Let's say that you are a grad student or postdoc and you are supposed to supply the first draft of a manuscript to someone, perhaps your advisor. Let's say that you miss the first (self-imposed) deadline, and then the second and third and (n-1) deadlines (some of which are imposed by your advisor), and time is going by. Let's say that there is no drop-dead deadline as with a grant proposal to a funding agency that cares not for the reasons why you didn't get your grant proposal in on time*, but if you don't write the manuscript, your career prospects diminish.
So, you are up against your nth deadline and you still don't have the manuscript in acceptable form and you have been unwilling to accept your advisor's offer to help you with intermediate stages of writing and constructing the paper because you want to show that you can do this.
Do you send your advisor garbage -- a rough rough rough draft that has huge holes in it and essentially no discussion other than some topics in outline form, causing him/her to question your abilities and to wonder what you have been doing for the past few months/years -- or do you send nothing (again) and hope that nothing now is better than garbage now?
The best answer is, of course, neither. Send a decent draft, even if it isn't perfect. Don't send garbage and don't send nothing.
But what if you can't come up with a decent draft? The answer (in my opinion, speaking as an advisor-like person) is still neither. Ask for help: from your advisor, from peers who can help you with whatever obstacles are keeping you from writing, from your therapist, from your pets -- just do something constructive if at all possible. Do not make excuses -- that doesn't count as doing something constructive.**
* Except once I found out that the proposal deadlines at federal funding agencies are not so drop-dead as they may seem. Several years ago, I was traveling far from home and working on a proposal during my travels. I planned to submit a proposal online but then there was a natural disaster that cut off the internet connection of one region of the world from the rest of the world. By phone, my nice program director gave me an extension on my proposal and I successfully submitted the proposal 5 days after the deadline, and the proposal was funded. I would not recommend this in general, but it's nice to know there is some flexibility.
** I seem to be very emphatic this week. I am not sure why, but this weekend I went to a cafe to do some work, and as I walked across the cafe to visit my daughter, who was curled up in a chair reading nearby, a large metal bar dislodged from the high ceiling and fell on the place where I had been moments before. Perhaps this has put me in a somewhat severe mood, at least temporarily. Perhaps it should have put me in a philosophical mood, but it didn't.
6 months ago