This past weekend Kenneth updated his Facebook page status with the following post: It’s rare that I’ll find myself a week behind a book deadline. Been that sort of September.
Writing (a first draft at least) tends to be a mostly solitary undertaking, but when it comes to actually publishing a book, the process usually involves a few –– or more than a few –– people. And it would be quite understandable if panic ensued when any one of the individuals involved posts that he’s “behind by a week” when an ebook release deadline (the BIG deadline) is looming.
That’s not what happened though. I looked at the post and chuckled; Peter raised his right eyebrow (or maybe it was his left). We knew he was/we were behind, but facing situations that have the power to either slow down or completely derail a project is pretty much inevitable. And whenever they occur, I simply remember a lesson learned oh so long ago in J-School, (short for Journalism School) back in the old days when Western University was still called the University of Western Ontario.
On that particular day in the early 1980s, I was the producer for the 30-minute radio news program that would air at 5:00 p.m. Planning had gone well the previous day –– my reporters had all their stories lined up, interviews were arranged, everything was right on track. In retrospect, it had all gone too smoothly, but I was young and naïve at the time, so I didn’t realize ‘too smooth’ was in itself a warning.
We got to the newsroom early the day of the show, ready to pull together an amazing line-up of stories and all quite pleased with ourselves. But things went immediately to hell.
Most of the stories involved long-distance calls, and the long-distance lines were down. Since this was in the days before the Internet and smart phones, emails and texting weren’t options. And we were students who couldn’t afford to make long-distance calls from our own telephones. No worries, we thought, the lines will come back up in plenty of time. They didn’t.
Then to add insult to injury, every single one of the local stories that had been arranged fell through. I don’t remember the details; I just remember frantic fellow-students coming to me one after the other after the other with looks of horror on their faces. It was a classic day of anything that can go wrong will.
By mid-day we still had a 5:00 p.m. show, and not a single story. We’d been coming up with alternatives all morning, but nothing was panning out.
By 4:00 p.m., we still had a 5:00 p.m. show, and still NOT A SINGLE STORY. Yes, I put that in all caps. And bold.
But with less than a half-hour to go, the alternatives that we’d been frantically working on finally started to pay off, and we went to air at 5:00 p.m. with enough to get us through the first ten minutes. By the end of those ten minutes, the next ten were ready… and yes, by the end of that, the final segments. And it was a damn fine show, if I do say so myself.
Book publishing obviously has different timelines than a radio show, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned that day: You meet the big, 5:00 p.m. deadlines. Somehow.
If I ever even begin to doubt that, I think back to that day and know that somehow you get it done. It takes flexibility, ingenuity, determination, teamwork, an ability to stay cool under pressure and help others do the same, a strong sense of certainty, and a boost of adrenalin, but you make it happen.
Kenneth might have been a week behind one of his deadlines but we all knew that just meant making up for it in another part of the timeline. We got caught up by the end of the weekend, of course, but are now behind again (this time by a day) thanks to an evening I lost fighting a migraine.
But no worries. We still have plenty of time before 5:00 p.m.