Dealing with Deadlines

hourglassYou finally have your dream… a book deal. And you’d love nothing better than to say that everything is hunky-dory and wonderful and that you’re enjoying your publishing experience to the fullest.

BUT, you’re starting to realize that with the contract comes new pressures. You now have a deadline.

And when you have a tough deadline, everything seems to conspire to keep you from meeting it. Your attention wavers, your computer crashes, Facebook calls, the house needs cleaning.

So what happens when a deadline is looming and you honestly don’t know if you’re going to make it?

Well first, you should let your agent know, so he or she can determine whether to try and wrangle some extra time out of the publisher. Second, you’ll need to create a writing schedule and stick to it. But beyond those basics, there might be one more thing you need to do:

Admit you can’t do this on your own. 

Now’s the time to consider calling in the reinforcements. Get your family to help more with cooking and grocery shopping. See if it’s feasible to have a housecleaning service come in a few times. Look in to some local dinner-preparation services. Check if your grocery store has online shopping-and-delivery.

Set up a writing schedule for each week (it can be different each week, just as long as you make one) where you have protected writing times, and post the schedule so your family knows you can’t be interrupted. Sit your family down and let them know: “The next two months may be tough on you but I really need you to step up to the plate!” It might be hard on them but that’s okay; this is a learning curve for them too. They need to learn that when you’re on deadline, they may be on their own. Behind every successful writer is a supportive team who mobilizes to pick up the slack when needed.

If you have little kids who can’t be on their own, consider a local teenager who might come in several hours a week to help; and work out a child-care schedule with your spouse. After all, your spouse probably gets to go to work without having to bring the kids along, right? You should too.

It usually takes intentional preparation to make this work. Don’t be shy about getting your family and even friends involved. They can easily accept it when they know it’s for a limited time!

Share your ideas and practical tips for getting through those last few weeks before deadline. What advice do you have for dealing with the mental & emotional strain?

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. Janet on January 11, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    For me, there’s nothing more motivational than having a real deadline. In the absence of that, I set artificial deadlines for myself. These don’t work as well because…well…because I know I’m the only one to whom I’m accountable for reaching them.

    My favorite way of facing a deadling is to put on a pot of coffee, sit down at my desktop computer first thing in the morning, put on my favorite “thinking” cap, put my head down and go. Push forward, always forward. If I hit a snag, I type a row of x’s and highlight them in yellow as a reminder to come back and fill in the blank. Then I move on to the next section.

    If the snag turns out to be a roadblock that prevents moving forward, then I set a 30 minute timer and take that time to resolve the issue – whether it be research that needs to be done or whatever. When the timer rings, I stop what I’m doing and write again.

    Sounds rather fragmented, I know, but that’s how my brain works. ; )

  4. […] Rachelle Gardner on Dealing With Deadlines. […]

  5. Bret Draven on January 10, 2012 at 11:02 PM

    Energy drinks, pacing, hit the booze… repeat process!

  6. Bob Mayer on January 10, 2012 at 10:59 PM

    When grading patrols in Ranger School it was always so much easier to evaluate the patrol when it would have been to lead the patrol.

  7. Casey on January 10, 2012 at 10:53 PM

    I actually really liked deadlines. I’ve never had a professional one, mind you, but I give myself deadlines and love to meet and BEAT them. It’s been really good motivation to keep working and stay working hard until the goal is met.

  8. Susan Spann on January 10, 2012 at 6:41 PM

    I’ve discovered that my family “understands” deadlines more if I mark off not only writing time but family time, and stick to both with equal firmness. My husband and teenage son are far more respectful of my need to finish a project if they know when I WILL be available for them, even if that time is reduced due to deadlines.

    One trick I learned early on with my son is “out to dinner” time. He loves going out alone with me (there’s a local taco place he loves that’s both fast and inexpensive), and even though it takes an extra 30 minutes to take him out for a quick dinner than it would to make something at home, I can write all evening without interruption if I take the extra time to give him undivided attention early on. One “taco night” a week earns me easily several extra hours of writing in between.

