academic work · best laid plans · enter the confessional · research · writing

Dealing with deadlines

Why, yes, I do have a deadline coming up quite soon. How did you know? Was the title of this post a dead giveaway? So, can you then help me think through dealing with impending deadlines? I’ll lay out what I do, and you can share your habits, yes? Let’s imagine we’re dealing with an article. For publication. Moreover, it’s not even from scratch, but you’re actually transforming a conference presentation you’ve made before. So you’ve basically got half of it written, or at least structured in some way (more power to you if you can just ad-lib the whole thing at a conference, but see how there’s a downside when it comes to re-working it? Yeah, we’re not perfect. We can’t all be.)

6 months before: I got *all* the time in the world. This is going to be the best article in the history of all articles. It’s basically already written.

4 months before: Oh, yeah, that deadline is coming up. So is the term. But the latter is closer, and I have syllabi to prep. And assignments. Ooooh, something’s up on Twitter. Better get to that. I’ll start research soon. Right after the grant applications.

2 months before: Ok, time to get down to work. MLA search. More extended search. Get books from the library. Now I’ve got reading material, I better start replying to CFPs. How else am I going to write other articles? That one looks interesting. And this conference is in Europe. Yes, but it’s Portugal in July. What was I working on again? Oh, yes, the essay topics for tomorrow. Right, no time like the present!

1.5 months before: I’m screwed! I basically found this other article which has the exact same argument I’m making, except it’s more cogent, *and* it’s already published. What to do? Did I mention how screwed I was? Is it too late to change my argument? Primary text? Topic? Why does this have to happen to me? This is the worst article in the history of all articles!

1 month before: Actually, that article I was moaning about a couple of weeks before? The one that derailed me? Totally not menacing. Not the same argument, not the same paradigm, not the same theory. In fact, no theory at all. Bonus! My take is still valid. And new! I better get to writing. But first, there’s this stack of other articles I have to get through. One cannot be thorough enough in one’s research. One cannot approach writing without having read everything there is to read on the topic. Isn’t new research supposed to bring something new? How am I going to judge whether what I’m bringing is new if I haven’t read Every. Single. Publication?

3 weeks before: I think I’m ready to start writing. Better make a list of all tasks still associated with this article first. That way, I can track my progress better, and give myself credit for all the work that goes into research. Because, really, we academics don’t give ourselves enough credit, and then we fall into the same neoliberal trap of productivity, in which we measure our accomplishments only by the number of publications, words in a document, etc. Yes, a list should come first. Maybe right after my lesson plans for tomorrow. That way, I can have the whole rest of the day to work on the article. Oh, what’s that? Time to get the kids? Already? Oh, well, tomorrow’s another day. (Yes, platitudes will definitely get my article written!)

2 weeks before: Should I ask for an extension?

1.5 weeks before: Wow! 10 whole days to get this thing finished! A lifetime, practically! Multiple ones, if you’re an ephemeral. What would it be like, to live just for one day? No articles to write, no papers to mark. Bliss. Except for the living for just one day part. Yeah, maybe not.

I totally did not procrasti-bake this vegan chocolate cake

1 week before: Ok, at this point, maybe this article will *not* be the best article in the history of all articles. You know what would is a more realistic wish? An article that is finished. To a certain extent. I mean, articles never feel like they’re totally finished, right? But, at some point, you have to let go. It’s not unlike a baby. Speaking of which, or whom…

1 day before: Ok, this thing still needs a conclusion. And maybe a better intro. And my thesis is still too wordy. Plus, the Works Cited is still incomplete. Ok, an all-nighter it is! I’m sure I’ll be able to be completely lucid at 5 am when it comes time to proof-read. I mean, I’m a parent, so I’m trained to be lucid at all hours.

1 hour before: Of course I can read 6,000 words in one hour. Who couldn’t? Especially of my own writing. I basically know this stuff by heart! Damn, I’m good! That turn of phrase! That elegant argumentation. Maybe not the best article in the history of *all* articles, but still: a contender! Actually, you know what? Strike that: the best article ever is the finished article you can submit on time! And… drumroll… send!


Of course, that never happened to me. Ever. After all, I write every day. Yes, I do. And if it should have happened, it was never funny. Nope. And I always learned from it. So it never happened again. Like, ever. You know?

4 thoughts on “Dealing with deadlines

  1. Haha, I'm glad it speaks to you, Stephanie! Reading week is such a trap of optimism, until it turns into a “pit of despondence,” as Ted Bishop calls a certain part of the reading process.


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