say “no.” When you’re on a tight deadline, you don’t have a second to spare. So don’t feel guilty if you have to say no to volunteering at your child’s school or to organizing your kayaking club’s next outing. And you can make up for a few takeout dinners this week with some healthy meals next week.

Don’t be distracted. That means no social media, no email, no videos of cute puppies -- not one peek! The time you’ve scheduled for writing is ONLY for writing. It’s not for chores, or to answer “just one” question, or for planning tomorrow’s meeting. Once sacrosanct writing time is over, you can then give other tasks your full attention.

Don’t forget to take breaks. This may seem counterintuitive, but taking a mental break is important to keeping your creativity flowing and your mind sharp. Take a few minutes away from the keyboard, and don’t forget to eat! Healthy snacks and drinks are best, but let’s be honest: Some deadlines require strong coffee and... more strong coffee.

Don’t worry. Anxiety can quickly lead to indecisiveness and cause you to procrastinate further or give up entirely. Don’t let desperation cause you to freeze up or to lose your perspective. Remember, if you try your very best and still miss this deadline, there’s always the next one. You can submit work to the literary journal’s next issue…enter a different contest... request (aka beg for) a short deadline extension from your publisher.

Now, take a deep breath, focus, and start writing -- you’ve got a deadline to meet!