Post Academic


How to Write on a Deadline

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionSay what you will about deadline pressure and the 9-to-5 grind, but a little pressure is good every now and then. As a writer and an editor in the Hamster World, I lost the luxury of waiting until I had a good idea to write a long time ago. Deadlines forced words out of me whether I liked it or not. Here’s how to cope if you’re in the kind of work environment where you’re a writer, but you can’t ask for an extension:

Admit it won’t be perfect. This is the hardest one, so we’ll get it out of the way now. Academics are perfectionists, and perfectionists and deadlines do not mix. In fact, they clash, and the deadline will win every time. Your editor or manager will be happier with you if you meet the deadline, not if you turn in perfect copy.

Treat the content like gold. When producing an article, content or copy, the style is much harder to handle than the substance. In most cases, however, what people want to see is the substance. How on earth do journalists generate so many articles? Because they focus on the substance, and they use a template that delivers the most important content–who? what? when? where? why?–first. Yes, it seems simple, but it’s popular because it works.

More tips after the jump! The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Movie still, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.


Regarding the “golden content rule,” it is the hardest one for me to follow. When I was in grad school, I wanted to show off my writing style, but I didn’t have enough time to capture the words that were eluding me. I would plug in a few words that were close, and I would always get burned because my professors knew I was letting the style get in the way of the content. Or, they would see that I didn’t understand the content and was using style to cover it up. Unless you know for sure you can achieve the style you want, focus on the content, or you’ll never deliver anything decent on time.

Focus on the team, not yourself. In academia, writing is solitary, but in the Hamster World, it is a team endeavor. People are going to change your words around, and it is nothing personal. (Unless you’re boss is a jerk who can’t give good reasons for these changes, and if that’s the case you should be reading our guide on how to write a resume.) A word change usually means that someone else on the team knows something about the client that you don’t. As long as the content isn’t flat-out wrong or misleading, trust in your co-workers and your editors.

Remember you can negotiate. Having trust in your co-workers means that you can have honest conversations about word choice. If you think the content has moved in the wrong direction, talk about it, and ask why it was changed. Also, unless you’re dealing with breaking news or an immediate deadline, you can try negotiating if you feel that you don’t have enough time to do a good job. Just like in graduate school, it is possible to get extensions, but you might need to be more persuasive.

Instead of looking at deadlines like the offspring of the Grim Reaper, figure out how to work with them. Believe it or not, deadlines can make your writing better.

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