The only reason my oven has EVER been cleaned is when there is a looming writing deadline hurtling towards me like a ten-tonne truck. Rather than make things easier for myself by sitting down and getting with it, I clean out my sock drawer or rediscover a box of old photographs.
Last year, when I was struggling with my second novel, promoting the first and starting a new full-time day job in a matter of days, I decided that was a great time to trace my family tree. Three days later, I had discovered the man I thought was my grandfather, wasn’t. The real one was a Canadian soldier stationed in England during WW2. It caused a rather large ripple effect across three continents and didn’t help with novels 1 or 2 at all, but at least I’m in contact with my cousin in Canada now, silver linings and all.
Firstly, allow me to state the obvious. Procrastination is good old-fashioned fear; fear of failing, of not being good enough, of being judged. I’m not going to be able to fix you. All I can do is share some of the wool I try and pull over my own eyes in the hope it gets a few fellow procrastinators out of the starting blocks.
5 Tips to Work Through Procrastination
1. Skirt around the issue. The act of sitting in front of a blank word page is daunting and a cliche. Pattern interrupt! Use anything—Excel, PowerPoint, MS Project. Don’t write, work up chapter plans or draw a storyline map. Make a graph with the drama/tension path of the story and make notes at milestones where important things need to happen. You can fill in the gaps later and let’s face it, you can plan all you like—you are going to change things once you are actually writing.
2. Play a game. Grab a six-year-old—not literally, but ask anyone in the vicinity to name an object as random as they like. Six-year-olds will most likely say dolphin or unicorn. Now you have to work that suggestion into your chapter. It takes the pressure off because now being the angsty writer you are, you are now worrying about how on earth you are going to get a unicorn in your medieval murder mystery. You can edit it out later, it may even help you add another dynamic to your story. Games can help you not to take it all too seriously. Remember to have fun.
3. Tough love. It’s just a job. Do you think journalists or copywriters want to write every day? I used to be a copywriter and I can tell you: they don’t. It’s just a job. Now pull yourself together and get on with it. If you are good at compartmentalising in other areas of your life—tasking yourself with the professional route may work for you. It certainly takes the emotion (or ego) out of the way.
4. Get out. Go on a research trip. Give yourself sensory overload. Take pictures. Go home, review the pictures and write descriptions using the five senses as inspiration. Watch and feel—lead in with that. It will probably be way too much flowery detail but you can edit it out later.
5. Character assassination. This is my favorite which perhaps says more about me but it works. Bring someone you know into the scene. I like to use people who have annoyed me. Maybe the character is a receptionist (but really your superior mother-in-law). Let them demonstrate how irritating they are to the world while allowing your planned characters to engage in spontaneous dialogue around the event.
I once asked a very successful author at a writer’s festival if she ever struggled with something as amateurish as procrastination. She laughed and said she had to start every blank page with the words this is going to be awful. All right, maybe not those exact words. It’s not the most positive encouragement you can give yourself, but she said it took the pressure off for her. If all fails, it's worth a go.