Tag Archives: procrastination

Time Management… Not!

do_notMy son used to try to bargain with me all the time, “I’ll do this chore. I promise. Just let me go have fun now and I’ll do it when I get back. Promise!”  Ha.  It would get put off and put off and further bargained until everyone involved had forgotten what he was supposed to do and he had done nothing but have fun.  I’ll own the bad parenting involved when I fell for it time and time again.

Writing can be like that too, “I’ll write today, just as soon as I ____.”  But, then you get caught up in the alternative action or sidetracked into another tangent or you lose all motivation you may have felt initially. It’s an easy trap to fall into as my previous compatriots have mention in their posts this month.  It’s easy to find excuses to not write and hard to be the only person cracking a whip that says, WRITE.

I’m sure it helps to have an editor/publisher/agent keeping you on task (which Quincy brings up), but what if you don’t? What if you are your own boss (as Evan mentioned) or you’re a habitual procrastinator, so habits are hard to form (as Matt talks about) or perhaps you’re better at making lists than crossing them off (as Kristin discusses) or you’re tragic at prioritization (as Jace does). In other words, what if you’re like me?

The posts I mention all have great points they discuss and I need to incorporate them all. I do. Really-really. So, I appreciate what they have to say and hopefully you found them useful too.  I do know what I need to do. It’s the doing it that’s hard.

Instead, I’m going to make some suggestions on what NOT to do and I shall endeavor to not do them myself this year.

Don’t look at your email before you write. I get sidetracked every time and can waste hours on it. So,  first write.

Don’t reward yourself BEFORE you earn it. I reward myself with movies, TV shows, video games and reading. But that reward is only a reward if I wrote first, otherwise, it’s really an excuse to not write. So, first write.

Don’t wait for a chunk of time in order to write. Even ten or fifteen minutes can be productive and it’s better than nothing.  So, just write.

Don’t wait for the mood/muse/creative spirit to strike before you write.  It will show up if you’re plugging along. Maybe not right away, but you can edit crap. You can’t edit what isn’t there. So, just write.

Don’t give up. Like Matt said in his post (linked to above), the one thing that works for everyone is to not give up. Everyone’s vision of success is different and the only person you need to satisfy is yourself. So, just write.

I wish everyone the best in achieving their goals this year, by doing and NOT doing what you need to succeed.

If anyone has some more NOT’s for the list, please share 🙂

Does Writer’s Block Exist?

Back in April, I posted about procrastination.  Since then I’ve been thinking about writer’s block and whether or not it actually exists.  Sure, I struggle to write at times.  Actually I struggle to write most of the time.  But I can usually identify a reason: fatigue, stress, not knowing my characters well enough, not knowing where the story is heading, not being in a creative mood…  I can give you any number of reasons why I can’t write today.  But is it “writer’s block”?  Or is it just me making excuses?

In the movie Stranger than Fiction, one of the lead characters is a writer who is unable to come up with a way to kill off a character in her book.  The plot paints her as a wildly successful writer who is paralysed by her own success.  But is this necessarily “writer’s block” or a case of someone who lets herself be overcome by circumstances to the point where she can no longer write?

I’ve read several theories about what causes writer’s block – it’s a result of stressful conditions, it’s a disruption to activity in a particular part of the brain, it’s a writer running out of inspiration…  I’m not arguing these aren’t all real issues that can halt the flow of words but aren’t we using them as excuses?  We’re too tired, too stressed, too busy to write, so we tell ourselves we have writer’s block.  What other profession would accept this as a valid reason for not producing the required work?  I’m sorry, I can’t paint your house today because I have painter’s block.  I can’t clean your teeth because I have dentist’s block.  I can’t sell you any milk because I have shop assistant’s block.  It’s really quite ludicrous when you think about it.

So I’ve decided I will no longer believe in writer’s block.  If Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny stop coming around because we no longer believe in them then I choose to believe that writer’s block will disappear if I don’t believe in that either.

This doesn’t mean I won’t ever be too tired or too busy to write.  It doesn’t mean I won’t ever have one of those days when I sit at the computer for hours without writing a single word.  It doesn’t mean writing will suddenly become easy.  It just means I have one fewer excuse for why I’m not producing what I know I can.