  9. Krista Phillips on January 10, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    Deadlines, ishk! On my first ever deadline, my husband was pretty good about watching kiddos so I could leave and write… and I enlisted babysitters at least once. But it’s hard with a baby that only a handful of people can watch, and my deadline was mid-December so most people were pretty busy and didn’t have time to be enlisted. But… I ignored laundry, made frozen waffles and frozen pizza more time that I care to admit to, and persevered as best I could.

  10. Patrick Craig on January 10, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    Most of the authors I know hold down a job and write evenings and weekends, as do I. I currently have a three book contract to complete. To avoid deadline crunch, I have to set up a writing schedule way out front. For my current book, it was two chapters a week no matter what with a specific date deadline. Sometimes I would fall asleep at the computer after working all day, but I stuck to it and finished two days before my own deadline (not the publisher’s. So to avoid the heartache of deadline crunch set a schedule early on and stick to it.

  11. Donna K. Weaver on January 10, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    I’ve heard from a lot of authors about this. It’s definitely something I hadn’t considered when I first started. Great suggestions here.

  12. Lyndie Blevins on January 10, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    Wait! there is something called ‘weeks’ before a deadline?

  13. Reba on January 10, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    I am self-published so I set the deadlines, but don’t think for one moment that that makes it ‘all’ wonderful. WRONG. It has yet to fail, I set the date I want this book to be ready to go to my publisher, another date I want it to be in my readers hands, then it all happens. Computer crashes, editor can’t get to it or get it finished as quickly as I planned, publisher makes their deadline date of getting it back to me but, it has mistakes, and not all of them mine so, I have to do another go through. Marketing gets held up. It has been my experience that since I don’t have a deadline to answer to but my own, my writing doesn’t suffer like other authors might. There are a few authors I always try to get their latest book, and there have been times I could tell they were under pressure when writing because it wasn’t as good as their previous work. Creativity cannot be forced. So, my advice is to give yourself plenty of time to allow those creative juices to flow, and not force them.
    I have 4 kids, who are older, but still they and their father have had to pitch in. I’m thankful they have.

  14. Donna Pyle on January 10, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    This post hits me where I’m living RIGHT NOW. With a Feb. 1st deadline breathing down my neck and a major re-write nudged by God, your wise words are just what I needed to hear. Thanks so much!

  15. Jillian Kent on January 10, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    This is such a timely post for me, Rachelle. I agree with Kristin and Amy who mentioned writing with pen and paper and getting away from the computer. I’ve just recently used this method in the past couple of months and it has helped tremendously. Then when I type it all in I expand on what I’ve written and so far so good. But I’m still new at deadlines and they do scare me. I admit it. I work full-time outside the home, etc. I need to produce a certain number of words a day and it doesn’t look that hard to accomplish when I get up in the morning but the day sure can slip away. So I’m going to send this post to my family and friends and ask for help. I’m even considering taking a week off work and locking myself in a hotel room, but don’t know if I can get away with that one. 🙂

    • Timothy Fish on January 10, 2012 at 12:16 PM

      I wrote much of one of my books, I believe it was For the Love of a Devil, flying between Fort Worth and Atlanta. It works great for getting rid of distractions, but it could be costly if that’s the only reason you’re doing it.

      • Jillian Kent on January 10, 2012 at 1:52 PM

        Thanks Timothy. Yep. That’s a little pricey for me, but it is one way of getting rid of distractions. Minimizing distractions from others and then those we create ourselves our worth thinking about in order to strategize ways to avoid them.

  16. Marielena on January 10, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    Ah, dear Timothy. Lifelines. Methinks the higher message escaped you.

    • Timothy Fish on January 10, 2012 at 12:11 PM

      Yes, I would say that is true.

  17. Marcy Kennedy on January 10, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    I don’t have a book deadline yet, but I do have magazine article and editing project deadlines. I keep “emergency meals” on hand. They’re things like an extra batch of lasagna that I made when I had more time and tucked into the freezer. Even my husband who can’t cook at all can help by taking them from the freezer and popping them in the oven. It’s less expensive and healthier than grabbing take-out.

