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12 Ways to Avoid Procrastination While Writing

Starting your work-in-progress would have seemed a good idea at the time. For the first few weeks or months the words came freely. But perhaps now you’ve run out of ideas. Or you’ve found a plot hole and can’t think how to mend it without beginning again. Every time you think about your work-in-progress you feel depressed. Looking at it would only make you feel worse. Sound familiar?

You have to stop Procrastinating and start Writing!

In the words of Iris Murdoch: ‘Every novel is the wreck of a perfect idea.’

Here are twelve things you can do that aren’t your book but are still good for your writing. In fact, you should have done more of them before, but you were too busy with your masterpiece.

1. Read, Read and Read

‘Read, and then read some more.’ It’s the piece of advice almost all published authors will give you, although they may disagree as to whether this should be within or outside your genre. Stephen King says: ‘If you haven’t enough time to read you haven’t enough time to write.’

If you can’t face anything mentioned in the Guardian Review or Times Literary Supplement, return to an old favourite and pick it apart. Why is it a pleasure to read? What’s the author’s secret? Why do you love the characters? And why is that plot twist so satisfying? What could the writer improve?

The truth is, anything you read will help your writing, bad or good.

A creative writing tutor I know deliberately asks his students to critique poorly written books before they look at each others’ work. With the writer absent, even the politest are happy to pick apart purple prose, silly plotting and sloppy characterisation. And when they turn back to their own work they can see their own mistakes more clearly.

2. Do Some Blogging 

Blogging is the activity that keeps giving back to writers. It provides you with immediate readers, and an opportunity to interact with them. Even if no one comments, you will receive nearinstant feedback from your stats page – how many people are coming to your site, where they’re coming from, which posts they’re reading and how long they’re staying.

Commit to regularly blogging and over time you’ll amass a body of work to which you can point agents and editors. Even with a modest audience, you’ll improve your SEO and climb up the Google listings.

If you’re writing about your daily life, it’ll provide a contemporary record of your progress, there to encourage you during your inevitable set-backs.

Meanwhile, you’re writing, and if you’ve committed yourself to a schedule, practising writing to deadline – a useful skill.

3. Be Active On Social media 

It can take a couple of years of steady work to build a reasonable social media following, useful when you eventually want to publish your book. So, create that author page on Facebook or Twitter account now.

The secret is posting frequently. Discussing Gogglebox on Twitter might look like horrendous procrastination, but you know you’re attracting followers and potential readers.

4. Write a short story

If you want to be traditionally published, writing credits will draw the attention of weary agents to your submission. The most obvious way for a novelist to gain these is submitting short stories.

The characters in your novel have been playing you around. It’s okay to cheat on them; you owe them nothing. Perhaps, when they see you showing interest in other imaginary folk, they might make more of an effort.

Challenge yourself to tell a complete story in a couple of thousand words. Then submit it. Write and submit several, knowing you’re increasing your chances of a publication every time.

5. Pitch an idea for an article 

You might be surprised how much you enjoy writing non-fiction as a novelist. Writing features has certainly made  sense of my creative life. Being cooped up all day with my imagination didn’t always feel healthy. Now my daytime hours include a good dose of reality and real people.

Meanwhile I’m gathering writing credits. Importantly, my novel has become a pleasure again, instead of a stress, because I’m no longer depending on a single big project to work out.

6. Read about writing craft 

Here the law of diminishing returns applies. You will find hundreds of books and blogs on writing telling you roughly the same thing. If this is your first novel, learning about tension, pacing and structure early on, will save you time and markedly improve your chances of finding an agent. Some of the advice will surprise you as much goes against what teachers told you at school (eg use of adverbs). And once you understand the basics, other books will answer more specific issues in detail.

Reading your fifteenth how-to or spending all afternoon reading articles may well be procrastination, but it can be very fruitful. It may help you think systematically through your problems, provide encouragement or a new way of looking at things. If you’re stuck on anything, want to refine your writing techniques or need fresh inspiration, an afternoon of reading is time well spent.

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7. Feed your imagination 

Feed your imagination. Go to an art gallery. Watch films. Immerse yourself in other people’s ideas. No doubt, they’ll spark off your own.

Or look at the world around you. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends ‘Artist Dates’ – a once-weekly expedition to explore something that interests you alone. It might be something as simple as going for a walk on the beach and looking for shells. Something you’d enjoy, but something that will fire your imagination. Julia says Artist’s Dates spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. 

8. Give someone else a critique 

Open that file and read that short story from your friend in the writing group. Critiquing can be hard work, but reading someone else’s manuscript will give you a rest from your own. You don’t understand what’s going on in the first chapter, but why? Are there things he/she hasn’t explained properly? Has he/she been clear enough about time period and setting? You will not only help him/her, but develop the ability to see your own work more clearly. And of course he/she’ll owe you a critique.

9. Write about it 

Sometimes, your real life, not your imaginary one, is the problem. Perhaps you’re distracted by the clutter in your writing room and the solution is as simple as clearing it up. But you may have bigger stresses to deal with. Try listing all the things that feel more important than writing at the moment. See if it helps.

And if you can’t think clearly enough to make a list, try free-writing. Simply write in pen or pencil about anything on your mind for twenty minutes – without stopping to edit your thoughts. This is for you. No one else is going to read it. And maybe, scribbling about relationships, bills or hospital appointments will lead to inspiration.

10. Meet up with other writers 

Talking about writing can often be more enjoyable than the act itself. But again, just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean it’s useless. I always come away from our writers’ group meetings with something – inspiration, a fresh perspective, or a reminder it’s normal to find writing difficult sometimes. People have ideas for my work. Some seem obvious once they’re suggested. Some, if not perfect, lead to others of my own.

11. Express your creativity in a different way 

Why not enjoy a craft you’re less invested in and create something else? Few toddlers stop painting because they don’t think they’re very good at it. By adulthood, most of us treat creativity as an indulgence unless it provides something useful. This conditioning hinders us, particularly when we’re attempting a novel for the first time. Suddenly, we realise it’s not very good. We want to give up, unwilling to spend time on something that is only going to see our hard drive. Changing art or craft to enjoy creating just for the sake of it will help us rediscover our creativity. As arts educationalist Sir Ken Robinson says in one of his TED talks: ‘I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.’

12. Research 

Research is an excellent way of avoiding actually writing your manuscript. No one will guess that’s what you’re doing, because you probably need to do it. Those fascinating details might not only help your readers to suspend their disbelief, but perhaps give you a way out of that plot problem.

And finally... 

But you shouldn’t need excuses to separate yourself from your manuscript every so often. Doing so will, in itself, help your writing. In the middle of a long, challenging project, it’s easy to lose perspective. Resting or changing your focus for a while, whatever you do instead, will help you regain it.

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