Organizing Your Writing Projects & Deadlines

We’re all busy. Multitasking various professional and personal projects feels like the norm now, especially for most academics and freelancers I know.

I’ve worked with fifteen academic clients since I started editing full time. A few have had similar problems, particularly with deadline management and generous expectations of productivity among teaching, family, and other responsibilities. I address this head-on when opening negotiations with all clients. In our introductory emails or Skype chats, I ask about potential roadblocks in their schedules, bad writing habits, other ongoing projects or events, and anything else that will delay our work together. In a few cases, I literally had them look at their course syllabi or calendars while we Skyped to identify problem times.

Here are a few tips to help you better organize your work and time:

  1. When starting a project, talk to your spouse, partner, colleague, or friend(s) who’ll give you blunt advice. You don’t want hedging or sugarcoating. You want someone who knows you and your ways and who isn’t afraid to be honest. Show them your projected writing calendar and see if they think you can do it.
  2. Be realistic and brutally honest with yourself. If you know you have bad habits, just accept that the project might take a little longer than you’d like it to. If you’re currently teaching, look closely at your calendar to see if you’ll have grading or meetings happening when you’ve promised something to an editor. If your productivity is fickle, expect it to be—and then forgive yourself. When in doubt, assume there’ll be a delay and plan your work accordingly. A realistic writing schedule for you means a clear, predictable editorial calendar for me.
  3. Understand that writing projects often take more time than you expect—or want—them to. You’re not a machine churning out content. Life, work delays, and creative fatigue will happen, and sometimes you just need a break. Take it. Also, some projects need distance so your ideas and approaches can mature. The extra time might also allow you to get valuable feedback. As long as your editor knows this, the work should go smoothly.
  4. When revising or self-editing, ensure that you deliver later in the project what you’ve promised earlier in it. Other editors and I have read articles or book manuscripts that never address the issues the writers’ introductions mention. We write things out of order or at different times, so always review your work. Make sure your sections are cohesive, that you’re not repeating yourself (sometimes literally with the same sentences), or that you make the points you say you will.
  5. Find the balance between focused, distraction-free work and self-care breaks. My fellow academic editor Jane Jones has offered similar advice. “The longer you work, the more opportunities you have to be distracted,” she writes. “That’s why it’s important to start with a small goal—say 25 minutes.” Plan your work out in focused, manageable chunks.
  6. Most importantly…communicate with your editor. If you fall behind, you can work on a revised timeline for your project. The worst thing a client can do to me is disappear and keep me in limbo with the project. Eventually, I’ll move on to another client and might not be available when they get back in touch. I don’t want that to happen, so within reason I’m always happy to revise our timeline.

One of the reasons I have clients pay me a portion up front is to allow for delays and keep both sides engaged with the work. Some editors have stricter policies or sunset clauses to keep projects moving, so when in doubt, ask them. If you don’t complete the work by the agreed-upon time and haven’t decided on an alternate schedule or payment plan, you risk losing time and money on unfinished work. Freelancers like to be efficient because we have to be: finishing a project and then moving on to the next one keeps the line moving. Delays and poor communication stall the process.

Particularly when I’ve been a developmental editor, I’ve helped writers see—or fine-tune—their project’s timelines and organizing principles. This is where the coaching element of my editing work comes into play. After 15 years as an English and writing professor, I’ve worked with hundreds of writers on multiple versions of their projects. I solo edited one essay collection and I’m currently coediting another, and I’ve worked with a lot of professional writers on developing and expressing their ideas. If you want to work with me, I’ll ask you point-blank about schedules, possible delays, bad writing habits, and anything else that will impede the project.

Delays make things harder for both of us. An important part of my job is helping my writers anticipate them. Honest, open communication throughout the editing relationship is crucial. This starts before I edit the first sentence.


Have an idea for another post on writing or editing topics? Let me know.



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