As a freelance writer of over twenty years, I’ve produced hundreds of articles and features for a variety of magazines all over the world. And as a staffer on some of the biggest lifestyle magazines in the UK, I’ve produced hundreds more. I never missed a deadline. Not once. That’s a great source of pride for me. Some writers I’ve worked with, especially the younger Millennial-types, missed deadlines on a regular basis. It just wasn’t a big deal to them. Maybe it’s a generational thing but it’s important to understand that on a magazine, the writers are not gods. Sure, we are often the public face of the magazine and get most of the accolades, but in reality, we are very small cogs in very big machines. Writers are given deadlines for a reason. People further up the chain, like the section editor or sub editor, as well as the designers and the picture desk, are relying on you to file your copy on time so they can do their jobs and maintain their own schedule, all to ensure that the magazine goes out on time.
Now, it isn’t always easy to hit your deadlines, especially if you find yourself waiting on other people. Building a feature is rarely a case of just sitting down and writing it. If only. No, nine times out of ten, as your deadline looms ever-closer, you find yourself waiting for some random PR person to send you some information or hook up an interview, or maybe you’ve requested some expert opinion or analysis and the designated expert has been too busy to do what they said they would. Once, I waited all day to carry out a 15-minute phoner with tennis legend John McEnroe, who has something of a fiery reputation to say the least. I had one shot at it, and a deadline, so failure was not an option. When I asked what time my slot was scheduled for, I was told by his manager to just ‘stay by the phone.’ So that’s what I did. I went into the office early and stayed late. I didn’t even leave my desk for lunch. In true prima dona fashion, John McEnroe didn’t call. Well, he did, but instead of calling my office line he called my mobile at about 9pm when I was on the train home. I had to disembark before I lost my connection in a tunnel, and transcribe the entire interview long-hand in a cafe on Waterloo Station. He was lovely, by the way. And I made my deadline.
Sometimes, you can’t even blame other people. Maybe you’ve had a last-minute change of heart and decided to change the structure or approach the article from a different direction, or perhaps the photographer you commissioned is late submitting the images. There are so many variables, you have to be flexible. Stuff move around a lot on magazines. Things happen, and things fall through. At the last moment you might have to cut a feature by 30% to make room for a late advertorial that just came through, or on the other hand you might be asked to double your word count to fill some space after an ad gets dropped.
Anyway, one way to ensure you always hit your deadlines when the pressure is on is to have a daily ‘power hour.’
A power hour is when you eradicate all distractions – disconnect the internet, turn off your phone – and focus entirely on knocking out some words. You don’t stop to edit, you don’t check your email, you don’t cross-check that fact you think you might have just made up, you don’t even get a glass of water. You can do all of that later. For the entirety of that hour you sit at your desk and completely immerse yourself in the task at hand. Everything else, even the important stuff, can wait. It will still be there in an hour.
Pro tip: put on your headphones or ear buds; this is an almost universal way of communicating to everyone around you that you don’t want to be disturbed. You don’t even have to turn on the music.
The power hour is a concept I have carried with me throughout my career, and it’s got me out a lot of tight spots though it helps enormously to do any required reading or research beforehand. You can’t write if you have nothing to write about. In my experience they are generally most effective in the morning, as soon as possible after waking up. That’s when I have more energy and when I am most focused. Next time you have a deadline, or even if you don’t, maybe you should try it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.