Editors Blog

4 Reasons You’re Procrastinating Instead of Writing

You have ideas for stories, but when you launch your word processor, you stare helplessly at a blank page. Every time you try to write, you end up spending the evening watching videos of cats on YouTube instead. Why is this happening? We’ve all been there. Here are a few things that might be getting in your way:

(Do you need different agents if you write multiple genres?)

 

 

the-martian-novel-cover-weir      andy-weir-author-martian

Column by Andy Weir, who was first hired as a programmer for a national lab at age
fifteen and has been engineering software ever since. He’s always been fascinated
by space travel and is a devoted hobbyist of subjects like orbital mechanics, relativistic
physics, astronomy, and the history of manned spaceflight. His first novel is THE MARTIAN
(Feb. 2014, Crown), about a stranded astronaut on Mars. The book has been praised by
USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, and more. It was a New
York Times bestseller and had its film rights optioned by 20th Century Fox.

 

 

1: You don’t know which story to pick

You don’t just have one idea, you have several. Writing a book is a big commitment. You want to take time to carefully consider what you’ll be spending the next year slaving over. No sense rushing in to things, right?

The problem with the above logic is that it leads to a stalemate. You like all the ideas you came up with. They’re your ideas, after all. When you start to think about doing one, you realize that would mean giving up on the others. Then you vacillate back and forth.

Solution: Write the first chapter of each story. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a better appreciation of which one you like the most. And if you finish Chapter 1 on one of them and really don’t want to stop, then there’s your answer.

2: Stories are always more awesome in your head than they are on paper

Your heroine, Susan, had neglectful and disinterested parents. This made her overwhelmingly driven to excel. She’s the youngest Vice President in the history of her Fortune 500 company. One day, while grabbing dinner with her wise-cracking gay friend Bob, she meets Joe. He’s a good man, and handsome, but not “successful”. He’s content to take life easy. Will Susan compromise her obsession with upward mobility to find happiness with Joe?

That’s the idea you had, anyway. But when you tried to write it, you got this:

“Susan first saw Joe at the diner. He looked good. Bob was there, too.”

After a few incidents like this, you got gun-shy about writing. You’re reluctant to put it on paper because deep down you know it won’t be as cool as you imagined it.

Solution: Ok, so it won’t be what you imagined. But a story in your head isn’t a story. It’s just a daydream until you actually write it down. So write it down. What’s the worst that can happen? If it sucks, you can delete it.

(Is it better to sign with a new literary agent or an experienced one?)

3: You’ve been telling the story instead of writing it

Oh, admit it. You’ve been telling everyone your story idea. Friends, relatives, the mailman, and anyone else who didn’t awkwardly edge away while you rambled on. But guess what? That sapped your desire to actually write it.

You want an audience. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be a writer. The biggest motivation to write is the knowledge that someone will read it. But you already told the story to everyone you know and your need for an audience has been sated. So when you stare at that scary blank page, your subconscious begins calculating. “This is hard. Is this worth it? What validation or feedback will I get? I already got opinions from the people I know, so anything beyond that will be from strangers. That’s nice, but on the other hand, I could be watching videos of cats on YouTube right now.”

Solution: Don’t tell your stories to anyone. You’ll be more motivated knowing it’s a prerequisite to having an audience. Also, your friends will be able to give real feedback instead of vague opinions about your unimplemented concepts. And you won’t have to wonder if the person you’re talking to is genuinely interested in your story, or secretly hoping they’ll have a heart attack so they can escape the conversation.

4: You don’t know how it will end yet

You know Brock Danger will defeat the Zorplaxian Queen, but you haven’t decided how. Will he incite a slave revolt? Will he defeat her champion in unarmed combat? Or will he use his rugged countenance to seduce her in to submission. You just can’t make up your mind.

Of course, you’re nowhere near having to write the climax yet. You’re still working on Chapter 3, where he crawls out of his crashed spaceship. But you don’t want to write any more until you’ve settled on an ending. After all, everything leads up to that. It will affect how every part of the story is presented.

