Writing on the day your story is due? You could be hurting your business.

Illustration: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Illustration: Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

I don’t know why it took so long for me to learn this lesson, but I want to pass it on to you in the hopes that you’ll catch on sooner than I did. Trust me, if you follow this one rule of thumb, you’ll save so much angst:

Draft your story at least one week ahead of the due date.

I’m actually quite the planner and I don’t like to work under pressure. So each time I get a new story assignment, I set up a schedule for its production. I create a new project folder in my good ‘ol Omni Focus program. Then, I set up due dates for the important internal stuff, such as scheduling interviews, transcribing, writing and, finally, handing the piece in.

But there’s one process I have never factored in to my timeline before: Revising. That’s right:

In the ten years that I’ve been writing professionally, I’ve never factored in more than a day to write that first draft.

The thing is, a lot of unnecessary pain ensued as a result. No matter how hard I tried, without scheduling in revision time, I almost always ended up writing stories on the day they were due: getting up somewhere in the 5 a.m. or even 4 a.m. time frame to begin the work, battling mental exhaustion and writer’s block by 10 a.m., getting my second wind by 1 p.m. and finishing sometime between 6 p.m and 8 p.m. What a miserable day!

It wasn’t good for my clients, either. Recently, I got a gracious reply from an editor at 7 p.m. on a Friday, thanking me for having just turned in a story. That got me thinking: Even though editors rarely specify what time they want the copy in on the day it’s due, it can’t be fun for them to stick around on their mobile devices, even after leaving work and possibly settling in to dinner with their friends and families, still checking in to make sure the copy due to them by some freelancer actually came in before the stroke of midnight.

I realized that starting late meant misery for me and amounted to bad client management, too.

My solution: Start a week early. That way, I can ensure that the writing process is much less painful for me and and I’m handing in the piece at a much more convenient time for my clients.

I have two new projects on the books, and I’ve scheduled draft 1 to be written ahead of time. Something always comes up, so wish me luck in meeting my goal.

Are you a procrastinator? A get-it-done early type? Have you successfully kicked your procrastination habit? Drop me a comment and tell me all about it.