The Clock Is Ticking
Each time I take an assignment—whether a short magazine article or a book length project—I know the clock is ticking with a deadline to turn in the material. Writers are notoriously late with these deadlines but one of the hallmarks of my work has been to turn in excellent material on time. If you commit to this issue, you will distinguish yourself from many other writers. It may come as a surprise, but it’s true.
For more than thirty years, I’ve been accepting these deadlines. It’s almost like an internal clock begins to tick when I accept one of these deadlines. Weeks ago, I accepted a magazine assignment. It’s in a different area of the market for me—sports. I’ll admit to being one of these unusual guys who don’t live and breathe sports. Yes, I give the sports page a quick read in the morning and I’m usually aware of the major events—but I don’t follow every statistic or watch the appropriate sport every season. It’s a trait my wife loves—that I’m not consumed with Monday Night Football. For me, it’s just how I’ve been wired.
Weeks ago, I took a sports assignment and the clock began to tick. Shortly after receiving it, I contacted the appropriate people to try and set up an interview. I’ve exchanged phone calls and many emails—yet the interview was never scheduled. It’s not appropriate for me to tell you the specific magazine or person—but it’s a fairly high-profile personality. I’ve interviewed more than 150 best-selling authors over the years in all sorts of settings (their homes, restaurants and even one interview sitting on the floor of a large convention hall). Because I don’t write investigative pieces, I have a cooperative spirit for the person and normally that spirit is what I get from publicity people and others who arrange these interviews.
A day or so ago, I realized my interview with this personality was never scheduled—despite providing copies of the magazine and many exchanges. I used a tactic that I’ve never used before—and something to be used sparingly—so I’m not recommending it. I questioned the real intentions of this scheduling person and expressed doubt the person cared about my deadline or interview request. I explained that while I had lots of time at the beginning of our discussion (weeks ago), that time had evaporated and I was knocking at the door of my deadline. Before long the opportunity for the story would disappear (a real threat—and bad for me if I couldn’t deliver to my editor but I made it), if the interview would not be scheduled. Instead of polite exchanges, I turned the correspondence a bit accusatory and waited, wondering how the person would respond.
I received a note of apology with several excuses about why the interview had not happened yet—along with a promise to see if it could be scheduled this week. Yesterday, I learned my interview is scheduled for later today. I’ll be taking a bit of time today to review my editor’s instructions for the story and prepare a list of questions. Plus I’ll be reading some background information. While I’m not a sports fanatic, I am prepared when I walk into these interview situations. You never know what will happen during the interview time—if the person loves to tell stories or simply provides one word answers. The finished article is always easier to write when the person tells detailed stories.
Provided my interview happens today (some times they are rescheduled at the last minute) and I collect the right story material, it looks like I’m on my way to meeting another deadline.