Editor’s Notes: A Deadline is a Deadline for a Reason


I’ve dealt with a lot of nonsense from writers over the years. Not being able to meet deadlines is probably the most common frustration. For some reason, writers think it’s okay to combine a lazy excuse, an ETA and an apology for not doing their work on time – and many managing editors simply let it happen.

Everyone’s editorial preferences are different – just because I don’t think it’s acceptable doesn’t mean I’m right and they’re wrong. I come from a teaching background – meaning, I’m used to teaching college students what it’s actually like to write in the real world. I consider consistent tardiness a flaw that needs correcting. That’s just my viewpoint.

However, I do think it’s important that all writers understand why editors give them deadlines. Because, more and more, it seems to me their response is, “Well, as long as I get the work in within 24 hours of when they told me to, it’s fine.”

It’s really not. And I’m going to explain why, from a few different perspectives.

As a freelance editor, I am pretty much hired on contract to copyedit and format articles for a website. This is only one of many different clients I juggle throughout the work week. I have a very limited amount of hours to work with each client (depending, honestly, on how much they can afford to pay me weekly). So let’s say I have about three hours each week to assign, edit and publish one writer’s articles.

It’s much easier for me to break up work in such a way that I only work with one client several days out of the week, so I can concentrate better on what I’m doing. Typically, I leave one day for editing and another for publishing and assigning new articles. I have to leave writers enough time to research and write, so the same day they turn in their work, I edit.

Except when they don’t turn their work in on time.

Then my whole schedule is off by a day. Which sounds a little selfish, I guess, until you realize that I have other clients who don’t give me assignments until I log in that morning. So I don’t know 50% of the work I have to do tomorrow until it’s already tomorrow.

I can’t afford to wait for your work. I am on a tight schedule. If there is a problem, I need time to fix it. If you didn’t do a good job, honestly, I’m going to have to rewrite a portion of what you’ve already written. And since you clearly already rushed to turn in your work (late), the chances of there being significant flaws in your product are much higher.

Apologizing for the inconvenience also doesn’t help, because it’s still an inconvenience. Giving me the same old excuse is just annoying, because as much as I would LOVE to care, I have work to do, too, and I’m depending on you to do your job. It’s nice when a writer gives warning ahead of time that there’s a problem, but it usually doesn’t happen. I shouldn’t have to chase after you, wondering why my inbox is empty.

There are also publications that work on a very strict and tight editorial workflow. At the magazine I worked for in college, interns turned their work in on Friday. Editors had 48 hours to do full content and copy edits, and writers had 24 hours after that to fix them. We literally could not afford to accept late work, so we couldn’t. Do you think that went over well with a bunch of college students? Yeah, no. People expected to be allowed to turn work in whenever they wanted. I wonder where that assumption came from. (I really do?)

Online publishing is a delicate process. Not publishing something when it was intended to be published messes up everything, from traffic to SEO to who knows what else. It’s not because we’re trying to put more pressure on you. Our long-term success relies in large part on whether or not we are consistently publishing what we plan on publishing. If you deliver late, or not at all, you knock over the whole line of dominos. They’re never going to be put back exactly where they were before.

I don’t want to blame a writer incapable of meeting deadlines for messing up our workflow, but honestly, it’s a problem. I get really flustered when people just can’t seem to understand this.

When your editor gives you a deadline, it’s the latest possible day and time they can accept your work. Asking for your article by EOD Friday means someone is likely, for our purposes, already planning on staying in the office late to edit that article when they walk into work that morning. A deadline is really not meant to be tested. Exactly at 4:59pm, fine. Past that point, it’s the danger zone, panic alarms are going off, if they haven’t heard anything from you, it’s not good news – for anyone.

If your editor doesn’t give you a deadline, for whatever reason, give yourself one. Whenever I work with someone who says, “Can you work on this?” without giving me a due date, I struggle. The procrastinator in me just can’t get it done fast enough. So I’ve trained myself to set my own deadlines and stick with them. An editor myself, I understand that even when there’s no specific time frame, it’s better to get things done sooner rather than later – ASAP.

Always remember, as a writer working for an editor, that this process is not about you. Once your article is published and your name is on it, you’re welcome to celebrate and promote it all you want. Take pride in it, we’re happy for you. But until then, this is about workflow, about doing quality work in a timely manner, following directions, putting in all the effort you have. This is a priority. There are circumstances when emergencies do happen, and an editor will understand that. But I can pretty much guarantee your internet does not go out every single Friday afternoon when I’m expecting a submission from you.

Just do your work, well and on time. I don’t keep my chronic procrastination a habit – I tend to put things off as long as I possibly can. But when I am working, I get my work done. I don’t give excuses. I don’t say “I’ll have it to you by six” and then don’t turn anything in. Stop doing that!

Thank you. :)

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Never Miss Another Deadline – Tips for Staying Focused and Getting Ahead

Never submit something late again.