Solution: A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. Don’t wait for an inspired ending to come to mind. Work your way to the ending and see what comes up. When you actually write it down, you start to see all the avenues. You’ll finish the book sooner and you’ll get more ideas for the ending along the way.

(Why writers must make themselves easy to contact.)

 

This guest column is a supplement to the
“Breaking In” (debut authors) feature of this author
in Writer’s Digest magazine. Are you a subscriber
yet? If not, get a discounted one-year sub here.

 

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

 

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13 thoughts on “4 Reasons You’re Procrastinating Instead of Writing

  1. Jetta42

    Thanks for this! Number 1 has been a huge problem for me, I’ve been doing outlines to try to quell the desire to jump between stories/books (I’ve described it as writing ADD) but its not doing what I hoped it would. I’ll try a paragraph or chapter instead and hopefully that will work!

    Number 2 is a problem as well but there was a quote I heard a few weeks ago that I try to keep in mind to help over come this. Paraphrasing of course,” Its not up to you if the story is good or bad, its up the reader. Your job is write it the best you can.”

  2. lionetravail

    Mr. Weir, I’m already a fan: read your book after buying it from the Sci Fi Book Club. And people, it’s really an excellent read- Mr. Weir has excellent storytelling ability, and his protagonist is an extremely funny fellow. (One suspects a certain amount of autobiographical nature found it’s way to Mark Watney, sir.) Seriously, one can learn a ton about how to incorporate humor into a desperate survival sci fi story.

    I’m a sci-fi addict, and after years straddling the nebulous overlapping zone between hard sci fi, space opera, and fantasy, I’ve found that I don’t care what I read as long as I am entertained. (For the record, I’m totally in a hard sci fi mood, and have been for the past 5 years or so. Except for the novel I’m currently querying on, which is mixed hard sci fi and space opera.)

    The advice you gave above is so, so true, with number one appropriately at the head of my list: I’ve started 2 new novels, but one of them is just so much fun to write that I’ve concentrated on that one to the relative exclusion of the other. (My excuse is I’m letting that one age to get just the right tannins in.)

    Thank you for your column here, and congratulations on your success!

  3. VeronicaRWinters

    My biggest reason is real life gets in the way. Sure, I come up with ideas doing housework, but I don’t always jot them down. They get lost in the vast contours of my mind rather than in my laptop. Not to mention school. I’m either helping my children with projects or participating in fundraisers. Teachers expect much more from parents these days than what they did when I was a kid. They don’t realize they’re putting a temporary road block on the fate of my characters!
    Being a closet writer, few of my acquaintances know that I write, which makes it easier not to tell people about my story. It does motivate me to finish it so I can share it with the world someday soon!

  4. Joe Snoe

    I’m at the how to end part. I’ve got several options but figuring out how to implement any of them is a challenge; plus you didn’t mention the fifth: If you’re a teacher (or many other jobs), you can put all your energy into that.

    A variant on #3 : Four people started reading my draft once I finished about 80% of it. And I found myself waiting for their responses rather than writing. (Now they are mad at me for not giving them more chapters)

  5. Becky

    The last one was the one I got hung up on. I have been planning my debut novel for almost 2 years. I researched, brainstormed, tried to write, then realized I didn’t know where it was going. I decided I needed a plan and that I needed an outline. That has always been a problem for me, throughout elementary, junior and senior high school, as well as college. I am writing a paranormal mystery, with shades of Cold Case. I then realized that it may be two stories, so I then thought about concentrating on one of them. I got lost again. I didn’t know who I wanted for the murderer in either story. Then, one day, I was reading a book on plot, and a light bulb went off. I closed the book, and wrote a partial outline. Then I realized I still had the same problem. I had no idea how it would end, but I knew how I wanted to start. So, I finally got to writing and I have my first scene! I am going to write what I have and then hopefully the characters will dictate the direction, or the story itself will. Thanks for this post. I was wondering why I was procrastinating.

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