On Procrastination

Writing Tips

I had planned to write a post last night about themes, but I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t write a single word. The reason (ahem…excuse)? Officially, I was setting up a new laptop with all the software necessary to work, honing and personalising it to my preferences to ensure optimum productivity. In reality, I was procrastinating.

Why, when I’m in the middle of writing a novel, did I suddenly decide to change my main workstation? The main reason was lack of motivation. I’ve managed to get myself stuck in a rut whilst writing the latest chapter and broke my first rule: if it’s not working, leave it and move on.

This whole thing (and guilt) got me thinking about procrastination, the ways we can stop ourselves succumbing to other urges (keep it clean!) and actually get motivated to write. After a lot of deliberation, and even more red ink, I’ve come up with five top tips to help get you back on track.

Top 5 Procrastination-breaking Tips

1. Disconnect the internet

The internet, a digital world teeming with information right there at your eager finger-tips, always available and always beckoning. It’s like a small child; in need of constant attention and love. Even when you’re not browsing, it’s constantly popping up on your desktop reminding you of its presence. Facebook and Twitter beg to be fed with tales of your latest exploits and blogs tempt you with promises of unread, interesting posts. Then there is the one thing that gets all writers at some point: research.

We writers are a curious bunch. We lay awake until the early hours, pondering the answer to such questions as:

  • What does it feel like to stuck by a lightning bolt?
  • How long can an average-size humanoid hold their breath when submerged in a sea of dragon’s blood?
  • What does death smell like? (sickly-sweet, apparently).

The answers are out there and we must find them. So, what do we do? We fire up the internet and bombard the search engines, all the while our manuscripts and short stories go untouched.

Don’t get me wrong, research is vital to realism and idea generation, but there is such a thing as too much research. By the time you’ve clicked on your fifty-seventh link, checked emails and updated social media, it’s suddenly midnight and you realise you have to be up in five hours for the day job. What’s worse, all that time could have been spent writing

Research all you need for the scene/chapter/story before you start writing, but give yourself a time limit. When the time’s up, disconnect. If your narrative goes a different direction which requires fact-checking or expansion, jot it down to revisit later but continue to write.

The internet will still be there in an hour’s time: write first.

2. Silence your phone

This is again down to temptation. The phone sits there beeping, flashing and vibrating, distracting you from work. Switch it off to avoid the urge to check messages/emails. They’ll still be there when you’re done.

3. If you’re stuck, move on

One of the biggest causes of my procrastination is writing myself into a corner during a scene, or not knowing how to end one. My advice is to summarise the main points and move on. Draft another scene or chapter, just don’t stop writing.

When I first started, I had a very traditional (linear) way of working and would rattle a story off from start to finish in the way the story was meant to be read. This was great when it came to keeping my train of thought, but didn’t help when became stuck. In my office, I have a box of unfinished stories most of them victims of this process.

These days, my approach is far more fluid. If I get stuck on a scene, I leave it and move on to the next, coming back when I feel ready to tackle it. I’ll admit, this is not for everyone and I’ve been known to lose my way on occasion, necessitating the use of an editing machete to carve the path back, but then again, that’s what redrafts are for.

I intend to discuss linear and non-linear working techniques in another post.

4. Work on multiple projects

Sometimes it’s not so easy to move from one scene to another. The part you’re writing could be the keystone of the whole piece on which the outcome of everything hangs. What do you do then? If you have multiple projects on the go, you have the opportunity of switching between them when the going gets tough on one.

This piece of advice is given with a caveat: don’t let this be the reason for procrastinating on a project. If you are having problems with the direction of a story/scene, causing you to always run into the arms of a friendlier project, it may be that it needs further thought, even a rewrite.

5. Take a walk

I know it sounds like procrastinating, but there are times when you just need to take a break; get away from the desk and get some fresh air. Activities that don’t require much thought like exercise, walking the dog, or even doing the dishes leave your mind free to concentrate on where your story is going.

If all else fails, do what I do and write a blog post. It’s still procrastinating as far as projects are concerned, but you can always justify it to yourself – you’re writing aren’t you?

Do you have any procrastination-beating tips of your own? Feel free to share them in the comments.

5 thoughts on “On Procrastination

    1. Mine too! Him, the Internal Editor and the guy with the quiet voice that keeps saying ‘what were you thinking?’ are like the League of Evil (Writing Division).

      1. LOL! A couple of years back I had an idea about writing a book because I kept of doing all those things you wrote about

  1. LOL.. This piece certainly struck a chord with me. I wrote a short story back in November covering this very subject, called ‘Just Get on with It.’ I just wish I had read your piece here first, it would have added a few ideas for it. Enjoyed reading this..

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