By Terreece M. Clarke
Writers miss deadlines. Gasp! Shock! Horror! Plenty of writers will swear it has never happened, while others will attest, though usually secretively, that they have missed or come close to missing a deadline.
It’s the “No, No” of “No, No’s” and you’ve just missed one or are close. So what do you do now?
There is usually a strong amount of panic when a writer discovers they’ve blown a deadline. Sweaty palms, jerky movements, loud swearing and personal, repetitive self-admonishments are par for the course, but it’s hard to make a rational move while kicking your own butt so calm down. Breathe in and out and get ready for the next step.
Assess the damage and notify
Are you almost finished with the piece or are far from starting it? Have you been contacted by the editor or client yet? If you wall yourself up in a room with your computer can you get things back on track in a couple of hours?
Figure out what you need to do to get the piece completed with exceptionally clean copy. If you’re going to be late with something, you better turn in something perfect. Once you know exactly how long you need to finish your work, contact your editor or client, apologize and give them specifics on when they can expect the work. Be honest, but screw the excuses, most editors have heard them all and do not care. If something very serious happens, i.e. a car accident, death in the family, etc., let them know what’s happening, but don’t kill your grandma off just to get out of looking bad.
You do realize that when you turn in work late you are holding up other people – editors, client, printers, web people, etc., right? If you are going to be very late turning in work, you may want to offer a reduced rate, kind of like a pizza – on or before deadline or it’s discounted.
Find out what went wrong and fix it
Did procrastination strike? Last minute work + Murphy’s law = Screwed writer. Did you have issues with a source? Did you just plain forget or write down the wrong date? Get to the root of the problem and take whatever steps to ensure it won’t happen again.
So what’s the real damage?
The aftermath of a missed deadline can leave a writer wondering if they’ve got a future with that particular editor or client. It depends. If you are chronically late or cutting it close with relatives dropping like flies, inexplicable computer viruses and “forgotten” email attachments, you may just find yourself dropped like yesterday’s election bumper sticker. But if you’ve always been reliable and this is your first goof, you are likely to retain your relationship, but don’t bank on it. Editors and clients are always on a deadline crunch and if you cannot be trusted to deliver, you could quickly find yourself in the email trash folder. So the best advice is to never miss a deadline. Keep an updated editorial calendar and stick to it. Set electronic reminders for a time before the deadline and don’t wait until the last minute to start an assignment, you never know what could happen!
Editors, what are some of the craziest excuses you’ve received for a missed deadline?
Writers, have you ever missed a deadline? Did a lame excuse cover your butt? Tell us! You can use an alias.