5 lessons I learned writing on deadline

Early in my career I wrote a weekly newspaper column that was syndicated to a small network of daily and weekly newspapers. It never made me rich or famous, but it sure taught me how to write to deadline.

For those faced with writing regular content for websites, blogs or social media for nonprofits and NGOs, I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I learned along the way.

1) The way to ensure you meet a deadline is to have a deadline. Deadlines are our friends. I suppose some people write regularly just because they like to. But for most of us mortals, we write because we have deadlines. So embrace them. The best deadlines are those that are imposed upon us. They are the hardest to miss.

If you don’t have an external deadline, then you need to impose one on yourself. Set a date and time and then train yourself to meet it. One useful technique is to announce your deadlines to others. Promise that you’ll deliver on your self-imposed deadline, even when you don’t have to. Then there are witnesses.

2) Collect ideas in advance. Keep a small notebook with you, or use your smartphone, and jot down ideas as they come to you. Topics are worth their weight in gold. Collect them, save them, hoard them.

With a good idea in hand, your piece will write itself. Without a good idea, you’ll waste all your good writing time sitting there with writer’s block.

3) Make an outline. Just as they taught you in school, always start your writing with an outline. Once you have your structure, again the piece writes itself.

The key is to separate the thinking process from the writing process. You do the thinking when you do the outline and you do the writing when you write. It’s much more time-efficient this way, and you end up with better-structured pieces.

4) Write first; edit later Generally, writers believe there are no good editors; only good writers. On the other hand, editors believe there are no good writers; only editors. Myself, I believe in the power of editing.

When you are writing, just write. Get it all down. It doesn’t matter how bad it might be, because you can come back later and turn even the worst prose into smooth-flowing copy. Don’t spend hours, when in the middle of writing, correcting your spelling and restructuring sentences. It interferes with the flow of your writing and just plain wastes time.

5) Let it age (if you can) True, I’m discussing writing to deadline, but in an ideal world, you’ll finish your writing early. In fact, it is best finished several days early.

Writing does not necessarily improve with age, like a good wine, but after a few days you will find it much easier to edit your own writing. What you have written is no longer in your head after this time has passed. It is on the paper (or screen) in front of you and you can see it objectively. Problems with logic or structure will jump right out at you. You’ll also be better able to spot problems with spelling or grammar.

Deadlines: You have got to love them!