In the real world, deadlines are law. Turning something in late means it doesn’t get published, and you don’t get paid. Timeliness may not always be rewarded, but the consequences for not being able to keep up with deadlines are severe – especially if whether or not you get picked for a writing job depends on recommendations from people you have written for previously.

Working on deadline, and getting ahead, are learned habits. There’s no better time to start learning than right now.

Here are a few things you can do to stay focused while writing and get more work done ahead of time.

Go Cold Turkey

When I took a week-long vacation at the end of 2016, I did nothing but spend virtually every hour of every afternoon on Netflix, YouTube or Steam – which was fine, when I was on vacation. But I found it extremely difficult to climb out of that hole when the new year started and I had to get back to work.

The internet is unforgiving in many ways. Sometimes you need it to write, but you see one BuzzFeed article pop up and you’re doomed for the next hour and a half.

Enter Cold Turkey – a Mac desktop app and web browser extension that lets you choose specific websites to block while leaving others fully accessible. You choose the duration. You have no choice but to avoid the websites you’ve completely blocked yourself out of and do something else – something productive. At least, that’s what happened to me.

Download. Install. Block. Boom. I can’t go on Facebook, I can’t stop “just to watch one video” on YouTube. I can’t hit my 3 p.m. slump and just decide to call it quits for the day, diving into yet another Netflix binge.

When there’s nothing left to do but work, that’s what you’ll do. I didn’t think that would be the case – but it turns out that if it weren’t for my biggest online distractions, I could have most likely gotten twice as much work done last year. But I didn’t – because I had no idea how distracted I actually was.

If the internet isn’t your biggest distraction from writing, then you probably need to choose a different writing location, and/or consider writing by hand, or using Cold Turkey Writer, which, as you can probably guess, allows you to do nothing but stare at a screen and write.

Work in intervals

Everyone works differently. Some people prefer to work by time, using methods to “power work” for a certain amount of time, taking a break and repeating the process. Others work by project, focusing only on work from one client until it’s done before moving on to the next thing.

However you work, do so in intervals so you don’t find yourself working for hours straight without giving your brain a rest period.

I try to work for two hours in the morning, take a break to work out, work for two more hours, take a lunch break, draft a blog post, then work for two more hours, take a shorter break, and so on. Working without breaks is both unproductive and dangerous. The longer you work without stopping, the more you concentration and the quality of the work you are doing deteriorates.

However, taking productive breaks are also important. Don’t just scroll through Twitter for 15 minutes and then go straight back to what you were doing before. Grab a snack, throw in a load of laundry, run an errand. The time you spend working will produce much better results. You’ll most likely work faster and feel more energized and focused, too.

Trick your brain

It’s not easy, or even always practical, to decide you’re going to stop procrastinating. Not all procrastination is bad, and it’s more of a personality trait than a habit, which makes “quitting” arbitrary. For many people, it’s just who they are. Which is fine, until it starts interfering with your ability to get your work done well and/or on time.

Whether you write as a hobby or you’re a working professional, deadlines are a great motivator for getting quality work done efficiently. The less time you have to spend on good writing, the more good writing you’ll be able to do. But since waiting until the last minute can’t always be avoided, you can work around that … by changing an expected due date on your own schedule.

Never write down a real deadline. Instead, always mark it down in your calendar or planner three days earlier than the real deadline. (This way, if something is due on a Monday, you finish on Friday; if it’s due Friday, you finish on Tuesday.) You can literally trick your brain into believing that’s the real deadline, so that even if you do end up waiting until the last minute, you’ll still end up turning your work in early.

This is really hard for me – once I see a date, it for whatever reason lodges itself into my brain and it’s not easily forgotten. But I’m also a planner junkie, so if I see something is due on the 25th, I’m much more likely to finish it by the 25th. No excuses – you can train your brain to do a lot of things you don’t think you can do. This works. I promise.

How do you manage deadlines? What are some other tactics you’ve tried for staying ahead of schedule?

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Train Yourself to Stick to Your Own Deadlines

There isn’t always going to be someone waiting for you to finish your work.

I used to be terrible with deadlines. Depending on how much I have going on at one time, sometimes I still struggle. I’m a life-long procrastinator. Sometimes I submit things at 11:58 when they’re due at midnight. It’s easy to think working deadline-based jobs is enough to train you to meet deadlines with ease, but it has taken a lot of self-discipline to improve even a little on my own.

One of the best ways to learn how to stick to writing deadlines is to work with editors, publishers and supervisors who consistently expect you to meet weekly or even daily deadlines. However, if you’re just starting out, you’re having trouble finding that kind of consistent work or you just want to get more practice meeting deadlines, you can’t always rely on someone else to help train you to do so.

Here are a few helpful tips for training yourself, on your own time, to meet deadlines you set for yourself. It takes discipline. It takes consistency. It might take awhile to turn making deadlines into a habit. But it’s a skill all writers and creators can benefit from, whether you’re working for someone else or you’re all on your own.

