D is for Deadline.
I’m participating this month in the A-Z blog challenge and it’s Writer Aid’s turn to serve a bowl of my progressive alphabet soup.
Lots of writers tell me they can’t write without a deadline. I’ve had students claim that they could only write when they were taking a class. Otherwise, they’d never write. Although I tend to write no matter what, I understand the feeling. Being a full-time freelancer focusing on creative writing these days, I set most of my own deadlines, knowing all the while that I can change them anytime I want. It’s only when other people are expecting to see something from me that I am sure to finish it on time.
When I was working in the newspaper biz, deadlines ruled our lives. When we were on deadline, it didn’t matter what was going on in the outside world. We couldn’t deal with phone calls or visitors or sometimes even a trip to the bathroom. We just kept our heads down and got the work done because there was always more to do than was logically possible in the time allotted. And we always got it done because if we didn’t the pages would be blank, the story that had to get published by a certain date wouldn’t get in, and all our interviews and research would be for nothing. When I worked on the copy desk at the Hayward Daily Review in California, we were still pasting printed words on cardboard sheets. As I stood proofreading the “boards,” I was constantly aware of printers standing in the doorway watching the clock, ready to take the pages out of my hands, finished or not, when it was time to go to press. That’s a lot of pressure.
Meeting newspaper deadlines taught me how to work quickly and to be realistic about what I could get done. If I was still missing part of the puzzle, I had to write around it. If I wasn’t sure it was my best writing, I just had to do the best I could. As a freelancer writing articles and books, I still have deadlines. The editor is not standing in my house waiting for me to finish, but if I miss the deadline, my story or my book might not be published and I won’t get paid. So I do it, sick or well, happy or not, busy with other things or not.
My deadlines for poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction mostly center around contest entry dates and literary journals’ submission periods. Did you know that most of the latter only consider manuscripts at certain times of the year? If you send your work in when submissions are closed, they’ll send it back unread. Always check the guidelines to see what the dates are. Because many journals are associated with colleges and universities, I’m seeing a lot of deadlines in April, presumably so the staff can put their publications together by the end of the school year.
Some writers just keep writing and don’t need any incentives, but most of us can use some kind of deadline. If nothing else, set goals and do your best to meet them, whether it’s writing a certain number of words, completing a project, or sending out your work by a certain date. Telling other people about your deadlines will help you stick to them and give you something to shoot for. If you are writing with deadlines set by editors and publishers, you know when you have to get it done. Start early to make sure you meet the deadline. Writers who turn their assignments in late will find themselves not getting any more assignments.
So D is for deadline. Now go write.
More than 1300 bloggers have signed up for the A-to-Z challenge. Visit http://www.kmdlifeisgood.blogspot.com/p/under-construction.html for the full list. To find out what E stands for and see the blog schedule for this month, visit my Unleashed in Oregon blog tomorrow.