Maybe you got away with doing things at the last minute in college. You wrote that English essay at the last moment or crammed for that chemistry exam the night before the test and managed to pass. But if you intend to have a career in the arts and deal with the realities of the marketplace, you can’t operate as you did in college. You must do things in a timely manner or else you will sully your reputation, hurt your chances, alienate marketplace players, and maybe ruin your health and stress yourself out to the breaking point.

As an adult creator, you are obliged to be real. You must learn your lines; you must learn the score; you must deliver the paintings for your gallery show on time; you must deliver your book manuscript on time. But that’s a minimum. Being real means thinking about what could go wrong, both on your end and at the other end—say, at the hands of your editor. If you don’t factor in the completely predictable obstacles that arise during the creative process and during the marketplace process, you’ll find yourself scrambling and as likely as not failing to meet your agreed-upon deadlines.

Take the following example. A book contract will spell out when a draft of the manuscript is due and when a final manuscript is due. Sounds straightforward enough, right? You turn in the draft, you get revision notes from your editor, you revise the book, and you turn the final manuscript in. Ah, but there’s an important catch here. The catch? You are completely at the mercy of your editor’s attention.

If it takes her a long time to look at your manuscript and provide you with those revision notes, which is not only completely likely but almost guaranteed, then suddenly you may have little time left to deal with the notes and create the final manuscript. This happens all the time: an author waiting for months for his or her editor to look at the book.

What should you do to deal with this likely challenge? Turn in the draft early. Your contract may say that the delivery date for the draft is such-and-such a date but you should consider the real date to be a month or two or three before that date. That is you being smart, real, and sensible. Even this wise tactic can’t guarantee that you will meet your final deadline but it certainly increases your odds, doesn’t it?

A key organizational skill for creatives is to be smart about your obligations, schedules, and deadlines. Really think them through, including considering what may prevent you from getting done on time. Are you planning to remodel your house at the same time that you’re imagining finishing your novel? Well, you had better factor that chaos into the equation! You don’t want to be “that person” who doesn’t get things done properly or on time. That way of operating really will not serve you.


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