The Deadline Dance

Most deadlines are stationary partners in The Deadline Dance. Not so for the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards. The due date has moved. Submissions now must be postmarked on or before Saturday, August 22. Complete submission guidelines are available on the SCWW website at

So what is The Deadline Dance? It's how we approach that fateful day when a submission is due. We step toward it with gusto and energy with the first sparks of an idea. Then back off in trepidation and fatigue as the real work begins. But then those 'aha' moments come and we pick up our pace again. Most of us continue that start and stop as we inch toward the deadline.

Some writers waltz. Their outlining, researching, writing and editing are choreographed in precise steps to the final date. Others believe they need to let the adrenalin build up and then they'll jitterbug in a flurry of writing as it all spills out. We all dance the dance that feels most comfortable.

I remember my first real Deadline Dance. I was a senior in Ms. Hayden's Senior Comp class. On Mondays she'd assign a paper, due at the beginning of class the following Monday. I was a busy senior with work, sports, a boyfriend and other schoolwork, so the first assignment I put off until the weekend and punched out my required three pages. I got an A. And I decided I'd found my writing method, my dance routine. I'd let the creative juices and ideas spin and whirl in my head all week and then Sunday night, around midnight, they'd magically coalesce and produce a masterpiece. I didn't actually have to do anything but show up for the final recital at the deadline.

That worked once.

Years later I saw my former teacher. I mentioned to her I'd become a published poet, thinking that would somehow redeem the mediocre grades from her class. She gave me that exasperated look teens reserve for their parents and countered, "Well, it's not like I just gave those away."

Ouch! Point taken. I show up much earlier and more consistently these days.

There are studies that attempt to explain how and why deadlines affect us the way they do. But no matter what dance we do, once thing I've noticed as the SCWW Contest Chair is that many writers wait until the last possible moment to place their manuscript into an envelope and slip it through the mail slot. What is it that keeps us from letting go of our work earlier? Are we waiting for the perfect word to replace the one we know just isn't right? Do we question or doubt our ability? Is is just a time management problem? Whatever the reason, hedging too close to the deadline can cause problems.

Some things to keep in mind as the new Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards deadline approaches.

1. Do a good final edit and let the manuscript go. We all want our submission to be

perfect, but sometimes we edit the thing to death and it lingers and never gets on its way.

2. Anticipate the unexpected. I've heard numerous stories about the computer that died

or the printer that ran out of ink or the medical/family/Act of God emergency that

occured the night before or the day of the deadline.

3. Have all your mailing supplies handy and be familiar with your post office.

There are several post offices in my area and they have different hours of operation AND

different clearing offices:Charlotte for some, Columbia for others. This affects both the post

dates and the time it takes for mail to get where it's going.

4. Allow for mail delays. Neither rain nor sleet nor . . . well, holidays can mess things up. For

the Carrie McCray we take note of when Labor Day falls and try to work around that. But

sometimes other things happen. An unfortunate incident occured with our High School

Writing Competition this year. A teacher dropped off a packet of entries the day before the

postmark deadline, but for some reason it didn't get stamped and sent until several days

later. The only thing I could do was return the manuscripts.

5. Read and follow the complete guidelines before you head to the PO. If you reread

them after you've sent in your work and then realize you've goofed somewhere, you can only

fix it if there's still time to resubmit before the posted deadline. If you have questions about

anything, my e-mail address is listed in the submission information and I'm more than

happy to help you out.

So now, go put on those dancing shoes and get moving. This dance ends Saturday, August 22.


Anonymous said...

I love your play on words! Could you tell us what judges have said in the past about entries?

Kim Blum-Hyclak said...

Thanks! I like words. For the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards the judges were quite impressed with last year's entries. But the entries aren't critiqued, so neither I nor the authors received detailed responses. I think each judge made general comments about their particular category. They thought the writing was strong. They enjoyed the variety of work within their category. One or two made a specific comment about a character or the voice of the narrator. I didn't get any negative feedback. Many of them have offered to judge again and I think that says much about the quality of the work they read. They wouldn't offer their time if they didn't think the writing was worth it. For the Quill Writing Contests, offered through the SCWW newsletter, judges' comments have been both favorable and advisory. I used some of their advice in an earlier blog on judges - Don't Judge a Book by It's Cover . . . Thanks for the question.

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