The Joy of Deadlines


I’m slowly beginning to realise that I’m driven by deadlines.

Douglas Adams, author of the wonderful Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” And, whilst I love Adams’s humorous approach, it’s the fear of hearing that sound that probably drives me to work harder so I don’t miss deadlines.

I’ve always had a ‘get-them-before-they-get-you’ approach to deadlines and I marvel at those who wait until the deadline is almost upon them before they begin to work. At college I studied alongside a friend who always waited until the day an assignment was due before starting to write anything. He prided himself on having submitted one essay with less than five minutes to go before the deadline struck.

Watching him make that submission was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life. He had no idea what to say at the start. He was rushing round the library trying to find appropriate references from volumes that were being used by other students. Every word he scratched onto that paper was a triumph of resourcefulness and quick-wittedness over the commonsense of being prepared. He had the final panic at the end of the day as he tried to send his work to a printer that wasn’t swamped beneath a queue of waiting peers. It was an act that involved more tension than the climax of any Mission Impossible film.

Even though I’d only been watching him, I needed alcohol to help me calm down after that experience.

In The Procrastinator’s Success Kit, Alice Cornyn-Selby advises, “A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large.” And, whilst I like reading about this approach – the truth is it would seem like too much drama for someone as orderly and panic-intolerant as myself.

Some people suggest setting personal deadlines, or pretending that an external deadline is due one week earlier – just so that they have an extra week in which to deal with that particular event. Personally, I’m not sure I have the skills to deceive anyone with false deadline dates – particularly not myself.

I suppose part of my current preoccupation with this topic is because I’ve spoken with a couple of editors recently who were quietly fuming about the nuisance of being disappointed by trusted writers who had let them down by missing deadlines.

From an outsiders perspective it looks like a small complaint. “Wow! Someone said they’d write a story for the 1st of the month and it’s already the 3rd of the month! This really is one of those 2012 signs that the world is about to end, isn’t it?

But, whilst it might be easy to poke fun, from the point of view of an editor trying to compile a collection of quality works, the frustration of having trusted writers miss deadlines must be an absolute nightmare.

Earlier this week, with a deadline looming closer than I normally allow, I had to burn the midnight oil to meet one particular target. I didn’t just have to burn the midnight oil. I also had to wake at five the following morning and then spend four hours completing and tidying the work I’d been doing the previous evening.

It was a struggle. And it was one of the closest deadline targets I’ve achieved since I began writing. But because I came so close to missing the target I’m adamant that I won’t be leaving any future deadlines to the eleventh hour.

Ashley Lister
March 2012

“The Write Stuff” © 2012 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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