What excuses do you dress up as writer’s block?

How To Write Now

Character: Myself
Goal: To finish my damned book
Motivation: The story needs to be told
Present circumstances: Mundane life
Back story: Wrote some nonfiction. Thought I’d try my hand at fiction.

Will gangsters kill me if I don’t finish my first draft? No.
Will the balance of political power be affected if I don’t finish my book? No.
Will the world as we know it be forever changed if I don’t finish the book? Probably not.

I keep falling off the wagon.

This is because of an insidious form of procrastination – reading how-to-write books.

When I first took up fiction a few years ago it seemed like the thing to do. “What can you recommend on how-to-write books?”

But now it’s become a full blown vice.

More than one how-to-write book has told me I need to write at least a page a day. They say I’ll have a book at the end of a year.

Some of these same books have said I need to read a hundred books in my genre before I’m qualified to write in it. I don’t know how many I’ve read, and that nagging insecurity I feel must mean I should read some more.

But maybe I can make up the difference by reading “how-to” books.

Sometimes the only down time I have is commuting. So I try to tell myself that learning a bit more about craft and structure is a productive use of time, and my Kindle tells me how to develop deep, sympathetic characters that we care about – in its endearing robotic female text-to-speech voice.

I want to write! I’ve tried all the advice about carrying a mini-recorder and putting my notes in it! But I never get around to transcribing them, they are full of hems and haws and I only really get work done when I sit down at the keyboard.

I created a separate account on my computer so I can log out of my “work” self and have an an e-mail free environment where I only write. Kind of like how you have to move the boa from one aquarium to another before you feed it, so it doesn’t think the main cage is for food.

But there’s still a web browser. No writing gets done. I bite my hand anyway.

By now, what do I need to learn? I know I need a strong narrative drive! I know that my characters need a back story but that I shouldn’t include it! I know that the three act structure is both outdated and irrelevant yet critical for a book!

I know too well that I have to create strong sympathetic characters, and if they’re morally ambiguous, a great way to do this is to give them a dog or a wife or something that makes us care.

Heck, by now doesn’t everyone know that events in the story should flow organically from the motivations our characters have? Isn’t it obvious that characters become two dimensional when they are slaves to plot?

Of course dialogue is supposed to be a compressed form of high-quality speech, what that character’s best self could say. I wish I actually had enough dialog written so that I could read it out loud to myself and see if it flows!

I have many examples of the genre beats that my story might want to hit.

Don’t even get me started on the 10-plus hours of lectures that I have been listening to and re-listening to from a recent writing conference. I’m thankful I didn’t get all three days of lectures and only took home what I could capture with my two mini recorders.

I don’t want to hear another word about 1st 2nd and 3rd person, and the different ways writers try to explain the intimate and remote 3rd person. I am fed up with admonitions not to try 1st person contrasted with encouragements to do it. I don’t care if I don’t have a good reason to use 1st person! How about “I’m writing a book” – is that good enough?

I even know that all the rules don’t matter if you’re skilled enough, and that rules were meant to be broken.

(That said, I swear by all that is holy that the choice for me is adverb-free.)

What they’re all saying, the only advice I can’t seem to take, is to finish that first draft!

I guess better writers than I can revise yesterday’s notes to get in the groove for today. But for me, that’s two steps back with no steps forward.

I know how my story ends in great detail. I’ve already started it and written most of the first act. Really, the only thing sagging about my middle act is my persistence in writing it!

It’s pretty easy, really, right? Scenes are just vignettes of conflict. And my characters have goals they’d practically die for. They have such deep motivations! I mean, how else could it be? And all I have to do is write out a bunch of scenes and I have a book, right?

I’m going to try today, to turn over a new leaf, get back on the wagon, and get through this book.

Ok I have to generate the motivation myself. Somehow.

I’m imagining the situation. I have to write the book. There’s a loaded shotgun over the mantle. Did I put it there?

My future self is furious that we’re out of money and that I’m going to die penniless and obscure, because I never finished the book.

My future self takes Chekov’s gun and aims it at my head and says,

“Write. Now.”