Write On

By Chelle Cordero

June 5, 2009 4 min read


Authors and editors explain how to meet deadlines

Chelle Cordero

Creators News Service

For many students, homework assignments often seem to come last on the list of priorities. Huge writing assignments are often rushed through with scribbled words and carefully reworded "borrowed" phrases from research. From grade school through grad school, students through the years have experienced enormous stress as they near their due dates.

Students aren't alone in their angst over homework and other projects. Professional writers also have to find that balance between creativity and accuracy while meeting dreaded deadlines. Time management has become a catchphrase for many of them, where they have a system to get everything done. It includes prioritizing, setting up deadline reminders, designating a workspace and schedule, limiting distractions, budgeting time and learning not to over-schedule work.

"After years on a daily newspaper, I've never had a hard time with deadlines. I actually like them, they give me a goal," said Sophia Dembling, a Dallas-based author who wrote "The Yankee Chick's Survival Guide to Texas" ($18, Republic of Texas) and co-wrote "The Making of Dr. Phil" ($25, Wiley). "But I do often have a hard time managing focus and distractions, which can wreak havoc on deadlines. And the Internet is by far the worst thing that has ever happened to my focus. It's awful. I love it and I loathe it."

One of the most important things to remember, whether you are helping your son or daughter become a better student or you are the overwhelmed student yourself, is that each individual has to develop their own method.

"My favorite trick: If I am having trouble knuckling down to work, I use a kitchen timer," she said. "I set it for one hour and I am not allowed to do ANYTHING but work on whatever is the priority task until that timer rings."

Dembling also sets definite goals for herself. "For longer term projects, I sometimes go through stretches where I require 500 or 1,000 words a day of myself. It's not much, I know, and sometimes I will write much more, but I will not allow myself to stop at less."

"When I'm facing a deadline, I drop everything else. I move my desk from the back room to the living room, and I camp out," said Brenda Hill, a novelist, editor, writing teacher and self-professed procrastinator from Yucaipa, Calif. "I do have the TV on as it keeps me company, but I don't go anywhere, seldom talk on the phone. I may check e-mails, etc., but that's it."

As the author of the writing instruction book "Plot Your Way to Publication" ($18, Vanilla Heart Publishing), she believes in a structured approach to writing to stay on track. Prioritize your projects and assignments and try to work on them in order of due date -- or at least schedule more time for the closer due dates.

Humor columnist Madeleine Begun Kane of New York City is strict with herself. "My specialty is political satire, which can become stale in a flash. So I tell myself, 'No reading e-mail until I've written something amusing!' Lucky for me, I'm very intimidating."

Putting in scheduled relaxation and reward systems into the student's work time may help them to remain more alert. Working straight without a break may actually inhibit powers of concentration.

A few other tips from time management experts, educators and writers include making sure a student is well rested, using a to-do list and avoiding over-commitment.

Working within these boundaries is a learned skill and takes practice -- don't wait until that term paper is looming over you or your student to start. Begin time-budgeting methods now with all activities, such as trying different settings and noise backgrounds to see which one helps concentration. Some people actually manage to focus better when they have to ignore outside stimuli.

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