Procrastination, and how to avoid it

March 20, 2009 at 6:25 AM | Posted in Life, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Advice | 7 Comments
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Okay, you’ve decided you’re going to write a novel. You’ve got it all planned out, and it’s going to be a bestseller. You’re just about to start writing when you notice someone has emailed you, so you decide to read the message first – it might be important. Then you remember you need to look something up on the internet. Then you get lost in a fascinating blog (like this one… :D). Then someone starts up an MSN conversation with you. An hour later, you’re still finding things you need to do.

The book sits there gathering dust, unwritten. However fantastic the idea is, if you don’t actually put in the hours and dedicate time to it, it will never be finished. And if it isn’t finished, it won’t be a best-seller. And you won’t be famous.

So, it’s all very well to say that you won’t let things distract you, that you won’t procrastinate. If you’re the sort of lucky person who can actually do that, then huge kudos to you, and I look forward to seeing you at the top of the bestsellers chart. If you are the sort of person who gets distracted by anything shiny (like me and the rest of the world), listen up.

First, what is procrastination? Basically, it’s distractions. It’s when you end up doing other things instead of writing, putting it off. It’s bad for obvious reasons – if you don’t write anything, then you aren’t really a writer. If you don’t write anything, you have zero chance of getting published.

Procrastination is especially problematic as a teenager. Friends demand your attention, you need to update your facebook, homework is piling up, you need to tidy your room, parents are nagging. The list goes on. The important thing is to make sure you find distraction-free time for your writing.

There are a variety of different methods for combating procrastination, and you’ve got to figure out which one works for you. The most common incentive is goal-setting. If you say you are going to write 1000 words before bed, before eating, before TV or before you can go on the internet, then you are more likely to push to reach it. That means you might end up with 1000 words instead of 600, or even 1000 words instead of none. You have to set your goals realistically. If you set it too high you’ll give up, too low and you won’t have written much. My advice is to have a daily goal and change it if necessary as you get faster/slower/busier. You could even reward yourself with chocolate or something if you achieve your target.

Another technique used by many writers is stopping in the middle of a sentence or in the middle of the action to help get yourself started next time. If your inner perfectionist will allow this, it can be great. The worst thing is stopping somewhere because you don’t know where to go next – and still having no idea once you come back to it. That’s just a recipe for not getting anything written. Stop in the middle of something exciting, and you’ll be excited to go back and write more of it.

Thanks to our teenaged mood swings, we don’t always feel like writing the same thing every day. Having multiple WIPs can help this, because if you are stuck or don’t feel like working on one, you can just move onto another. However, you do need to be very careful with this method, as you don’t want to end up with two half-finished WIPs instead of a completed one. Once you’ve started a book, you have to dedicate yourself to finishing it, or else it’s unlikely you’ll get it all done. If multiple WIPs sound like too much of a challenge, try having multiple scenes from one WIP on the go at the same time. You don’t always have to write chronologically, and the organic method of hopping from scene to scene can (not always) stimulate your muse. If you don’t feel in the mood for a love scene, write one of the action scenes. This prevents mental blockage but is dependant on you having a rough outline at least.

Joining a forum or getting a group of other writers together to egg you on is also good. This doesn’t have to be in real life (that can be a little daunting) – online is great too. If you have someone chasing you, nagging you to write, and helping you when you’re stuck, then you are more likely to keep writing.

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike – that’s just another form of procrastination. Write every day to get into the habit, whether your muse is knocking around or on holiday. Even if you feel like you’re writing total crap, that’s fine. Crap can be edited. If you’ve written absolutely nothing, then you’re further behind than if you’ve written something. Don’t make excuses: let your first draft suck.

One method which is widely accepted as the simplest way to keep writing is the “butt in chair” mantra. BIC means getting yourself to write as often as possible, like it or not. BIC is good thing to remember and has helped many writers get those words on the page.

I hope I helped. Also, just FYI, writing nearly 1000 words on the subject of procrastination is procrastination, too. Just worthwhile procrastination, or so I like to think.

~Poppy (aka Metaphor)


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  1. Great post =] yeah, I procrastinate constantly and I’m not in denial, it’s just a fact… apparently what I have is called “deep procrastination” and apparently it causes burnout and depression. LOL. I gotta work on it. *procrastinates working on it*
    The stopping-in-the-middle-of-a-scene/sentence bit really does work. I try to set a goal and stop as soon I meet that goal or go a little bit over. That way, I’m not feeling bored and tired when I finally “give up” writing more, and if I don’t write the next day for some reason I end up getting so impatient to continue the exciting scene that I gotta write.

  2. Great post. I think it inspired me. I may actually write tonight, even though I have a dog to walk, two important episodes to watch, and also a fanfic to work on . . .
    I’ll schedule my time. 6-7 for writing, 7-7:30 walk the dog, and then I can lounge, alternately watching eppies and writings a chapter or two of the fanfic.
    Ah, it’s good to have a plan.

  3. Wow great post Metapop! =} I’m going to try the “stopping in the middle of a scene” thing, thanks! ^__^

  4. You are wrong, Poppy. Very wrong about the online forums thing. :)

    If I had an ounce of willpower I’d be done with my WIP right now, but the twifties are far more interesting.

    I blame the twifties.




    • True :D

      I like to think forums are goood procrastination :D (wishful thinking…)

      Honestly I wouldn’t have got /anything/ written without you guys there. I’m thinking some is better than none :D

      Okay, for some people, forums aren’t a good idea :P. And for some they are. Whatever works for you :)

      • I’m with meta. Sure, I’ve written next to nothing in the past two weeks. HOWEVER:
        I’m the kind of person who will get really passionate about something, then give it up within a matter of days (weeks maximum). I’m 95% sure that I would have given up writing a novel by now, ’cause back in January I was already feeling a little apathetic. But now, just the fact that I’m totally obsessed with a writing community and have a bunch of people who aren’t going to LET me stop writing is a total safeguard against any giving up I could possibly do. If I get an average of 200 words written a day, that’s better than a permanent 0. I absolutely know I’m going to finish my WIP, no matter how long it takes – it’s a great feeling. =]
        It’s still a problem. But. At least talking about writing > watching TV or something. XD

  5. I cannot have more than one WIP at once. Otherwise the characters cross over to other stories and start fights with each other. For example – Dax thinks Marc is a whiny brat who should get a life, because she doesn’t really have it that bad.

    To which Marc replies that Dax should go to hell.

    This is why progress on FIREWALL has almost completely stalled. Because my characters won’t get along together.

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