Creative Writing: Procrastination and Solutions

Target Audience: all creative writers stuck in a funk

Contents

Introduction

Getting back into the swing of writing after a hiatus can be rather challenging. The brain is sluggish and wants to be on holiday. Sometimes the desire burns like a flame, but motivation is dead. Our dear friend procrastination pays a visit and creates a block between writer and words. After all, one more Netflix episode can’t hurt… Well, there goes, today… and tonight… tomorrow is good… hmm maybe the next day? 

Avoidance does nothing to solve the problem. In high school, my bestie would mock Nike and say in a stupid voice, “Do it… do it… just do it.” Of course, sometimes her meaning related to something dirty, but I digress. As an adult, this one line became my motto. An affirmation for when I battle the procrastination bug. Even as I write this, I have to tell myself “do it” to counter “you still have tomorrow”. Not sure which voice is the angel and which is the devil. Doing nothing never solves procrastination and “just doing” is easier said than done. Ok, let’s chip away at this, dare I say it, “writer’s block”, by identifying some causes and finding solutions. 

Physical Comfort

Are you physically comfortable? In pain? Hungry? Tired? Hungover? Cold? Hot? Smell? Suffering from a wedgie? The body can be more demanding than a family cat. At the moment, I’m suffering through a heat wave. Heat brings out my inner sloth. Heat fugitive is a focus killer. Some physical discomforts are easily dealt with, and others… well, sometimes you just have to call it a night. Me, I’m just going to sit under a fan and push through.

Solution
Attend to your body’s needs, give yourself a time frame to get comfortable. If sick or knackered consider relaxing or going to be early, forcing yourself to write under those conditions is counter productive in my experience. The brain is efficient after rest.

Mental Status 

Do you need happy serum? Depression, anxiety, and grief are major performance blockers. If you’re suffering from either of these states of being, be kind to yourself. Go with the flow. A few months ago, my writing mentor passed, and I forced myself to write against better judgement. The story turned out soulless and flat. The words were a struggle. To tackle the problem, I gave The Muse free rein to explore whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted for a couple of months. 

Solution
Try writing every day, if it happens, yay, if not, oh well. The importance is giving writing a go, place no restrictions on what to write. The Muse might come out and play. Routine can help. Sparks might come in dribs and drabs for a while, be ready for them. Keep notes. Try penning micro fiction using writing prompts. I found writing 100 word stories for my blog easy enough, although they took longer than usual to write. That’s ok. 

Distractions aka Down The Rabbit Hole

Most of us are easily distracted. Attention span is like muscle, it needs regular working. In the modern world, constant multi-tasking is a killer for being a productive writer. Checking social media, phone, email or news apps is a compulsion, and logging into games steals time. It’s never just 5 minutes.

If possible, limit the news and anything that is negative. With all the crap happening in the world, media consumes our lives. Sad truth is, we can change very little, yet we struggle to take our eyes off the train wreck. The perfect distraction… Just one more article… oh I have to read this one – No, no you don’t, back away from the media… do it, just do it. (I’m well rehearsed!)

Solution
Turn phones and tablets off or leave them in another room. Alternatively, keep phones on silent and place the device screen down on a scratch free surface. Switch off the internet and TV. If funds allow, consider owning a writing only device. Writers with a naughty habit of researching while writing and get side tracked, try making note of what needs looking up and continue writing. Do research later. 

Fear aka The Perfection Monster

Most writers have the perfection monster living in the dark shadows of their brain. If you don’t, I hate you… My eyes are green. For me, fear is the biggest reason behind procrastination. The cheeky devil often operates on a subconscious level. Perfection is a bitch. At its root, perfection makes us believe we are not capable or good enough and holds us back. We may not even consciously know the perfection monster is causing the procrastination. As humans, we are good at denial. Sometimes denial is a good thing, it pushes as forward. If we thought we were crap at everything, we wouldn’t do anything. Other times, denial stagnates and puts us on hold.

Every writer has a set of strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself, identify your kryptonite. My deficiency is noticing typos. Sure, I’ve improved over the years, but paranoia runs deep. Hawk editing will never be one of my gifts, fated to be forever blinded by mistakes. Spellcheck is a blessing, but errors still arise. I spend ages proofreading. Sometimes I chicken out and don’t even bother posting. Perfection holds me back. English is being slaughtered these days, I should cave and join the mob. Do the best I can, I have some standard, thank you very much. Nothing is perfect. 

