A Deadline Will Make You, Break You, Or Shape You

A deadline is the best (and worst) thing that will ever happen to you.

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Deadlines can be stressful.

But so can the lack of a due date.

When you’re given a deadline, what you do with it depends on your work strategy. If you’re a procrastinator, you’ll think about your deadline, start worrying about your deadline, and then — at the last possible second — you’ll devote all your time and energy into meeting it. And you’ll do a pretty good job regardless.

If you’re a planner, you’ll avoid most of that stress. You’ll chip away at your project a page at a time, and you might even get the assignment done early. There’s a good chance you’ll turn in work of the exact same quality as a procrastinator. You just have a different method of getting there.

But some writers really struggle not just to meet deadlines, but also to have them hanging over their heads in the first place. Technically, there are benefits to not having deadlines. Along with a major potential drawback.

When you don’t have a deadline to work with — neither a starting nor finishing one — you’ll either feel less pressure to get your work done and take your time doing good work, or you’ll never actually get anything done because “eventually” can turn out to be a very long time.

I have yet to encounter only one writing job — of the many I’ve had, thanks to the freelancing life — that did not have deadlines attached to its assignments.

If you can meet deadlines, you automatically “beat out” others applying for the same jobs you are who, for whatever reason, can’t.

And if you can’t … you won’t make it very far.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the line for you.

My suggestion to those whose procrastination habits make them unable to meet deadlines is to practice setting them for yourself. For example, if you’re trying to blog more consistently, you could make it a point to at least draft a blog post every Tuesday, or Thursday, or Sunday, even if you don’t publish it. That way, you’re training yourself to meet a deadline — pressuring yourself to follow through — before a client or employer will actually expect that of you.

Yes, deadlines matter.

No, you probably won’t come across a job that lets you turn things in whenever you want. Especially not a writing job.

Be prepared. And keep in mind that procrastination isn’t something you necessarily have to “stop” doing. I’ve been writing for over 10 years, and I still procrastinate. But it’s something you do need to get a good handle on, if you want to ever get — and keep — a job. Writers who turn things in on time aren’t “unique.” But they’re expected to do it. Prove you can do it. Practice. You won’t regret it.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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6 thoughts on “A Deadline Will Make You, Break You, Or Shape You

  1. I often find the challenge with deadlines is that they themselves become a distraction, and a source of anxiety, for me. When a project is mostly analytical I can manage it just fine, but a creative project, like writing a piece from scratch, often proves more challenging. There are definitely those times where it can take me a while to “find the proper way” to write the piece, or even find out what the piece is really about (in contrast with my initial misconceptions about it.
    I think in those times a deadline can prove quite the hindrance.

    Often what works for me is to have a deadline established well in advance, so that there’s room to complete the assignment a month ahead (if it’s less than 5,000 words), or far further ahead.
    I can understand the need to deliver something on time, but I find that what I need to meet that is a lot of advanced notice, so that I have time, if I need it. In many cases I don’t, but the fact that I have it if I need it allows me to set aside my anxiety about failing to meet the deadline, and focus on the project itself.

    One person I know who works in a creative field has another strategy that I really like. They always have a “backup” project that they can submit, something that is “okay”, but not great. And if they fail to craft their masterpiece by the deadline, they hand that in, and continue working on the masterpiece (after drafting another backup), and hope it will fit the needs of the next deadline.

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