How to Better Handle Writing Deadlines

The writing process is a creative process, for the most part, and when it comes to having too much freedom to work with, sometimes time is not of the essence. Do this often enough and you might just develop a habit of writing as and when your muse visits you. This, however, isn’t how it works when it comes to meeting a client’s deadline.

We all love to work with professionals and if you want to be a pro writer, you too need to exhibit the professionalism required of you. Missing deadlines is the best and easiest way to convince them that you might not be taking things as seriously as they’d like you to.

Also note that your deadline is probably just one of a string of deadlines our client has to make sure is on time. If your writing causes a delay, the domino effect will ensure that everyone else’s deadlines will be sorely affected as well. Don’t be the bad guy; be the professional writer with these few simple steps.

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1. Get and stay organized

Perhaps the biggest secret to achieving deadlines is being organized. Being organized helps projects flow smoothly and progress quickly. The organized writer is ready to start quickly and dive into the work without stopping to find something important to work.

Part of being organized is knowing where everything is e.g., the calendar, the files, the memos and reminders, the equipment, etc.

organized schedule

The other part is to have a process or system set up to answer your most immediate requests, e.g., when I write, I have a dictionary and a thesaurus ready and open in tabs.

Everything you need (even a quick, energizing snack or drink) should be within arm’s reach to prevent you from becoming distracted on an unnecessary break (disclaimer: I still need to grab toilet breaks).

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2. Check your writing speed limits

Those who have ever been on a swim team in school know that the speed from which you leave the starting block is half the race. Just as the title, opening sentence, first paragraph, and first subtitle are the most important part of a post or article, your first efforts in a writing project will often dictate the pace of the rest of the project.

However, each writer works at their personal pace, and for some, content and speed mix like they are oil and water. If you are fine with sprinting, a good start is half a race won, but if you are like me, a marathon runner, not a sprinter, then you should know when to reject a project with a ridiculous deadline.

3. Eliminate distractions

Aside from answering nature’s call, all other forms of distractions can be detrimental to the writing process. Thus, before you begin your important project, eliminate all of the minor distractions that always crop up during a deadline race.


Image source: Vecteezy

Inform your family that you are only to be disturbed during dire emergencies that involve spurting blood or the dead rising (flesh-eating zombies count). Put your phone on silent, disable your notifications, hold all incoming mail, lock yourself away from the rest of the family – you get the idea.

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4. Develop a system that works for you

Every professional freelancer has a system or process that they adhere to because it works for them. This process is a little different for everyone. Speak to some content writers about their system, do some research, or go the old-fashioned way, through trial and error.

My system goes something like this, depending upon the type of project I take on:

  • Evaluate the project and make note of the clients particular needs
  • Highlight important points in an outline of the project
  • Research each point thoroughly and determine the order
  • Re-write title and subtitles
  • Pre-write filler for each subtitle using bullet lists and infographics where necessary
  • Edit the pre-write
  • Write the project injecting SEO/CRO
  • Edit the Write cutting at least 20%
workflow annotation

When you can find your own process, you will be able to time yourself properly and get a proper estimate of the kind of timeframe you can work in.

5. Courage under fire

Many a deadline has been needlessly missed because a less-than-professional writer would not go to the client when they realized the deadline is a sure loss. Honesty is definitely the best policy in this situation. If you realize that you are going to miss a deadline, go to the client, advertiser, or sponsor as soon as possible.

It is always better to tell the client before the deadline is missed than to be worried about losing the account. The client may have a plan B that could very well save the day and minimize the impact of the missed deadline, and as for you, well, you might still be able to salvage this relationship.

6. When all hell breaks loose

If you ever find yourself in the frying pan, and every available option is a flame hotter and bigger than the last, then you are reduced to three possible options:


Image source: Vecteezy

Give a more feasible date

So we have established that clients with ridiculous deadlines should be avoided like the plague, but sometimes turning down a client isn’t something you can do.

When faced with this situation, assess the project and present the client with a more realistic date; you might be surprised with the kind of extensions that can suddenly turn up in the schedule.

If, in the end, the client still doesn’t (or can’t) budge, politely decline the job offer, citing your reasons clearly, then send the client on their way.

Pace yourself!

Let’s say, the good news is you have a really cool client who won’t let anyone else but you handle the project (even after Step 5 above), but the bad news is that you are not getting an extension. Step 1, negotiate for higher pay. Step 2, try to not write for 15, 20 hours straight, no matter how young you think you are, at heart.

Set realistic goals for yourself. Write only so many words in one sitting or set the number of hours you are willing to endure in front of your computer at one time. If you hit your deadline, you did great. If not, you gave it your best.

And finally, reach out

There is no shame in reaching out for help if you see that you will not make an important deadline. Even if you need a fellow writer or an editor, you can save valuable time and split the pay based on the workload.

The point is that if you stand to lose credibility in the eyes of your client (more importantly, a new one who is testing you out), ask for help to maintain that perfect streak of delivered jobs.