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The importance of making deadlines

Writing under a deadline is a learned skill that I try to get my students in the habit of. Both my journalism and AP students especially need to know how to do this, as you can't get into the world of journalism without being able to write on a deadline and AP Lit students need to write three essays over the course of two hours on the AP Lit exam.

I've had a long history in journalism. Before teaching the craft for six years now, I received my degree in it from Eastern Illinois University and worked in the field at various newspapers in different capacities from 2005 through 2012. Whether I was designing, copy editing, or writing a story, I had to always do it on a deadline. It taught me how to plan my story ahead of time and focus my thoughts. It also taught me how to prepare a generation of students for the real world. Even when I worked in the business world, I had to turn in spreadsheets and write emails and reports on deadline. The world operates on deadlines.

I recall a time when I worked as an intern at the Journal Gazette Times-Courier in Mattoon, Ill. as a designer for the features, market, and obits pages. It was one of my first days there, and I still had a ways to go before I felt I had a finished product. I asked my boss there if I could have another half hour to finish up and I remember she told me I could have fifteen. That always stuck with me. I learned how to better manage my time from then on out and from that moment forward, I always designed my pages on deadline.

When I worked as a freelance writer for The Sun-Times suburban Doings newspaper, I got paid fifty dollars per story to cover school and village board meetings. The meetings typically lasted anywhere from one and half to three and a half hours. I knew then that in order to make the most out of that fifty bucks, I needed to write my story as fast as possible and take detailed notes while at those meetings. I found what was most important to write about while there, conducted my interviews post meeting and then turned out copy within forty five minutes after the meeting had ended. The faster I turned out my story, the better pay I felt I made. So if I worked four total hours, I felt I made fifty dollars for four hours work. But if I stretched it and worked five, six, then my money wasn't looking nearly as good.

I try telling my students stories like this when I try to get them to write under deadline. I want to stress the importance of it in the real world. Yes, there are times when deadlines are more flexible, but in the end, work still needs to get done. Usually, I have my students start with a more flex deadline and then will give them a stricter deadline where they have to write their story or prompt by the end of class. I call this inoculation training. It's stressful for them at first, but they get used to it. The AP students are grateful for it by the time the test comes around and are faced with the three essays they have to write.

As I'm writing this, I only have a half an hour to turn out this post. So, I needed to think of a topic right away and deliver what I was going to say rather quickly. It's been my goal to write every day and some days it's easier to do that than others. Today is not as easy of a day. I'm volunteering at my church from 8-12, so I don't have the morning to finish up. And when I get back I have to watch my son.

But as much as deadlines can be stressful, they do keep us focused. I find that the stricter the deadline, there is less likely room for procrastination. The longer the deadline, the more apt someone will be to procrastinate. I had no room to procrastinate today, for example. And I'm glad for that. Otherwise, I may have risked not writing for the first time since April. And that would have been a tragedy.

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