Friday, January 17, 2014

Diary of a Deadline Crisis

Image by Joshua Kopel, via Flickr

We’ve all been there.

You’re under contract to deliver a manuscript to your publisher in 6 months’ time. When you signed the contract, it looked like smooth sailing. Then life happens: an attack of flu, a plumbing crisis, one of your kids breaks an arm. And suddenly you find you have a hundred pages of story left to write and only 48 hours to do it in.

Here’s how it goes for me.

Day One:

6 am. Alarm goes off. Get up, brew large pot of double-octane coffee, fire up the laptop and get cracking.

8 am. Dog wants out. Refill coffee pot. Resume.

Mid-morning: More coffee, chocolate, and a couple of Tylenol tablets.

Lunchtime. Flagging. Take shower, wolf down a peanut butter sandwich, sneak a peek at e-mail, instantly abandon it, and get back to the salt mines.

Mid-afternoon. Flagging again. More chocolate. Clap on headphones and dial up the Rolling Stones’ Greatest Hits on I-Pod. Crank volume to max and plunge in again.

Early evening. Stomach growling. Forced to take a break for a ready-meal followed by indigestion tablets.

8 pm. Laptop now too hot to sit comfortably on lap. Break off for an hour to watch an episode of Psych.

11 pm. Brain hits brick wall and quits. Glug down large glass of wine and crash out.

Day Two:

1:52 am. Wake up with a jolt. Whip cringing self back to work.

4:05 am. Fall asleep over computer.

7:28 am. Wake up with dog staring at you. Let dog out, take more Tylenol, washed down with more coffee, and slog on.

Spend next three hours popping Jelly Babies to keep blood sugar up.

Lunchtime. Husband comes in grumbling that he hasn't seen you since the day before yesterday. Ninety seconds later he flees the room, convinced that he doesn't want to see you again till mid-March.

Mid-afternoon. Two thirds of the way there. The end is now – incredibly! – in sight. Take another shower, drink more coffee. Plug in to Stevie Ray Vaughan/Double Trouble loud enough for the sound coming out of the headphones to register on the Richter Scale.

Dinner time. Can’t quit now. Husband and son order in pizza and do their own thing.

11:42 pm. THE DEED IS DONE!!! Hand over text to husband to proofread, with instructions to pack it off to publishing editor ASAP.

Midnight. Go to bed with hot whisky and lemon and lapse into unconsciousness.

Day Three:

Wake up, check your appointments calendar, and discover that actually your deadline is still a week away.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.


  1. The land of deadlines...ah, yes. I have one of the editing variety looming right now. But as you say, life intervenes. The torn leg muscle from December is healing slowly but steadily; however, it doesn't like it when I spend long hours at the computer...and it get's even. Calf and ankle swell, pain increases exponentially, and the workday comes to an abrupt halt. Yes, the life of the writer (and editor) has its pitfalls (including an occasional misread of the calendar), but I wouldn't trade it for any other job. :-)

    Great post, Debby!

    1. Oooops...gets apostrophe. This editor should have caught that. :-(

  2. So true! Deadlines that are far away seem to suddenly come racing toward you. You either have to stand really still, hoping the tree hides you ... or hit it head on.

  3. Nothing motivates quite like a deadline.

  4. Deadlines give me such a case of heebie jeebies that I actually broke out in hives just reading this.

  5. This blog earned a Bean's Pat as blog pick of the day. Check it out at:

  6. This was so much fun. Why do we always procrastinate? LOL

  7. Since my current WIP will be an indie release, I have to force myself to stick to my self-imposed deadline. I want to finish by the end of the month, to have it to my editor in February. Her email asking if I was still on schedule because her calendar was filling provided much-needed motivation.

  8. This sounds familiar...

    Although stressful, I think my best work happens when I'm under a deadline's thumb. There's nothing like it do make your brain throw out all the crap and just write the damn thing.

  9. Oh my gosh! Love that twist of an ending! Whew!

  10. Yes, that's a funny ending! The rest wasn't so funny! I'm glad I only have self-imposed deadlines these days. Less tension!
    Morgan Mandel

  11. I chuckled at some of these!! I'm not at the deadline stage yet, well, that aren't self-imposed, but I can imagine they're hand wringing.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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