Deadlines are something we get on both sides of our life. It might be a document due to another department for the day job or an anthology call for a story (of course, that’s one we want to do!).

Since I was struggling to keep up in the days of chaos, I often knocked deadlines out as soon as I got them. I was afraid that if I waited until I was closer to the due date, I’d forget!

Which meant I didn’t trust my system.

Always goes back to how I was handling the inflow of work.

But is it a good practice?

First will not win you any prizes, even if everyone says you’re being proactive.

Dean Wesley Smith talks about this for writing. He’d receive some edits from an editor. Looked routine, took about thirty minutes. He was about to send it off when his wife reminded him that the editor would think he hadn’t done anything because it was too fast. So he waited until when it was due and sent it in.

With work, most people will submit it close to the deadline or ask for an extension. If you send it in when everyone else, it’ll be viewed under the prism of all the submissions. The requester is likely to be happy they have it because they’ll be tangling with someone else who’s late.

If it’s early? It gives the requester more opportunity to nitpick it because now they’re assuming since you rushed it out, it must be sloppy. The common fiction writing myth applies here: If you wrote it fast, it must be crap.

What if they change the requirements mid-stream? What company doesn’t do that? Waiting to turn it in when it’s due gives you the opportunity to make sure it’s correct for the submission.

None of this says you can’t complete the work earlier, though. Put it on your calendar so you’re taking advantage of your agency.

The first step is to read all the requirements and make sure you understand them. Work deadlines have an amazing ability for being poorly written. If anything is unclear or you have questions, ask them now. Save any responses. Sometimes people reverse themselves and say they never said that, so you might need proof.

Before you start on it, reread the portions that apply to what you’re working on. I’ve found—actually on the writing side—that sometimes I remember it wrong. This is a good practice from Sheila Chandra’s book Organizing Your Creative Career: How to Channel Your Creativity into Career that can be applied anywhere.

After you finish, recheck it to make sure it fits all the requirements. You don’t want the requester sending it back to you for correction. If you’re submitting a lot of documents, it might be useful to number them to make sure you don’t miss any.

Set up an email—assuming Microsoft Outlook—with delayed delivery. Set that for the day it’s due, adjust the time of delivery, and click send. It’ll sit in your outbox until that day. Your email will need to be open for it to send (don’t schedule the email while you’re out of the office).

If you have to amend the response in the email (i.e., the requirements change), make sure you click the send button again.

On the fiction side, we might have several types of deadlines. The first is an anthology call deadline. An editor posts a call with the guidelines of what he wants for the call, which includes a theme and word count.

The first thing here is to set up a template in Microsoft Word for the Shunn manuscript format. This format is often listed in guidelines for submissions. Read through it in its entirety, then create your template to match accordingly. It’s much easier to do that than spend time formatting your manuscript each time. Once you have a template, you can save it to your story folder, then do a paste special of your story into it, and update the title, word count, and headings.

The second step is to create a basic cover letter template. If you submit a lot of short stories, it gets tedious redoing the cover letter each time. Plus, if you update your credits, it’s one change and done.

Next, scan through the guidelines, looking for if the rights revert. If they don’t mention it, skip the submission. Also, check for how much they pay. If it’s not five cents or more, skip the submission.

Non-paying, token, and semi-pro are a waste of your time and sends a message to your creative voice that it’s not good enough to be professionally published.

Assuming that everything is good, read the guidelines more thoroughly, looking at word count requirement, genre, and theme.

When you’re ready to submit, review the guidelines again. I recently wrote a witch cozy short story. I was about to submit it and discovered, hidden in the middle of a paragraph, that a crime was required. The rest of the guidelines led me to think of something different. Fortunately, because I caught that, I was able to make a change at the beginning of the story to highlight there was a crime (the creative voice was smart and picked up on it).

Make sure that you’re following all the requirements the editor has for submitting. If they want a specific email subject line, paste it in from the guidelines. If they want specific information in the cover letter, add it.

According to Kevin J. Anderson in Slushpile Memories: How NOT to Get Rejected, the biggest slushpile headache is not following the guidelines. If you submit near the end of the call when the editor is being flooded with submissions, they may reject you solely because you didn’t follow the guidelines.

It was a wake-up call for me after he commented that not one person had read the manuscript format guidelines for an anthology I’d submitted to. Oops! I’d read “manuscript format” and auto-piloted with what I thought it was.

Unlike the work version of this, try not to submit it near the end of the deadline. One of my stories was rejected by a magazine and perfectly fit an anthology call. I submitted it in the last three days. Would have been my first pro sale. Rejected because they already had another similar story.

Another type of deadline you might see for writing is edits for an editor or publisher. Do not be late for these!

Kevin J. Anderson talks about this in Million Dollar Professionalism for the Writer and how it can even impact the publishing schedule. Being late is what lasts ican the editor’s memory.

I used to co-write with another writer. We were submitting a manuscript to agents and had a full into an agent. It was suddenly real! I expressed concern to the co-writer about our writing speed. I knew if we landed a contract with a publisher, we’d have a deadline for our next book.

He poo-poohed it, did that hand-wavy thing. “Everything’s negotiable.”

I nearly had a meltdown. In his day job as an entrepreneur, that was true. He could reschedule things as needed because everyone was always shuffling schedules. But if it was a publishing house, being late meant the publisher might have to push back the book’s release date. That impacts everything from their catalog to the bookstores (we did not stay co-writing for long after that).

I also think that some of this view about “flexible” deadlines comes from our day jobs. Most of our departments have built in extra time, so everyone responding knows they can ask for an extension and probably get it.

Always be on time for your responses to editors!