We all have them.
Sometimes they look like: Submit a short story by midnight on July 31st and sometimes it means leave the house by 8:30 am to get to your dentist appointment by 9 am.
Deadlines have a way of helping us prioritize how we spend our time—why go grocery shopping in the morning during your prime writing time when you can go after you drop the kids off for soccer practice and be back to pick them up on time because the store is a block from practice?
If your deadline involves multiple steps like decorating the all-purpose room for a Valentine’s Day dance, you need to plot out what it takes to make each step successful: Are you going to order the decorations online? Then you need to allow for delivery time. Are you going to the store to buy them? Then you might want to purchase them at least by the day before you are to be at the church or school so that you have time to organize them and make sure you have everything you need before you start putting them up a few hours before the guests arrive.
With kids and writing, there are all kinds of deadlines: first drafts are due to beta readers by X date, finished manuscript to your editor by Y date, kids to school by 8 am—preferably with lunch in hand and dressed in clean clothes for the day. (In some households properly brushed hair is a bonus and in others it is mandatory. J )
So what do you do if life happens? The car won’t start and the dentist may or may not be delayed depending on whether you can get a jump or you have a backup vehicle.
If the baby pukes on her outfit or the 2 year-old dumps his bowl of cereal over the dog’s back, you may have some additional time management issues, depending on whether these occur at 7 am or 8:25am.
Some things are no brainers. If you are trying to get to a dentist appointment by 9 am THIS morning, you probably aren’t going to be working on the manuscript due NEXT WEEK to your editor at 8:30 am or even 7:30—you’ll be focused on getting the kids out the door on time. But if you decide to watch an 8 hour marathon of Dr. Who the day before your final manuscript is due to your editor, you may be causing yourself a lot of unnecessary anxiety.
So, deadlines and time-management skills should go hand-in-hand. A sense of humor is also a great tool to pack in your tackle box of life. We all know the saying: the best laid plans of mice and men oft times go awry.
Perspective also has bearing on deadlines: missing that dentist appointment may be considered more tragic if you have a toothache than if you are just scheduled for a checkup. Making a deadline for a submission call for a short story may not matter if the magazine will do it again next month. However, honoring a deadline for the opportunity to submit a story to an anthology alongside your favorite author may spur you to spend hours creating your best work.
DEALING With DEADLINES:
1) Acknowledge deadlines and what it takes to achieve them
2) Manage your time accordingly: set yourself up to succeed
3) Honor your deadlines to others AND yourself. Give yourself plenty of time to do your best work.
4) Because life happens inconveniently and unexpectantly at times: be flexible if need be. Some deadlines can be adjusted without much harm, but it is very important to treat other people’s time with respect. If your editor has blocked out next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for YOUR manuscript, don’t expect her to bump her next client on Thursday just because you didn’t turn yours in until Wednesday at 5 pm. (On a side note: If you go into labor 6 weeks early, chances are she’ll work with you. But barring things that are really out of your control—make every effort to honor your commitment to other people—your kids included. If you read them a story every night at bedtime, you might need to make it a short story if you are on deadline, but read the story.)
5) Have a sense of humor. Almost nothing we due will literally or figuratively scar us or anyone else for life. Having a good attitude makes life run more smoothly and enjoyably. Your toddler dumping his cereal on the dog may cost you 5 minutes in clean-up time, but the look on the dog’s face may give you a good laugh or a reminder to lighten up. Who knows, it might even give you a fun scene in a current or future Work In Progress. J