Dead on time?

Deadlines. The very word strikes fear, beginning as it does with a reminder of our mortality. And 'lines' are something we of a certain age will remember getting given for misconduct at school: 'I will not flick rolled-up blotting paper at other students' or 'I will not pass love notes around the classroom' one hundred times, in our best writing. There's something in the word that suggests if we don't have a certain number of lines by a certain date, we will be dead.

Deadlines. Do you love them or hate them? I occasionally miss them, although I always let the editor know if I'm going to. But in the last year or so I have been missing them in a different way. You see, I decided last spring to do something I haven't done in over 35 years of freelance writing: to write a book 'on spec', without having a publisher, a contract and a deadline first. Having worked in Christian publishing, I have always relied on personal contacts, or a past publishing relationship, to get my books published. When it comes to writing first and then selling my work, I am a rank beginner.

The book is a memoir of my late brother, who died 40 years ago this year, so as well as having to be a self-starter, I'm having to write some painful memories which have been long buried. From using writing to put off domestic tasks, I have switched to the other side and am now using domestic tasks to put off writing. My admin has never been so up to date.

I had a boost in the first few months, when MsLexia magazine announced they were running their first memoir competition, with a deadline of 22nd September (that's 2014, not in three days' time...). 'Aha!' I thought, 'there's my deadline.' But of course 22nd September rolled round and I wasn't even half way through...

The fact is, deadlines may be unpopular, but we need them - at least I do, and I've realized that I need them imposed from outside, not self-chosen. (Not that I was happy when my Bible notes editor suddenly announced my notes were due on Tuesday, when the previous deadline she had given me was Friday...) Just as God reproves those God loves, so a good editor will keep a writer on her toes, checking progress every now and then; and a good writer will treat deadlines, not as a suggestion, but as a boundary within which her work must be planned and tasks allocated to a specific time.

I wonder what spiritual lesson there might be from deadlines? We don't have a deadline in life, except perhaps the menopause and our own death - and we don't know precisely when either of those will happen. But we all know, though we rarely contemplate it,  that our life will end some time. A stimulus, perhaps, to keep working towards that deadline that is known only to God.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for New Daylight. Veronica belongs to the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and also blogs at


  1. I love the etymology of the word deadline, originating from Civil War prisons, meaning 'If you cross the line we've drawn around the inner perimeter, we are free to shoot you.' Here's a link about it with a piece of fascinating historical documentation.
    I tell this to the kids at my school when I set their homework ...


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