  18. Holly Russell on January 10, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    I have four daughters, all at home with two of them being toddler/preschool age. I am making progress on my book at a realistic rate considering my children. It seems that a discipled schedule of waking up a couple of hours before everyone else to write is the way to go for me. Oh, and the occasional get away from it all and write hotel room.

    • Joanne Bischof on January 11, 2012 at 12:49 AM

      I can totally relate, Holly! I have two home schooled toddlers and a newborn. It’s almost impossible to get any writing done during the day. 4am has become my friend :/ But its worth it. I know that someday they will be grown and I would give up countless writing hours just to spend time with them:)

  19. David Todd on January 10, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    As an engineer working on public infrastructure and private development projects for almost 38 years, deadlines have always been the norm. Every project has a deadline, and you meet it, even if you have to pull a week of 16 hour days with a couple of all-nighters thrown in.

    Writing magazine articles help with the discipline of deadlines. I have a twice per month regular column in an e-zine, always with a deadline. Normally I meet or beat the deadline. I had one due yesterday. I wrote the article on Saturday, but rather than send it I decided to hold it overnight and proof-read, tweak, and send on Sunday. Unfortunately, last night around midnight I realized I had forgotten to do that. So I sent it off this morning, a day late. Stupid stupid.

  20. Stephen H. King on January 10, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    I, too, enjoy chuckling at the Douglas Adams quote regarding deadlines. My all-time favorite quote, though, is by Henry Ford: “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” My relationship with my publisher is a fairly new thing, and as we continue making my work available to the public I’m doing all I can to make sure that he gets it well into his mind that when I say I’ll have him something by a certain date, he can count on it happening. Sometimes it takes entire weekends sitting and working, and often I have to work with the family to ask for additional quiet hours or for them to go do fun stuff without me, but I think everybody understands the need to make the sacrifices now.

    I actually like deadlines. They give me focus, something to coalesce my energy around. I’m currently straddling three different WIPs, but the publisher just gave me a deadline of mid-March for something, and that helps me focus on what needs to be done.

    • Marji Laine on January 10, 2012 at 1:39 PM

      I’m with you on deadlines. They give me a concrete goal that allows for scheduling. The organizer in me will set deadlines even when they don’t exist and when they do, I shorten them by a few days just to give me wiggle time.

  21. Wendy on January 10, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    Laughing at the above (Bell’s quote). I admit, it’s difficult for me to ask for help sometimes. This was a good reminder to get creative about crunch time. I like the teenage babysitter idea. Hmm…conveniently one lives right across the street.
    ~ Wendy

  22. James Scott Bell on January 10, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” -Douglas Adams

  23. Timothy Fish on January 10, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    Even self-publisher end up with deadlines. Sometimes they are self-imposed. Other times they exist out of a need to get the book in the hands of customers by a certain date. I had such a deadline with Extending Art of Illusion. I find that I work better with a deadline.

    I believe authors have a responsibility to meet their commitments. If they promise to have something done by a certain date, it should be done by then. If someone give you a deadline, set your own deadline before that and check your progress with milestones.

  24. Sue Harrison on January 10, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    My office is a balcony area open to the whole house. I recently had to deal with a deadline during an editing assignment, and I found my best ploy to avoid family interruptions was to take over the guest bedroom and shut the door. Our children are grown but we’ve taken on a whole “new batch” in the care of our three surviving parents. You can’t always explain to elders why they shouldn’t interrupt you because they don’t understand or else are very set in their ways. That closed door worked wonders!

  25. Marielena on January 10, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    Ah. Deadlines. One of my favorite topics.

    As a 35-year plus journalist and freelance writer, I’ve dealt with them all my life — and honestly, hated them. But there they are. Unavoidable.

    What do I do? Hate to say this, but there are no easy fixes or answers. It’s mental discipline. Just do it. Friends and family know I’m off limits for certain hours. Sometimes housework and other things go by the wayside until the assignment is finished. Pizza becomes a staple. I pray a lot. And even after all these years, I always angst over them, professional/perfectionist that I am.

