Freelance Writing Life

Dealing with tight deadlines

Last week I pinged an email to an Editor friend that I’d not touched base with for a while. The aim was to reconnect and maybe organise a coffee. Instead, I came out of the email exchange with two feature commissions and a very tight deadline.

The pressure was on. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced the buzz of needing to turn around a (nearly) 2,000 word feature in just a couple of days and after a six month hiatus to travel (and basically be on holiday) it felt great to flex my deadline and time management skills.

Why deadlines are important

Any content or copywriter worth their salt should be able to come up with the goods at the drop of a hat. A project brief can change at the last minute, or an urgent copy request could come in that means extra content is required. Having a timeline on when you can expect to hand over each piece of content is essential for time management, which is why deadlines – no matter how short – are needed.

How to meet deadline

Every copywriter has their own system to manage deadlines. However, if you’re the kind of person that struggles when things land in your lap at the last minute, here are my coping mechanisms for tight deadlines.

Clear your work space

Remove all possible distractions by clearing your work space. This could mean physically tidying up papers from other jobs that are strewn over your desk, or X-ing all the other million internet browser tabs you have open. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is the aim here, because there is only one job that you have time to focus on right now.

Plan your content

Staring at a blank page is terrifying. And is it just me, or is it at precisely these times when your brain fails you? Sure, you were being all creative an hour ago, but as soon as you spot the short deadline writer’s block rears its eff-ugly head. So now more than ever you have to plan your content (which I’m sure you do every time anyway, right?).

I deal with this by breaking down my content into rough, bullet pointed paragraphs. Once you’ve got a plan, then…

Get writing!

Splurge. Just let your thoughts and ideas go: fast, furious and in any order they feel like. Generally I pick the paragraph that looks/sounds slightly better planned – there’s always one – and I write that first. Even if it means beginning in the middle of the content/feature. Getting a clear foot off the ground will give you confidence that you’re going to nail this content and totally meet your deadline. You’ll also find it a lot easier to build the rest of the piece around this section and then tweak afterwards.

Don’t be afraid to go off on a tangent

Have a spark of an idea for another bit? Excellent! Follow it! Write and keep going. Don’t worry at this stage about editing or rewriting sentences to perfection. The important thing is to get all of your planned ideas onto the page so you have the structure of your feature.

Step away from the article

“But, Rose! I’m on a tight deadline!” I know, I ¬†know. And I understand the temptation to keep working on a piece until it’s perfect. But trust me on this one. A break away from what you’ve just spent several hours writing is necessary. It will give you perspective, because if you keep going and staring at the screen it will only make it harder to edit.

Try and give yourself maximum time away from the project. Let yourself have that head space. Go and do something completely different.

Get editing

Now you’ve had a decent screen break, take another look at what you’ve written. How’s it sounding? Hopefully spotting mistakes, or areas that need tightening up will be clear to you. Or the intro and conclusion will leap out at you (personally the bits I always like leaving to the end).

Read it out loud, proofread, and edit. Keep going until you think it’s perfect. Make a cuppa. Drink the cuppa. Give it one more read, because post-cuppa you’ll realise that it wasn’t quite as perfect as you thought. After that last read it should be basically there by now. Happy? Great, because the clock is ticking and it should be knocked into good enough shape that’s it’s done.

So send it to the client/editor and give yourself a pat on the back, because you just leapt through someone’s hoop and still managed to create a piece of content you’re proud of! And that is part and parcel of being a freakin’ awesome writer.

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