When deadlines loom, take cover!

Between my journalism background and my theatre background, I have a pretty healthy respect for The Deadline. You miss your print deadline, your article doesn’t make it in the paper. You miss your light cue, everybody’s standing around in the dark. I’ve worked in corporate cultures where The Deadline is not so much of a deadline as it is a suggestion, and it made me nuts. So it’s only natural that I ended up in grant writing, where The Deadline is paramount. It’s real, it’s hard and fast, and it knows no exception.

In grant writing, writing is only a small part of the job. Before the writing comes lots of prep in the form of planning, meeting, talking, deciding, etc., and this almost always involves other people. That’s where the grant writer’s understanding of and respect for The Deadline can get into trouble. Because other people’s concept of The Deadline is not as – shall we say – “solid” as your own, your timetable can get off track, through no fault of your own.

So what do you do, lie about the deadline? You definitely want to give yourself some breathing room, some allowance for technical difficulties. So yes, you “lie” about the deadline to build in for those unforeseen contingencies that invariably crop up. If that extra time is taken away (or you never had it in the first place), then you have no padding, no room for error (or correcting of mistakes), no chance to account for missing information. And with so much at stake, everything needs to be perfect in a grant application. Unless there’s opportunity to “sleep on it” – or at least read through it without interruption – you shortchange your chances of getting it perfect. And it needs to be perfect.

Now that I’m “of a certain age,” I also treat the deadline as a “suggestion,” but not in the way you think. I think about a deadline that is a full week, two weeks in advance of the ACTUAL deadline. I’m too old to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off, screeching in at the last second to hit “Submit.” That’s crazy-making and it’s no way to live. Because grant writers do this ALL THE TIME, they have to work ahead of the deadline to save their own sanity. Believe me, there’s no shame in it, we may even live longer because of it.

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