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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question looks at how to write with a short deadline. If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
How do you write with a short deadline? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach, still in pandemic mode.
I have a question from Ahlam Soliman, a research assistant at Michigan State University. Here’s what she’s asked by email….
“What’s your advice for writing on short deadlines? I just had to write something for which I had only 24 hours. I could finish and polish it, yet I could not do anything else.”
Thanks for your question, Ahlam. I may be the perfect person to answer it because I spent much of my life working to exceedingly short deadlines. I used to be a senior editor at a large metropolitan daily newspaper. Just about everything I wrote or edited had a 24-hour deadline and I came to love that constraint because it calmed my anxiety.
I didn’t have to worry as much about the calibre of my work. Instead, I simply had to focus on doing it ON TIME.
This may shock you, if you believe that writers always need to be highly concerned about the quality of what they write. No! They should not! In fact, obsessing over quality is precisely what de-rails so many of them.
Here’s why: You let your internal editor take over — you know that tiny but persistent voice inside your head that says things like:
- Is this writing of mine good enough?
- Is my boss going to be pleased with this work?
- What gives me the right to make comments like this? —
and before you know it, you’ll be unable to write another word.
If you have a super-short deadline, rejoice! This means your primary focus will be on meeting it. This is a whole lot easier than dealing with quality concerns.
Here are a few other tips for dealing with short deadlines:
- Be sure to separate the different parts of the writing process. If your deadline is short, you may be inclined to moosh all the different steps together. In other words, you may try to research AND write at the same time or to write AND edit at the same time. But if your deadline is super short, it’s even MORE important to do these steps separately. Why? You’ll be faster that way and the process will be much more pleasant. I’m including a link in the show notes about how to break the habit of editing WHILE writing.
- Don’t forget the really important step of incubation. (See link in the show notes.) This step means — after writing — you need to take a break before editing. I know, I know. With a 24-hour deadline, that break is going to be super short. But try to make it at least 30 minutes and, most of all, do something radically different during that time. Here’s a list of things you can do:
- Write something else
- Read something else
- Take a lunch or coffee break
- Do some administrivia such as filing or email
- Talk to someone else
This time away will give you the perspective you need to be a better self-editor.
- Get some help from your colleagues. It’s hard to be a really effective self-editor when your deadline is just 24 hours away. Newspapers have editors who review the work of all their reporters so that kind of professional review is built into their system. In your case, you might ask a trusted colleague to give your document a quick read to ensure it’s clear enough.
Understand that you are NOT wasting time when you take all of these steps. Instead, you are freeing your mind to become a better self-editor.
Ahlam, don’t blame yourself for not being able to do other work when you’re facing a super short deadline. You didn’t tell me the length of the document you had to produce but if it was long — or important, for example, a grant application — I’m sure your boss wanted you to make that project your priority.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from the Lailah Gifty Akita, founder of the Smart Youth Volunteers Foundation. “Without deadlines, nothing gets done.”
Ahlam, if you need to write with a short deadline, understand that your most important job is to meet the deadline. Just be certain to separate all aspects of the writing process — the planning, the researching, the writing and the editing. And make sure you allow yourself a healthy incubation period.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.
7 ways to stop editing while you write
Become a better writer by incubating