BY MARTHA CARR
When I was a new writer and no one had commented on any of the words I’d strung together, the idea of a deadline seemed romantic. If I had a deadline that meant someone must have liked something I wrote and someone else must have asked for more.
Fortunately, all of that came true and I have had the pleasure of writing for The Washington Post and The New York Times and have had several books published.
However, a deadline also means a lot of responsibility and for writers with busy lives a due date can seem daunting, especially when talking about an entire book.
One thing became clear: Failing to turn in a manuscript on time has real-world consequences—not only for you as a writer, but also for everyone who’s waiting on your words of wisdom. There are publishing schedules and marketing strategies that are set up with the idea that you’re a professional writer who keeps your word. Miss a deadline without a good excuse and your peers will start to operate off the idea that you’re not very professional. If you’re not also a brilliant writer who says things that make everyone have to pay attention, your career may be short-lived.
But it’s not so easy to write on a deadline. You have to create a work plan, even know if you’re on time, ahead of schedule or dangerously close to not meeting a deadline. You also have to become your own project manager and figure out how to create a writing schedule that can breathe and change with your life. As you’ve probably already seen just as soon as you make a schedule someone else throws a wrench in it and you’re off doing something else for a little while.
I wrote my first three books raising a son on my own and then taking care of two elderly parents.
There were plenty of times I sat in a doctor’s office or thought about what to make for dinner for everyone while thinking about plotlines. I wanted to remain present and cheerful for family and friends, but for that to happen I had to find a strategy that would allow me to write and meet deadlines.
That strategy wound up consisting of three crucial steps:
1) You have to be reasonable with yourself and set realistic expectations.
How fast do you actually write? How much time can you realistically devote to writing in a day? How many days a week can you write without neglecting other areas of your life? Crunching these numbers will give you a framework for setting realistic expectations.
The good news is, even with small pieces of time it’s still possible to write a good book without years passing. I’ve been writing the books in The Wallis Jones series fairly quickly although I also have a lot going on in a day and even want to plan in a social life.
2) Ask yourself whether you can produce the manuscript or article in time.
Be realistic. Look at the total page count that’s needed and at the deadline, and count up the days before the deadline. Can you write enough pages per day to meet the deadline? If not, you’re going to have to either find a few extra days of writing or have a conversation with your editor, sooner rather than later. Sometimes, that’s necessary and shows that you’re on top of things and willing to work as a team member. Not doing so can cause doors to slam closed.
My own answer turned out to be that I could write about three double-spaced pages in a day, three days a week.
3) To meet deadlines, you’ll need to glue yourself to your seat until that minimum number is hit.
If you’ve been reasonable with yourself, it may not always be pleasant, but it’s doable. In my case, sometimes, the words come so easily and I’m having such a good time working on my newest book, The Circle, that a lot more gets written. Sometimes, every single word feels like it was pulled out of somewhere murky and I struggle to hit three pages. However, I still do it and when the three pages are done, I get up and go find something else to do.
The last thing to keep in mind is something I mentioned earlier: Make sure that you’re still having at least a little fun and staying present with the people in your life. Both will feed your writing and make you feel more balanced in general. Then, writing and deadlines are a healthy part of your life, which will inevitably show in your work.
Martha Randolph Carr is the author of 4 books including The List — the first in her Wallis Jones political thriller series. A professional copywriter and editor, she has written a weekly, nationally syndicated column on politics and life that has run on such political hotspots as TheModerateVoice.com and Politicus.com.
Her work has run regularly in such venerable publications as The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune and Newsweek.
Martha is also a melanoma survivor, a Chi runner and an occasional skydiver — not to mention a descendant of Thomas Jefferson!