Ranjona Banerji: The brain just doesn’t work without a deadline!

06 Sep,2016

By Ranjona Banerji

 

How do we deal with the problem of deadlines? When I started working in journalism, I used to do my subbing in the day and writing at night. Those were the days of typewriters so you often did multiple rewrites and wasted a lot of paper. Also I worked in magazines for seven years which meant each story was about 3000 words long! After your third rewrite various editors went through your copy, slashed and ripped it apart so the final product came after several trees had been chopped down. It was difficult therefore to start writing just before deadline. Or, perhaps I was just more disciplined in my youth!

 

Years of working in a newspaper corrupted me. Now I find it impossible to write until I have reached deadline. The rush is everything; the brain does not work without it. For the past four years, I have had two deadlines to meet on Tuesdays. This column by about 11-ish in the am and for Mid-day, for which I was allowed leeway until 6 pm. There have been times I confess when I only sent that one by 5.55pm.

 

Now Mid-Day has thrown me a googly and asked me to deliver the column at 11 am on Tuesday. That’s impossible because it would clash with this one. Any sensible person would write the Mid-Day column on Monday. So, imagining myself to be sensible, I tried that for three weeks. Opened the laptop on Monday evening, fiddled around on Facebook liking random photographs of cats and children, checked some fights on Twitter, outraged about this and that, saved a Word document with the relevant name, wrote a couple of lines, deleted them, changed the subject and gave up after half an hour.

 

No inspiration was my excuse. But I knew the truth. It was impossible to write so far ahead of the deadline. My mind just refused to cooperate. So now I have to wake up a little earlier than usual on Tuesday morning and get to work.

 

I can only pat myself on the back that I am not as bad as some colleagues who kept editions waiting and the press on hold as they finished their columns: The joys of being editor in the days before the media was corporatised! But almost everyone I know struggles to get down to work without the deadline looming. Every newsroom I have been in has tried to grapple with this problem. Meetings have been held, deadlines fixed, work timings changed…

 

But everyone knows the truth. Getting a journal to print is a finely tuned process but there are plenty of loopholes. If advertising matter has not come in for a page, you get a little leeway. The order in which pages have to be released gives you leeway. The section into which your page falls gives you leeway. And in these little gaps, great genius work may emerge!

 

And then there are all those little lies… When I was editor of Sunday Mid-Day years ago, there were many complaints from every department that the editorial deadlines were delaying the paper. A management consultant, full of all kinds of the then latest Japanese management jargon, had been hired to streamline processes and he was put on my case. We had weekly meetings with editorial, marketing, pre-production, press, distribution and circulation.

 

Unfortunately for every department but editorial, it turned out that they had added 45 minutes to their timeframes to cover up their own mistakes, thus cutting into editorial time. At the end of this three-month exercise, I managed to get our editorial deadlines extended by one hour, and more if there was a serious newsbreak!

 

So how long do you think I’m going to keep waking up early on a Tuesday morning?

 

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