Thursday, 11 August 2016

Deadlines and the need for team

I am good at meeting deadlines. In fact, in my book, (not the one I'm writing but the one I'm living), the worst thing you can do is fail to meet one. I was once so horrified to discover that I hadn't sent a document to a senior leader by the eve of the given date, that I spent half the night completing it. Having sent it, with many apologies for only just  meeting the deadline, I received a reply early the next day.
"Dear Deborah, There was no need for the apology. Literally. You sent me this completed form two weeks ago! Do hope you didn't break a leg doing it again! But thanks, anyway..." Well, yes actually, I did...

Apparently the term deadline originates from prison camps during the war, referring to a physical line or boundary beyond which prisoners could not go. They were usually about 20 feet away from the inside wall and anyone who crossed them would be immediately shot. This makes sense to me, which is why I experience mild terror if I think there's any danger of my not meeting a deadline. Life will pretty much be over.

You can imagine my angst, therefore, when I returned from a wonderful holiday in France - replete with wine and sunshine - only to discover a scary email from the editor of the textbooks I'm writing. Actually, the email itself wasn't scary. The editor is a calm and polite young woman who is obviously used to working with creative types and maintains the highest levels of professionalism at all times (even when said creatives have a pink fit now and again). But the contents of the email was scary. It basically said that the first few sections of the book that I'd sent were great, but needed major editing, and for this reason they were extending my deadline for the second batch of sections to such-and-such. Please could I send them the edited first part, and then the newly written second part by such-and-such a date. The problem was, the first 'new' deadline was anyway about two weeks before the date I'd written in BIG RED BIRO in my diary.

So I did what any self-respecting creative would do in such circumstances. I panicked. How could this be? I am anal about deadlines!! How could I have got this wrong? What was I going to do? There was no way I could get the work done - I have a few family events coming up that I'd carefully planned my writing around. I have school work to do. As for my novel...well, forget it. Could the error be theirs?

I anxiously looked through my emails and yes, it did appear, that somehow, I'd misinterpreted the information. The final date of the end of August was post-edits not pre-edits. What a fool I was!
"I'm such a fool!" I wept over my husband's newly acquired tan, "I've made a terrible mistake and I'm going to let people down and then they'll hate me! And I'll never, ever get asked to work for them again! We won't have enough money and we'll get thrown out on the street and..." Well, you get the idea.

Fortunately my husband is also used to working with creatives. He's been married to one for thirty years and he has at least one more in the family. He calmed me down and we got out my diary and we looked at all the days between now and the deadline. Then he got out some pieces of A4 paper and a ruler and divided the sheets up into lots of little squares, to represent days. (They had to be the same size so he ended up doing this at least twice - you will have realised by now that, in our case, the opposites- attract scenario is very much a thing). Then he wrote in the squares all the family commitments and other things I had during that period. And screwed up his eyes in his I'm-really-thinking-hard way that made me fall in love with him in the first place, and said those magic words, "I think we can do it."
"Great!" I grabbed the sheet, "I'll email and say.."
"If..." he added, "You ask for three extra days."
All my old insecurities flooded back. How could I ask for extra days? What would they think of me? How could I let them down like that? Frankly, I'd rather cook my own head.

But, he explained it to me patiently. We were giving them plenty of notice, I had made a genuine mistake, I was a newbie and hadn't really understood the system, I had to write in a way that kept me going - taking a day off every few days - or I'd fail anyway. I nodded dumbly and, with my heart in my mouth, I emailed.

Of course, my editor was lovely and gracious and even apologetic, claiming it was her fault - which I'm sure it wasn't - and we've agreed the new deadline. I thank God for kind editors and caring husbands. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it seems it takes a squadron to save a writer - my editor, my writing partner, Lucy, my husband, my daughter and my dearest friend, Fran, who sends me regular "You can do it Baby!" messages with funny GIFs on Facebook.

But the experience still gives me the odd nightmare where I'm found in a forbidden place next to the wall in a prison camp. I usually wake up before I'm shot though...

How do you respond to deadlines?

Click on the link to see the book on Amazon
Deborah Jenkins is a primary school teacher and freelance writer who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on writing school textbooks for Macmillan. She is also writing a full length novel in the odd spare moment. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in south-west London with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver. 


  1. I laughed out loud when you wept over his newly-acquired tan. It's just as well it was a real one and not out of a bottle. And I'm glad you like the GIFs. 'Hey, Fran's sent me a GIF!' 'What, in the post?' 'No, GIF! Not GIFT.' Anyway, keep writing, and ticking off the jobs, and think ahead to those kids holding your textbook :)

  2. Well done, Deborah, for getting that deadline extended. I would've been the wuss who worked all night to meet the first one! Interesting about the first use of the word deadline - it will go into the my collection of 'random interesting facts'.