Why Deadlines Matter

I used to remind talent working for me that deadline meant once the line has been crossed; the work is dead and useless to me. Blow a deadline and often I had to resort to others to get the job done. While my books may never have been the hot, sexy bestsellers, DC’s management knew that I would not be a deadline problem; my books would roll in on time.

As a freelance writer, I also recognized that often my best selling tool was my ability to deliver on schedule and not be an editor’s worst nightmare. My prose may not have sparkled as much as others, but I was solid and reliable.

Where did this come from? My training for journalism, I suppose. Without my article or my editing, the paper couldn’t close and be printed on schedule. That was reinforced through high school then college and finally at Starlog Press where the magazines had tight printing schedules so there was now wriggle room.

Those decades of corporate training at DC, Marvel, and Weekly World News also gave me the chance to hone those skills and teach others. (Academia, it seems, is an entirely different beast where deadlines from administration to faculty more often than not tends to malleable. So, while I strive to hit or beat the deadlines imposed on me, my fellow teachers always put it off and need to be chased.)

For years, I proudly proclaimed how I never blew a deadline. Sadly, that changed these last few weeks. Just before our spring break, I was asked to help a friend with some writing, who suddenly had several medical training modules that needed to be composed and done in a short period of time. I helped him recruit a few other writers then got to work on my three outlines. There was the usual give and take and then they were approved and were due April 30.

Now, I had never written medical training modules but I knew how to research and gather the pertinent facts and then craft the script so a narration track for the PowerPoint study guides sounded right. Still, I underestimated what was involved, with additional research required and then the actual writing took longer. As a result, I delivered the first one on April 21, giving my editor time to read and comment.

The second one was delivered May 12, just two weeks late, but the third and final one was completed only last week, exactly four weeks late. I was mortified. My track record broken.

My editor, though, was delighted to get them when he did and didn’t complain once about the extra time it was taking. Why? Because I did exactly what I instructed my talent to do oh so long ago: keep in touch, and if late, own up to it rather than blow the deadline and keep silent about it. As I fell behind, I dropped him the occasional update note and each time he thanked me.

Will being late cost me more work? Not with him. We’re already talking about other stuff that hopefully will come to pass. Might this aberration leak out and ruin my chances elsewhere? I doubt it. And by owning up to it, reminds one and all that I take my professional obligations seriously.

So, the next challenge may well come to figuring out how to instill this same work ethic in my students.

One comment

  • Back in those ancient days at DC, Bob’s Star Trek books were always done ahead of schedule. Teen Titans (not one of Bob’s books), on the other hand, was always running late. We joked that we could do a fill-in issue of TT by having a head shot of one of the characters saying, “Hey, there’s nothing going on. Let’s watch TV!” and then running a Star Trek story.

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