How to deal with the stress of deadlines during the holiday season.
I recently had a piece accepted at a magazine I had previously contributed to. This is pretty awesome, because I’d love to have a great working relationship with this magazine (and others as well). Having that good rapport means that in the future, they would be more willing to work with me–meaning more published pieces, more bylines, and more income.
There was only one small problem.
The deadline was December 7–just a few days after Thanksgiving in the middle of the holiday season.
The holiday season is busy.
I feel like that’s a massive understatement, but stay with me. Whether your hosting family or not, traveling or not, working or not, there’s is so much hype and stress around the holidays. Add in your regular duties plus any side hustles and–I don’t know about you–but I can get quite panicky.
I hosted Thanksgiving, I’m teaching this year, I have four children and a busy husband–this list is endless. So how on earth can I find time to draft out, revise, fact-check, and cite an article that was due so soon?
And it got me thinking.
Most of us write on the side. Whether we have a full or part-time job, writing is often just a fraction of our total income, and we have to balance it with everything else we’re doing, holidays or not. So how can we reduce the stress and anxiety around meeting deadlines during busy times? I’m not going to claim to have the answers, but I do think there are ways we can structure our working days and effort to be the most efficient.
A note on meeting deadlines
I realize the different publications and editors have different ideas of what the deadline “means”. Some may give an earlier deadline knowing full well that many of their writers won’t meet it, allowing for a grace period. However, I’m old school. I find it disrespectful and unprofessional to be late on a deadline. Here’s why: Most publications have their own deadlines to meet. There are a lot of people working on different aspects of any magazine or publication. I never want to be the reason for a hold up. Remember that writing–like any business or career–is still full of relationships, and kindness and respect go a long way.
Draft in Advance
I call this my secret weapon. (I’m sure I can’t lay claim to it, but let’s go with it.) Even if it’s a trashy first draft, I still lay the ground work and get the general idea down on paper. I have an outline, but I still like to do the leg work up front. I realize that not all writers can work like this and that’s fine, but if you have a busy season looming–like the holidays–having a piece you can at least work with is so helpful. It’s the reason why I was able to meet my tight deadline and get the piece in on time.
Keep Track of Sources
I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’m going to anyway: keep track of all of your sources. Everything from links, to interview contact information, to page numbers of books where you found the information. Even print off internet resources if necessary. Having a list of resources with working links and books with specific pages numbers not only helps you recheck your information, but it’s also helpful if you need to provide citations, a bibliography, or fact-checking sources. Do the leg work up front to save yourself the headache when you get the go ahead on a piece.
Put Aside Other Projects
Whether you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, revising a piece, or have a couple other deadlines approaching later, put aside those other projects for the moment and get to work on the the one due first. This is nothing more than making simple priorities. If you have a piece due in January, and one due in December, obviously work on the December piece first. If you have been drafting a novel, but just got the go ahead, put the novel aside for a moment and focus on your article. The novel will be there when you’ve met your deadline.
And speaking of priorities…
Schedule Your Priorities
The holidays come with commitments, parties, recitals, programs, on top of your regular day job and household duties. Unfortunately, you cannot do all the things. You simply can’t.
Figure out what is the most important, and focus on those things. Put them in your calendar or on your schedule, and forget about the things you decided are not the priorities. At least until your piece is in, then you can shift and refocus.
Do make sure to schedule in your family and holiday time. You only get a certain amount of Thanksgivings or Christmases in your lifetime. Take those days off and focus on the joy of the holiday.
Do What You Need to Do
When it’s crunch time, you have to make it work and do what you must.
Case in point: I have young children, and while I try to limit the amount of television they watch, I knew, in order to meet my deadline, I would have to make some concessions. Cocomelon babysat my 2 year-old far more than I would like, but it allowed me the time I needed to focus.
Do you need to wake up early? Stop watching TV? Lock your phone up for a week? Hire a babysitter or wait on a project? Give yourself some grace and take some help. Do whatever you need to do to get your piece turned in on time.
I met my deadline with a handful of days to spare, which was perfect because my husband fell ill and I was on solo parenting duty with a full weekend. But having that tab close and that project submitted was such a blessing.
What are your favorite tricks to get your work done especially during busy or stressful times?
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