How I (usually) Manage Not to Procrastinate

Disclaimer: The lack of procrastination described here-in refers solely to that regarding novel writing, and is exclusive of homework, studying, chores, errands, and all other daily tasks besides eating.

(Because eating, I just forget to do.)

After some months of trying to balance work, school, and more work with no time for writing, I got to the end of the semester and immediately threw all that out the window. My grade in Phonology class? Out of my hands now; I did my best. My students at the ELI? They’d had plenty of warning that I wouldn’t be accepting anything after that Monday; their e-mails went unanswered.

(As a side note, this isn’t as harsh as it sounds. A couple of them missed the final exam and waited until after I’d left town to try giving their excuses, which anyway were not good enough to get them a make-up exam. Seeing as they or no one from the office have called me, the kids seem to understand that they lost that battle.)

So I came to my parents’ house for the winter break, where my responsibilities dwindled gloriously close to zero, and I decided that I was going to write at least a thousand words a day. And for the most part I’ve been successful.

I still marvel at it, because a thousand words is a lot; if I’d been writing that much every day for the whole novel, I would have finished it in fewer than two months.

So what is my motivation? How do I manage to sit in the same spot in the same room for hours and eventually days at a time and come up with word after word — and on top of that, good, useable words? Well, every writer has a different strategy, but this is what usually works for me:

1. Have an outline. I have the (not-so-good) habit of starting to write before I know what I’m writing. To be honest, Smoldering was no exception, but it was unique in that I forced myself to complete a detailed outline of the novel before even finishing chapter two. This made it a LOT easier to just sit down and let the words pour out, because instead of worrying about what to write, I only had to focus on the how (ie the style and phrasing). If my experience with Lavender Eyes is any indication, I would probably be on the second or third rewrite by now without that outline, and maybe still not have a real plot.

2. Put yourself in the zone. I’ll be the first to proclaim that my parents’ house isn’t the ideal place to write, mainly because of the amount of noise going on almost 24/7. There’s also the fact that my mom likes to survive on sweets and junk food and my dad is a carnivore, so my poor brain has been suffering from lack of nutritious vegetables and a spiked intake of sugar, fat, and MSG. Nonetheless, I deal with it. When it’s writing time, I pop in the earbuds and put my Smoldering playlist on repeat. I make sure I have some kind of snack handy so I’m not tempted to get up and waste twenty minutes foraging in the fridge — which, as we writers all know, happens even if we aren’t the least bit hungry. That’s procrastination in thinly veiled disguise.

One thing that really helps put me in the zone is just closing my eyes and imagining myself in the scene. This may seem like a given, but I’m willing to bet a lot of writers don’t do this nearly as often as they should, working from what they can imagine with their eyes open. I still wonder how we manage to write anything at all that way; how can we describe the grimy, crumbling castle if we’re staring at a desk full of highlighters? In my experience, the setting just isn’t as convincing if the writer himself hasn’t been there, even mentally.

3. Just write. Write like every word left untyped by midnight will turn into a dragon and eat you. Write even if every word you put down is crap, because it’s true, you CAN edit it later. And trust me, this is something I had to learn the hard way. (And it took me eight years. Please save yourself the trouble.)

4. Don’t erase. If you write a whole page and realize you can’t use it, just hop down a few lines and start the scene again. If you take away that much from your word count, you’re only going to get discouraged. (Or maybe not, you know yourself best!) Obviously, it’s okay to erase individual words and maybe even a sentence or two, but be careful, or the temptation to edit might overpower you. And then? Word dragon.

5. Conversely, don’t be afraid to erase. I know, it seems like I’m just toying with you now. But seriously, as a writer, you will need to edit your work. Doesn’t matter how piquant, how eloquent, or how much it tickles you to have written that line, if it doesn’t help the story, it’s gotta go. I soften the blow by cut-pasting it into my notes file instead of outright deleting it — who knows, maybe I’ll get the chance to use it in something else. Even so, I wait until the end of the writing day, after I’ve finished my word count, to take out anything and make any changes. Kind of like working overtime, except without the pay.

Granted, the above system doesn’t always work. Case in point, it’s 4:30PM and I’ve only written 22 words today.



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barb the French Bean
    Dec 23, 2011 @ 03:10:40

    I definitely recognize myself in #2 (regarding the snacking), and music helps put me in the zone that nothing else can. Strangely enough, I do quite well when I have upbeat pop music pounding in my ears. o_O


  2. Barb the French Bean
    Dec 23, 2011 @ 03:11:04

    *like nothing else can


  3. seilann
    Dec 24, 2011 @ 03:39:07

    I spend hours building playlists for my stories. If it’s not exactly the right music for the story/character/scene, then I can’t listen to it.

    Glad I’m not the only one who does the snacking thing. šŸ˜‰


  4. Trackback: The Art of Time Travel « Sand from a Distant Shore

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