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Going To Miss A Writing Deadline? – Tell the Truth Early

writing deadlineNot long ago I was reminded of when I edited a magazine. One of my writers  promised me an article by a certain date which happened to be a Wednesday.

It wasn’t a big feature article, but it was important to my plans for the magazine that month. It was one of those I could have written, but over the phone this normally reliable writer assured me he’d get it done by the deadline.

It didn’t show up. When Wednesday afternoon I called and asked where it was he was apologetic and said, defensively I thought, he  do it right then. I should have paid more attention to his tone of voice. If I had I might have recognized he was having trouble with it. Instead I took him at his word… and didn’t get the article late Wednesday, or even Thursday. In fact, it didn’t come in until mid-day Friday.

I had to scramble and ended up furious. And I never trusted that writer’s promises again. As I recall he never earned another nickle from the magazine as long as I was editor, which was a shame. He’s a pretty decent writer.

What would have worked

I understand it’s not always possible to meet a deadline. Life intervenes. Sources become available – any number of things can happen. But failing to give me advance notice was, in my opinion, inexcusable.

What would have worked for me is if the writer, just as soon as he realized he might be late, had contacted me and let me know.

I could have planned around the new date. I might have been able to help if he’d been having trouble with the piece. I might have even suggested he take his time and plan on using it the next month.

Even if he had let me know on Tuesday afternoon, or even early on Wednesday, the due date, I would have been able to write it myself or use something else, Since this writer had been reliable in the past and I hadn’t heard from him, I kept expecting the article. It ended badly for both of us.

Care and feeding of editors

Editors set deadlines for reasons. If it’s magazine writing you’re doing, they give you a deadline because they’re planning on using your piece in a specific issue – that’s what the deadline is aimed at. The same holds true for ad writing, book writing and blog writing. Deadlines have a purpose.

If you want to make your editor happy you meet the deadline, or maybe even send the piece in a day or two early.

But if it happens you find out you’re not going to make the deadline, pick up the phone and call! A quick conversation letting the editor know you’re having trouble or are going to be late will go a long way toward keeping your relationship with that editor sweet.

Tell the truth about deadlines – you and your editor will be glad you did.

Your take – what’s been your experience with deadlines? Do you make them pretty easily? How do you let an editor know you’ll be late? What’s happened when you’ve given them a heads up?


AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Josh Kopel

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Anne,

    Nothing is more important than meeting deadlines or at least warning the editor or client when a deadline will not be met.

    It’s interesting that advice to freelance writers so frequently recommends a “unique” USP when a commitment to meeting deadlines, though less frequently stressed, is far more relevant to clients.


    • That’s why in lots of my ‘sales’ stuff I add the phrase ‘on time and on budget’ or some such variant.

  • This is good advice for any writing assignment, Anne. I don’t deal with editors directly as I ghostwrite, but I always get the deadline from my client. Then I push my deadline up to get my article to my client early so he or she can review it before getting it to the magazine.

    In the corporate world, missing deadlines could mean missing a critical event, so letting a client know about problems with a deadline is essential. Not to mention, basic good form.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Business Writing: Keep It Simple-Even When It’s NotMy Profile

    • Yes, and it works in many other areas of life too, some more critical than others.

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