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Can I finish this project on time?

I think most writers have probably been in this situation at some point. You see an advertisement for a writing contest or freelance job or submissions for an anthology and think ‘Wow, this suits me perfectly! But the deadline is – Oh no! The end of this week! But it’s ok; if I work hard and cut down on sleep then I’ll just about make it.’

This happened to me the other week. For some reason I can’t yet fathom, I really wanted to submit to an anthology for stories about incubi (male versions of succubi). I really don’t know what motivated me to do that. At one point I was worried that I was actually writing soft-core porn. The deadline for submissions was just over a week away. Trouble was, it was a genre I know barely anything about and hadn’t written in before and there was no way I could have met the word count in that length of time so I ultimately gave up.

Even though I completed the first draft which can be crafted into a finished story at a later date, it still took up several days of valuable writing time and I fell behind in almost everything else in my life. It took me almost a whole day to catch up again.

So the lesson to be learnt from this is how can you tell if you’ll be able to complete your dream project in a short space of time? I’ve discovered some factors to take into account before you hit the keyboard.

1.     How many other commitments are in your way?

Your day job and family will be the two biggest and most important commitments you’ll have to work around. But even if you have neither, there are still chores, pets, dentist appointments, exercise and a million and one other little things that could potentially take up your writing time.

Before you even think of starting work, look at your diary and figure out how soon you can start and how much time you’ll have for writing. Is there anything you can give up, like reducing your work hours or skipping your Dungeons and Dragons game?

It’s a good idea to figure out the average number of words you can produce per day or per week and use that number to calculate if you can complete the project on time.

2.     Does the project suit your way of working?

When I started Project Incubus, I naturally assumed I could just stay up late every night up until the deadline and the job would be done easily. I know a few people who never seem to sleep yet are somehow still alive.

This was my first big mistake. Everyone has their own way of working that works best for them. My boyfriend can work late into the night on his writing (last night he was sending journalism pitches until 5AM) while I burn out a few hours after lunch. I did try to write late into the evening but was left exhausted with an aching back and barely a few sentences scraped together to show for it.

It’s all well and good pulling all-nighters for a week, but will you produce any good writing this way? Will tonnes of caffeine keep you going or will you crash after a five minute sugar high? Put this into consideration when you figure out how many hours you can commit to a project.

3.     How well prepared are you?

For a short term project, you’ll have to really hit the ground running, especially if it’s work for a client. If you don’t have the right version of Microsoft Word or the correct research materials, this will significantly cut into your writing time and in the worst case scenario, buying extra resources may cost more than the job pays.

If there are expenses involved with the project, do you have enough money to pay for them? And if you have to cut down your day job hours to complete the project, do you have money in the bank to see you through?

When you start the project, it’s worth taking an hour or two to form a plan so you know what direction you’re going in. Don’t do what I did and ‘let the story come to you’ as you go. It doesn’t work nearly as well as it should.

4.     Can you handle an emergency?

I don’t mean an emergency like your dog eats a bunch of grapes and has to be rushed to the emergency vet in case of kidney failure (I’m looking at you, Snow).

I’m talking about an aspect of the project that you didn’t consider at the start or unexpected additions that weren’t in your initial plan. Maybe the client has some revisions or you need to do extra research and can’t find the book you need. A good way to avoid a desperate last minute rush is to act as if the deadline is actually 24 hours before the one you’re given. That way you have a safety net against any unexpected problems. And if it turns out you don’t need the extra time, your client will be super impressed that you turned in the job early and will consider you for future projects.

5.     Does the project match your skills?

I failed to complete my incubus story because I didn’t have any experience writing in the horror/dark fantasy genre. If it had been something closer to my skill set, then maybe I could have whipped up a few thousand words in just over a week.

Similarly, if you accept a job you’re not qualified for then you’re going to struggle a lot and might even have to cancel the job, which isn’t going to do your reputation much good. If you want to really impress clients and contest judges then you need to produce the best work you possibly can, and that means finding the projects that are just right for your chosen field and level of skills.

6.     Is the project worth doing?

You’re going to be committing your time and energy into this project, so the most important thing to decide is whether it’s worth even starting. If you have to drop everything to get it done, is it worth the unread e-mails, the piles of dishes, the neglected children? Ok, I seriously hope the last one won’t happen.

Does the job pay enough to cover the work shifts you’ll have to miss? Will the finished piece be a welcome addition to your portfolio? Is there anything more important or worthwhile that you could be doing instead?

Before you apply for a job, remember to check if the client is credible and pays their freelancers on time otherwise you may find yourself taken for a ride. Likewise, before entering a contest, decide if you have a good enough chance of at least being shortlisted and that the prize money is fair for the entry fee you have to pay.


If you’ve weighed all these factors against the job, competition or call for submissions and decided that realistically you can’t finish the project on time to a decent standard, don’t be discouraged. It simply means that this particular project isn’t suited for you or your personal circumstances. There are still thousands of writing opportunities out there. It’s much better in the long run to find what’s best for you than to struggle and scrape through what isn’t. Good luck!