The Perfection Monster also strikes while I’m working on stories. Every sentence needs to be crafted with skill. For the most part, I enjoy a polished draft. However, I’ve come to realise The Muse hates me for it. Her pace is like a child’s and she isn’t into stopping and starting, being bogged down by word choice. 

Solution
Slay The Perfection Monster. Turn off the inner critic. Think of a draft as a love letter to yourself. Highly private and never to been seen by anyone. A place to fling shit and work through the story. Unleash The Muse. The real magic is editing. Perfection slows the writing process down. In my experience, writing to perfection makes culling paragraphs and chunks of prose borderline impossible because I spent time word crafting. 

There are several ways to tackle the beast;

  • Speed writing. Set a timer for 20 minutes and go. There are apps for the daring that delete typed text if the writer pauses. Less extreme, there are many online sprint groups for writers to join. 
  • Dictate words on your phone/recording device of choice and run the audio file through a speech to text app (Dragon Professional is my go to). If you can’t see your words, you can’t edit them. 
  • Don’t read sentences as you type. 
  • Turn off spell and gammer checkers while writing to avoid the glaring temptation to fix errors. 
  • Editing in all forms improves with practice. The ProWritingAid app is fantastic for proofreading and developing language. 
  • Dirty Drafting (also called Draft 0 or Fast Draft). The aim is to get the story out in any shape or form. Remember nothing is unchangeable, push on through. Write non-linear if need be, add layers the story as additional details emerge. Be free to create a mess. Story often changes as it grows. Think of Dirty Drafting as glorified plotting that merges into a draft. Understanding story structure helps immensely. 

For my next novel, I plan on Dirty Drafting. My struggle; I keep believing I need all plot elements sorted before I write, driven by the fear of fudging everything up. Silly, because you don’t really know the beginning of the story until you’ve reached the end (yes, I’m sure there are exceptions). Many novelists claim Act 1 needs the most work during the editing process because it’s usually the first section they wrote.

Just Don’t Wanna!

Sometimes we just don’t want to write. It’s like pacifying a toddler to behave. Try working on a gorgeous sunny day, jumping beans are in your pains. Impossible. Other times the mind is finding focus hard or is empty. A bit like a car being sluggish in the morning, the creative juices stall. It can be unrelated to motivation because the desire may burn – lights are on, but The Muse isn’t home.

Solution
Enjoy the energy, the body wants to be moving. Take a walk and ponder over stories. Or keep busy and do a chore that needs doing. And not one of those once in a blue moon chores like cleaning out your closet, find an everyday task that will free up time to write later. Switch up your schedule. There is no point fighting the moving itch, unless there is a deadline or limited time. Try changing your location. Many writers take their laptops to cafes or to their local library.

Bore The Muse out. Make a deal with yourself; sit at the computer, document open, and watch the curser blink until words come. If the magic doesn’t arrive after 15 minutes, give up and do something else. The hard part is starting. The first line, the battle. I use this technique all the time. Only once have I called it quits after 15 minutes. 

Lost the Magic

For many reasons, life takes us away from our creative worlds. After a hiatus, motivation to return to a working project can be cold. We’ve forgotten how the story sparks our soul. Hell, at times, I forget I love writing full stop. The key is to remember the elements that inspired us in the first place. 

Solution
Read through story notes or what you have already written. Characters, setting and plot should come flooding back. If books, movies or tv shows inspired your novel submerge yourself in those worlds. Many of my stories draw on mythology, mythology often triggers my muse into coughing up extra details about our work in progress or reminds me what I love about our creation.

Overwhelmed by Novel / Book Series

Ideas can grow on a grand scale. Working on a novel or series can evoke terror within, at the best of times. After hibernation, anxiety can stall a comeback. The brain becomes a bit paralysed, overwhelmed by the monstrosity. Distractions more appealing. The magic lost. Perfection creeps in. Avoidance is at an all-time high. Doubt sets in. Should I give up? 

Solution
Flash fiction is a fantastic answer to easing into writing. Quick and satisfying. Achievement encourages more writing. Watch out, shiny and new ideas are a temptation. To avoid being seduced, try writing short stories set in your preexisting story world. Minor characters have a side tale to tell. Or have your protagonist write a diary entry. Consider offering these side stories as promotional material for your author platform.

Final Note

If all fails and procrastination still rules, find yourself a writing buddy to shame encourage you into writing. In fact, it’s fun to shame encourage each other. And this is how I broke my latest novel writing funk, nothing like friendly competition. Report to each other daily or weekly if writing every day is impossible. – Do it, do it, just do it!



Categories: Writing, Writing Battles

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