    I imagine if God ever graced me with a book deal, the same process would kick in.

    Finally, on a more philosophical note, I always hated the word. A friend once suggested I called them “lifelines” as aren’t they really providing life to me and others? Ok. Enough.

    • Timothy Fish on January 10, 2012 at 8:47 AM

      In some ways the term is a misnomer because many deadlines are somewhat flexible, whereas the original deadline was a line in a Civil War prison camp that if the prisoners crossed or even touched it, the guards would shoot them. For flexible deadlines, a better term might be target date, but to call them lifelines doesn’t fit at all.

  26. P. J. Casselman on January 10, 2012 at 6:18 AM

    I would recommend praying for guidance, strength, and an unclouded mind. Break up the work into manageable daily goals and get to work!

    Avoid self abuse. If you do not rest and eat healthy, then you will get less than stellar results. Get out, take a walk while you mull over your ideas. This will help you unwind and return to your creative self. However, these momentary distractions could dwindle your time if you don’t give them a set time limit.

    Also, remember that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. (Galatians 2:20)

  27. Neil Ansell on January 10, 2012 at 4:29 AM

    When offerered a contract on the strength of a synopsis I was asked to give an estimated delivery date, which was put in the contract and a publication date set accordingly. I reckoned it would take a year to write the book, so I asked for 18 months to allow for emergencies such as personal or family sickness. In the end I delivered early. I suggest to anyone to add 50% onto their estimates as a safety cushion.

    • Timothy Fish on January 10, 2012 at 8:21 AM

      I’ve found that if I take my estimate on how quickly I can do something if everything goes well and then I double that figure, my estimate is more accurate.

  28. M on January 10, 2012 at 4:18 AM

    I find what helps me the most is simply unplugging from the world. Not just putting a sign on the door, but unplugging from the internet, only opening Word, and focusing on a specific word count. The urge to move the mouse toward my browser is always there, but this way I at least have a chance at stopping myself and refocusing.

  29. Lou Belcher on January 10, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    Good advice. It’s always best to let others know when you’re not going to meet a deadline…. Sometimes deadlines work to spur people on. Sometimes the deadlines give people who love to do things at the last minute the definition of the last minute.


  30. Neurotic Workaholic on January 10, 2012 at 2:53 AM

    This is all great advice. I have told people in my life that I’m not always available to talk and socialize with them just because I do a lot of work at home. But a lot of them think that my schedule is more flexible, so they think I should just be able to drop everything whenever they want to hang out. But one thing that I need to learn to do is to put my foot down and say no, because otherwise I’ll never get any work done.

  31. Brooke Espinoza on January 10, 2012 at 2:26 AM

    When I went to the Writing For The Soul Conference a few years back, I learned a things about deadlines that I keep at the forefront of my mind when a deadline is before me.

    First, Dennis E. Hensley said, “Deadline means: cross this line and you’re DEAD!” He says he doesn’t accept late papers from his students at Taylor University. As a result his students have been trained to hit their deadlines every time, and editors love getting submissions from his students because they know they can count on his students to meet their deadlines.

    This lead to the second thing I learned about deadlines. At orientation, Jerry. B. Jenkins told us “If you meet your deadlines, you will automatically be ahead of 99% of writers.” Talk about a great way to impress an editor and stand out from the rest. I imagine a writer who produces quality work on or before deadline is a breath of fresh air–and will be one of the first people an editor thinks of when issuing assignments. That’s motivation enough for me to deliver on my deadlines! 🙂

    • Amanda Dykes on January 10, 2012 at 3:16 AM

      Excellent outlook thanks for sharing both of these bits of wisdom!

      • Amanda Dykes on January 10, 2012 at 3:18 AM

        *facepalm* Either the computer ate my semicolon, or I need to get some rest. Punctuation fail.

