I wish I knew the author of one of my favorite quotes, which states: The important thing about your lot in life is whether you use it for building or parking. I have this quote on my wall within eye view—whether sitting or standing. My conscious self reads it every day, and my subconscious self tries to ensure I’m building my [writing] lot in life. Sometimes, though, non-motivation or down-right procrastination grabs me like a mother yanking her child from the path of a speeding car.
I believe most writers are afflicted by procrastination at some point with their projects. Some of us choose to perform alternative activities as a way to temporarily avoid sitting down with our manuscripts. I’m guilty of conducting research on miniscule details of my characters’ clothing or home décor rather than sticking to my editing schedule. Or sometimes I spend way too much time checking my website or social media. You can easily tick off a couple of wasted hours surfing the Internet.
Sometimes writers procrastinate because they get stuck in the middle of the story. In my opinion, the model three-act structure that many novels follow lends itself easily to breakdowns between the setup-confrontation part and sometimes even the confrontation-resolution part. Writers sometimes procrastinate because they focus more on the outcome instead of the input required. I’m definitely guilty of this. I write crime fiction. I construct my first drafts scene-by-scene, from start to finish until the perpetrator is caught. When it’s time for my second or third draft, I tend to focus on the entire manuscript or an entire chapter rather than taking one scene at a time, and breaking that down even further to one sentence at a time.
Fear of failure or simply not liking to re-read what you’ve written causes procrastination as well. Some writers fear finishing their stories because the next step is putting it out into the world. Potential reviews, particularly negative ones, are scary for some writers so they distract themselves with other projects or activities rather than finishing the story. I’m fortunate in that I don’t fear failure; I love finishing a story and putting it out into the world. I’ve done that twice now. Not liking to re-read what I’ve written is the food that feeds my procrastination monster. I like reading fiction. But, I have a hard time reading and re-reading my entire manuscripts for editing purposes. My conscious mind knows re-reading the manuscript multiple times is necessary to end up with a complete, publishable novel. However, my subconscious resists this needed task, telling me it already knows what’s on the page.
I’ve overcome my procrastination misfortunes by sheer willpower. My two published novels are proof of that fact. How did I do it? I implemented a few concepts to help keep my procrastination monster locked up. The first thing I did was try to create a distraction-free environment. I turned off the television, put my phone on silent and out of eye view, closed my Internet browser, and turned on either light classical or easy listening music.
The second thing I did was schedule a fixed time for writing or re-writing. I put it on my calendar just the same as for meetings and doctor appointments. I blocked out ninety minutes or a two-hour period each day. Because I still work full time, these writing appointments are always weekday evenings and weekend mornings. If weekend weather is particularly dreadful, such as cold and windy and rainy, I block an additional time period in the afternoon. The trick is to not let anything interfere with your scheduled writing appointment, except for a genuine emergency. When the appointment time arrived, I set a timer for the scheduled minutes and began writing or re-writing. When the timer went off, I put the project away and did one of the million other tasks we all have to do, like laundry, cooking, dishes, etc.
A good suggestion I have for when you’ve fought back against your procrastination monster and stuck to your writing schedule is to reward yourself. The reward should be something small, like enjoying some edible treat or favorite adult beverage. Don’t make the completion of your writing schedule all about the reward, though. For me, I reward myself at the end of a writing week, if I’ve stuck to my writing schedule, with a bowl of chips and picante sauce, my favorite food, or a few pieces of expensive chocolates. At the end of the entire project, I reward myself with something big, like dinner at an expensive restaurant or a not-too-extravagant shopping spree.
I’ve found writing in a distraction-free environment, scheduling blocks of time to write or re-write, and rewarding myself for keeping to my writing schedule work miraculously to ward off my procrastination monster. As one of my favorite quotes commands, I intend to use my writing life for building and not for parking.