What Should I Do if I’m Going to Miss a Writing Deadline?

So, you’ve been working on a writing task for a client, not everything has gone to plan and now you’ve come to the heart-sinking realization that you’re going to miss the deadline.

Maybe you misjudged the scope of the project? Perhaps you had a family emergency and had to leave town for a couple of days? Or, it might be that you simply over-stuffed your schedule with writing assignments because you were so eager for paid work?

What Should I Do if I’m Going to Miss a Writing Deadline?

You’ve come to the heart-sinking realization that you’re going to miss the deadline.

I myself have been guilty of this – particularly when I first started out as a freelance writer. Sometimes we miss deadlines. It happens to the best of us, but it is definitely NOT something you should make a habit of.

Whatever the reason for it, if you find yourself in the unpleasant situation where you know you’re going to miss a deadline there are 3 steps that you should follow:

Evaluate and Plan

The first thing you should do is take some time to consider the situation, and work out exactly what you can achieve in the time that you have left.

Once you’ve assessed the situation, create a plan for when you will be able to complete the rest of the project once the deadline has passed. The important thing here is to be realistic. Yes, you’ll need to work hard, but don’t be tempted to set yourself unachievable goals purely out of guilt for letting the deadline slip by.

This might feel counter-intuitive (time is of the essence, after all) but if you put too much pressure on yourself into rushing out the remainder of your work you could end up jeopardizing the quality.

Communicate Quickly

Don’t hold on to the vain hope that you might miraculously complete the project on time. You’ve already assessed the situation – and you know that’s not going to happen!

Don’t hold on to the hope you might miraculously complete the project on time.

Get in touch with your client as soon as you know you won’t be able to deliver on time – and be honest with them. Tell them:

  • Where you’re currently at with the project
  • What portion of the project you will have finished on time
  • What your timeline for completion will be once the deadline has passed

Not only is this simply good manners, but it will also give your client confidence that, although you may be behind schedule, you are in control and have a clear action plan in mind.

Be Professional

When you’re submitting work late, it’s difficult to look like a professional. It’s true – handing in work after a deadline appears somewhat un-professional in itself, but the way you handle this undesirable situation will speak volumes about you as a freelance writer.

You have already asked (indirectly) for an extension on the project by explaining your new proposed timeline, but it’s a good idea to ask if the client is happy for you to submit the work on the dates you have suggested.

The way you handle this undesirable situation will speak volumes about you as a freelance writer.

A simple question, such as, “would it be OK for me to get the completed project over to you by X date?” should suffice. This puts the control back with the client, and shows them that you are approaching this situation in a professional manner.

In Conclusion

Above all, the key thing here is to treat the situation like you would a ‘regular’ job where you turn up, work 9 to 5 and have to answer directly to either your boss, your peers or your clients.

Don’t be tempted to hide behind your computer screen in silence. Or worse; do something rash – like simply submitting the work late and hoping your client won’t notice. They will!

Face into the situation, be courteous and upfront with your client, and act like a professional. That’s what you are, after all.

Steph Simpson is a writer for hire with a background in health & fitness, branding and marketing. When she's not blogging for a living, she writes about her journey into freelancing, and offers help and support for new writers and solopreneurs over at her website. Please stop by Freelance Freedom and say hello!

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This is a great guide for a bad situation, Steph! We all like to think it will never happen to us. But life is unpredictable, and if you’re freelancing long enough, it’ll happen! Good to be prepared just in case 🙂 I’ve found that as long as you’re upfront and proactive, clients are very understanding and flexible 🙂Reply to KeriLynn
Thanks KeriLynn 🙂 I totally agree – I think there’s a bit of a common thought out there among freelancers that if you’re going to miss a deadline then the client will be mad, fire you, and never work with you again! 9 times out of 10 this isn’t the case, so it’s definitely best to be proactive, you’re right.Reply to Steph
Steph, Great tips. I think you’re right when you mention to communicate quickly that you won’t make your deadline. Most times clients are okay if you extend the deadline by a couple days. Often times they understand life can get in the way! ElnaReply to Elna
Thanks Elna You’re absolutely right – if you’re being upfront, honest and professional then generally clients will appreciate that. It all boils down to how you manage the situation.Reply to Steph