Tell someone you’re terrified of disappointing

There’s this argument out there that you shouldn’t tell other people about your goals. In some cases, this rule fits nicely: you shouldn’t necessarily tell the whole world you’re working on a new project when you haven’t even started yet. However, sometimes intimidation is a pretty strong form of motivation. I care what people think of me. It’s who I am and in many areas of my life it’s not going to change.

At the beginning of this week I admitted a nearly impossible deadline to my Facebook friends, but said I was going to find a way to make it work. I’m going to report back at the end of the week, and I don’t want to have to admit I was unsuccessful. If you have a person in your life that you really don’t want to disappoint, tell them about your deadline (even if they don’t care). Then go back later with the news that you’ve actually done it (even if they still don’t care). It makes you feel good.

Write it down in multiple places

Normally I use my planner to keep track of everything I need to get done in a single day. Because of a few deadlines I need to meet by the end of the week (deadlines no one else is forcing me to meet – but I need a vacation, gosh darn it), I have three different lists going right now. They all have the same things on them, just structured differently. There’s just something about being able to cross things off in multiple places at once that makes it a thousand times more satisfying.

The more you keep track of your deadlines, the more likely you are to actually stick to them. It gets to the point where you start seeing that deadline everywhere you look – and you have two options: ignore it or finish it so it will leave you alone. You already know which of the two options is going to make you feel better about yourself.

Set up a definite reward – or consequence

That being said, if there’s no incentive for getting something done, it’s less likely to actually get done. I now that if I keep pushing myself as hard as I can, and finish all my work by Friday, I don’t have to do even a minute of work again until January. However, I also know that if I slack off at all, and don’t get everything done, I’m going to have fewer days of vacation time next week – or, if I just stop working now, none at all.

I’m terrified of not getting this time off. I want it. I need it. So I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure it happens, even if it’s a little miserable for a few more days. You need some kind of definite reward – something you kNOW is or is not going to happen depending on whether you meet your deadline or not. It’s best if you’re not in control of it. For example, you can tell your friend that the two of you can go out Friday night if you get all your work done. If not, she’ll still go without you, and you’ll miss out on all the fun. Incentives. Consequences. The more you train yourself not to give yourself what you want even if you haven’t earned it, the more effective they will become.

Test your limits

So far this week, I’ve done more work in two days than pretty much any day this year. Granted, we’re really not supposed to be working 13-hour days multiple days in a row, but I’ve now proven to myself that, if I ever need to, I can do it. I can put aside things that are less important and focus multiple hours on one project until it’s done. It’s not fun. I would much rather be doing something else. But I’m testing my limits, and I’m surprised at how much more productive I can be when I don’t let myself give up too soon.

Every once in awhile, you need to push yourself to see how far you really can go. Recommended only every once in awhile, but still. Use this as another incentive for seeing how well you can meet deadlines while maintaining quality of work. You’ll be surprised at what you can do when you force yourself to focus and block out the distractions circling around your head. I haven’t touched Netflix in three days. That’s an accomplishment, trust me.

Deadlines are an important part of any job, but careers like writing and editing are especially dependent on meeting deadlines, quick turnarounds and completing spontaneous projects. The more time you spend teaching yourself to make deadlines an absolute priority, the more marketable you become. Employers and clients notice when you’re always on time. They don’t just appreciate it: sometimes they’ll trust you with more responsibilities. YAAAAS.

Are you always going to be perfect? Of course not. Things happen. But it’s never too early nor too late to teach yourself how to rock any and all deadlines. The earlier you can get it done, the better. The more good work you can do in less time, the more productive you’re going to be overall.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Are You Deadline Dependent?

Time is running out. Probably.


Deadlines. You either love them or you hate them. And by that, I mean everyone hates them, even though, for many, they are a lifeline.

Some writers cannot function without deadlines. They need a set endpoint to work toward in a timely manner (or not), if they ever plan on getting any writing done. Some writers absolutely crumble in the face of deadlines. It’s too much pressure. They need to work on their own time, at their own pace, or, once again, nothing will ever get done.

There is nothing ‘wrong’ with either of these two things, unless of course you are trying to write professionally but can’t make deadlines to save your life. In that case, you need to find some kind of balance between writing consistently without feeling too pressured to rush through your writing simply for the sake of getting it done.

For those who really want to be better at meeting deadlines, know that setting your own deadlines and trying to hold yourself accountable does not always work. The best recommendation I have is to, in one way or another, start writing on behalf of someone who will hold you to a deadline. I’ve had writers in the past who have told me that if it wasn’t for my strict deadlines, they would have never learned how to manage their time to avoid being late. Of course, that might mean you miss a deadline and get penalized. It happens. It’s happened to me. Failure is one of the best ways to learn to NOT do something (and/or how to do something else better).

It’s OK to be dependent on deadlines. After awhile, you really do get used to quicker turnarounds. And if you are a procrastinator, you learn how far you can push yourself, and how to utilize pressure to drive your creativity, and energy, forward, especially when it’s crunch time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have 10,000 words to write before midnight. BRB.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.