What does ‘writing to a deadline’ mean, and why should you be concerned about it?

Historically, according to my Webster’s dictionary, a ‘Deadline’ meant: ‘a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot.’

Nowadays, a deadline is the latest time or date by which something should be completed.

My personal definition is a hybrid of the above: Cross that date-line and you’re dead.

I hasten to clarify that I’ve never seen any gun-toting editors chasing tardy writers. However, the imagery provided by such a definition does provoke a serious approach to editor’s publication dates.


beware of the deadline! Thanks open clipart

beware of the deadline! Thanks open clipart




Some writers find deadlines exactly what they need to jolt them into finishing work on time.

Other writers simply hate deadlines. If that’s you, just call it the ‘due-by date’ or something else that doesn’t intimidate you so much, but treat it just as seriously.

If you realise that editors are, in turn, usually even more pressurised by these same dates than you are, it may help you to have some sympathy for them. If publishers want to keep their jobs, they have to get their publication ready for the bookshops and distributors on time.   If you make those editor’s jobs harder for them by raising their blood pressure any higher, they are less likely to want you to write for them again.

Only one word necessary. Thanks clipartsalbum.

Only one word necessary. Thanks clipartsalbum.


The size of the project will determine how many of these following steps you need to follow, or to what degree. A 300w article isn’t going to take you as long as a 3000 w article or a 30,000 book obviously, so just take as much from these points as you need.

I’m primarily an article writer, so this blog concerns planning for articles. If you are writing a book, the principles are much the same, but you will probably benefit from following more thorough guidelines specifically for larger works.


  • Break your project into manageable chunks of research, planning, interviewing people, writing notes from interviews, actually writing the article, then rewriting and editing.
  • If you want to interview one or more subjects, arrange appointments with the interviewee(s). Plan to take photographs at the same time, if appropriate.
  • If you need to do specific research, plan for that too.
  • How long will it take you to write the required amount of words? Add at least 30% longer than this first calculation, to allow for hitches and interruptions.
  • Thorough editing is at least as time consuming as writing the article in the first place, so factor this in too.
  • Allow some time to let your writing rest so you can come back to it reasonably fresh; then re-edit it.
  • Alternatively, you could send your article to someone else to check for you before sending it to an editor. Another person will see things you don’t, so this is often a good idea – although don’t ask someone who is likely to be unhelpfully pleasant. Check that person will be available to check your work when you need it and factor in enough time for him or her to do so.


When you’ve done all that, work backwards in your diary from the due-by date.

Pencil in dates to start each task.

Then get writing – and don’t forget to consult your plan!


Note: This is a repeat blog.