      • Brooke Espinoza on January 10, 2012 at 3:25 AM

        You’re welcome. Happy to pass these along. Thanks for your kind words. 🙂

    • Crystal Laine Miller on January 10, 2012 at 11:55 PM

      LOL, Brooke, Doc Hensley drummed that into my head 15 years ago, too! After you go through some of his classes, everyone else doesn’t seem as scary. He also talks about managing your time with charts and stuff.

      I love deadlines, but I have a tendency to think I can do more than is physically possible these days.

      One thought I try to have, Rachelle–Keep a positive attitude. :)Sometimes I just need a good pep talk.

  32. Amy Armstrong on January 10, 2012 at 2:26 AM

    Not to sound small, but, sigh, I only wish I had this problem to cope with regarding writing. It stinks not having someone eagerly waiting for a project to be done. I’m currently dealing with the “if nobody else cares, why should I?” phase.

    • Marilyn Groves on January 10, 2012 at 5:10 AM

      Just a word of encouragement to Amy in the ‘if no one else cares, why should I, phase’. Keep caring – as an unpublishes writer just in the process of sending off submissions seekind representation it’s easy to feel despondent. But I love writing and I bet you do to. Keep meeting your own deadlines and keep reminding yourself that the more you write the better you become ergo; someone will be putting demands on your deadlines one of these days. 🙂

      • Marilyn Groves on January 10, 2012 at 5:11 AM

        That was my first post – and I need to remember to check for typos next time before submitting!

    • Kristin Laughtin on January 10, 2012 at 8:44 PM

      That’s a tough phase to undergo, but it’s also one of the best opportunities to practice. If you can teach yourself to write with self-imposed deadlines when you’re feeling apathetic, it’ll be much easier to do later when you’re stressed, tired, and on a deadline.

  33. Beth K. Vogt on January 10, 2012 at 2:20 AM

    It’s best to give family and friends a hearty heads-up: You won’t be seeing much of me for the next couple of months. I find even my non-writing friends are very understanding. One friend has volunteered to do double carpooling duty. I’m gonna’ owe her, big time! I also have to remember to not cut out needed things like sleep and exercise. If I do, I meet the deadline, but I’m a wreck physically and emotionally.

  34. Thomas Wilson on January 10, 2012 at 2:12 AM

    Awesome Post! I dream of problems like this, but my wisdom lets me relax and know I am in no rush as I am an Indie Author and it is all up to me, I push my self, set my own deadlines and my few fans push and hound me for the next book!!

    Awesome and useful info, great post!

  35. Kristin Weber on January 10, 2012 at 1:37 AM

    When I find myself staring at the computer, out of words and under deadline, I revert to good old fashioned pen and paper. Something about smooth gel pens, college-ruled paper, and the freedom to scribble things out and doodle in the margins gets the juices flowing.

    • Amy Armstrong on January 10, 2012 at 2:24 AM

      I love my technology, but there’s something less intimidating about writing the old fashioned way. Of course, it’s less fun if I get on a hot streak and have to transcribe it later. Better than being stuck though.

  36. Olivia Newport on January 10, 2012 at 1:09 AM

    I have used grocery delivery services in the past–well worth the $10 fee to be able to shop from a recliner. For decades, I have done major shopping on an every-two-weeks rhythm. I just skipped a whole two week cycle because I was slammed with deadlines–and guess what? We still ate. Not everything is as urgent as we sometimes let it be.

    • Timothy Fish on January 10, 2012 at 8:54 AM

      Besides the images of welfare recipients I now have stuck in my head, I don’t see myself doing that because running out to the store is one more opportunity to get out of the house. It gives me a chance to interact with people I don’t know.

      • Brock Heasley on January 10, 2012 at 5:21 PM

        For me, it’s the yard that suffers. I’ve got leaves that have needed raking since November, but then I remember they’re in the backyard. No one can see them and, this week anyway, my agent and I are putting the finishing touches on my book proposal. Gotta get that sucker done!

        Luckily, I have an understanding wife who is taking care of the kids by herself in the evenings this week. She wants this for me as much as I do and that makes all the difference in the world.