Planning How To Use Your Time For A Writing Project
Deadlines — everybody hates them. But you have no choice. You either live with them or lose out on actual paying gigs in the real world. Unless your writing is confined to diary entries, personal blogs and random newsletters published by your friends, you’re going to have to learn to embrace deadlines.
In a perfect world, you will jump right in and get to work as soon as you get an assignment. All your actions from that point on will be productive and you don’t allow distractions to take your attention away from the job at hand. As a result, you finish a strong draft way ahead of deadline, giving you plenty of time to edit and revise.
But the world isn’t perfect. Where we live, most people who get a two-month deadline will probably not even do anything related to the work in the first week. Sometimes, the second, third and fourth weeks, too. And that’s why it’s important to create a work plan as soon as you get the assignment. Doing so gives you a structure that clearly outlines everything you need to do in the time you have leading up to the deadline.
Making Your Plan
Each person’s work habits vary. Some people can perform research work for 12 hours a day; others can’t stand it for more than 2 hours at a time. Some people can spend 8 hours calling up sources and conducting impromptu phone interviews; others are more comfortable emailing people and setting up scheduled appointments. Some people can put down a 3,000-word draft in one sitting; others do better writing the same thing in 500-word chunks. Basically, your plan should fit in with how you prefer to work, taking account of your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t plan for something you’ve never done before (e.g. proofreading a 10,000-word document in one sitting if you haven’t done it even once) — that almost always leads to a poorly-calibrated time budget.
It’s not just your skills and abilities that tie in to your planning: you also need to account for everything else that’s going on in your life. Will you need to look after your kids during this timeframe? Will you need to file papers, apply for loans, deal with editors or do any of a thousand other things that people do in their day-to-day lives? Those things, more than the actual work, can end up being the ones that actually drag your schedule behind, so do your best to plan around them. Schedule the bulk of your work during weeks that you’ll be relatively free and pencil in a minimal amount of activities during times when you’ll have life literally getting in the way.
When putting your plan together, always do the following:
• Define a clear start and end date for the entire duration of the writing job.
• Set start and end dates for each step in your research paper.
• Make an effort to stick to your schedule. If you miss a day, then always make an effort to catch up to the original schedule within the next three days — the more you change your plans (as usually happens when you miss a day), the greater the chances you’ll mess it up.
Long deadlines will make you feel like you have all the time in the world. At the onset, you’ll probably be feeling really good about that. But douse yourself with a glass of water and wake up to the real facts: you don’t really have all the time in the world.
Truth is, ten weeks isn’t nearly the infinite amount of time that it might feel at first. Those weeks will go by in a flash. If you don’t use them wisely, you can end up without a finished product by the time of the deadline expires.
When you have a job with a deadline that’s still 10 or more weeks away, don’t slack. Instead, create a plan that will allow you to finish your first draft as early as possible. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to review, revise and verify your piece before turning it over to clients or editors.
While it’s tempting, try to avoid taking in too many other projects during the same timeframe as the project with a long deadline. Mixing up multiple work plans can get confusing really fast. At some point, one or more projects will suffer. Instead, why not just start work on the project early, finish it early and get a new project afterwards?
Short But Manageable Deadlines
When it comes to deadline, “short” is a relative term. Depending on what kind of work a writing project requires, an entire month can be short. Either way, short deadlines are usually still manageable, provided you’re willing to give up a few of your non-work activities along the way.
Again, it’s important to come up realistic plan, since you’ll need to prepare your schedule to maximize your opportunities to get work done. Basically, you’ll want nothing but work plus important things on your plate — everything else can wait.
Unfortunately, unrealistic deadlines are more common for writers than you think, especially when you work for publications that ply their trade in breaking news and current events. Business writers and technical writers aren’t spared — the boss can require a 20-page business report because he suddenly realized he wants one for tomorrow’s stockholder meeting at a whim.
Taking on a project with an immediate deadline automatically means you’re willing to drop everything for that writing project. Unless you are, don’t accept it (and, yes, suffer whatever the consequences). If you do take on such a job, you need to accept that it will be your sole focus for the time being. Everything else has to wait.
For many writers, unrealistic deadlines usually mean throwing plans out the window. While I can understand the sentiment, I believe it’s misguided. In fact, spending 15 minutes drawing up a detailed hourly (or 30-minute-block) plan might be the way to go. At the least, it can help calm you. At best, it will give the way you work some semblance of structure and order.