One of my favorite pieces of writing/art-making advice comes from a 2012 commencement speech given by Neil Gaiman at the University of the Arts. In it, he shares stories of how he got his start as a writer and thoughts on how to keep at it in your own inimitable way, through failures and successes.
I reread the speech every now and again when I need some encouragement that it is okay to write as I want to write. He reminds me not worry too much about hewing to other people’s rules and expectations for How To Do It Right. The right way is the way that works for each individual writer.
That said, editors’ expectations—like deadlines—do matter. I filed a big freelance story about libraries yesterday. It was late. It shouldn’t have been hard to write. Libraries have long been one of my favorite subjects to write about. Yet it was a struggle to get the story done, probably because my head is in book projects this summer.
This morning, in the calm after the deadline storm, I went to my favorite coffee shop and wrote in my journal for a while. (It’s good have a journal going. It’s a place where you can write whatever you want, however you want to, without expectations and rules and deadlines hanging over you.) And I reread Gaiman’s 2012 speech. When I have a deadline and miss it, I take heart from his Two out of Three rule:
People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.
Remember that next time you don’t make the hat trick—good, easy to work with, AND on time.