Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Procrastination Be Gone! Tips for Staying Focused as You Write.

By Allison Rushby, @Allison_Rushby

Part of the How They Do It Series

Please help me welcome Allison Rushby, to chat with us about something I'm so very good at--procrastinating! Actually, she's here to share tips on how to avoid it and get some writing done, which is even better.

Allison Rushby is the Australian author of a whole lot of books. She is crazy about Mini Coopers, Devon Rex cats, Downton Abbey and corn chips. She always writes very hard indeed and never procrastinates on Twitter at @Allison_Rushby, or on Facebook. Her latest release is Being Hartley (YA).

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

Take it away Allison...

Okay, let's face it, a goal like 'write an amazing historical saga' is a little much for you to be going on with this week. I don't blame you for suddenly finding yourself on Facebook, or Twitter, or Etsy, because writing a novel is a long, hard slog and some days are longer, harder and sloggier than others.

I've now been writing full-time for 14 years and have seen my fair share (okay, more than my fair share) of procrastination along the way. Today, I'd like to share a few tips with you today to keep you on the straight and narrow and would love to hear any tips you have yourself!

Work out what the problem is

Simple as it seems, if you find yourself procrastinating, it might be a good idea to ask yourself why you've run away from the task at hand in the first place. For me, the middle of a manuscript is always a problem area. Since working this out, I've found that a solid plan for the middle of my story and a couple paragraphs outlining what will happen in each scene before I sit down to write leads to a lot less procrastination.

Add a little structure to your day

If you're writing full-time, or for longer stretches of time on the weekend, six to eight hours can look like a lot of minutes to be sitting down in front of a computer screen. It can be tempting to become sidetracked by other tasks (or, you know… Facebook and Twitter). Try breaking this time up into more manageable chunks and assigning tasks to each portion of time. For example, yesterday I had four hours of writing time that I spent writing a specific manuscript. I find days like these particularly hard, as they're not task-focused – as in, I don't have specific, small tasks that I can list and cross off as I go (like today, where I need to write this blog post, finish working through some copyedits and reply to a couple emails). To keep myself on track yesterday, I decided I'd break my four hours up into four hourly chunks of time (yes, I'm a genius!) and in that time I'd have 40 minutes of writing time each hour and four 20 minute breaks. It might sound simple, but I find I need to remind myself to do this when I have long writing days. And when I do remind myself, it works.

Establish a ritual

Asking around, I found several successful writers I know have an established ritual that they perform before writing. One plays three games of solitaire on her computer – no more, no less and then it's time to start writing. Another checks her email before dropping her kids at school, turns off the internet before leaving home and then doesn't turn it on when she returns – sitting straight down to work. Another makes sure that she never begins the day by facing a blank page and stops writing mid-scene the day before, thus making it easier to pick up where she finished off.

Rope your writing friends in

If you're on Twitter, #1k1hr (as it says, a race to write 1000 words in one hour) can be a fun way to focus hard for sixty minutes and avoid procrastination. I do this quite a bit and while I never quite seem to make 1000 words in that hour, it's still nice to have a go and it does make me focus a lot harder than I probably otherwise would have. And, hey, another 800 words down isn't bad! It's also a nice way to connect with other writers. Just don't get sidetracked and hang around on Twitter for the next hour!

Be accountable to other people

A number of years ago, I needed to lose some weight and took myself to a nutritionist. Not only did I lose the weight, I learnt something about myself – I'm reliable. I'm a person who shows up when I say I'll show up and I do what I say I'll do. I'm a person who does better when I'm made accountable. Realising this has been really helpful in all facets of my life. For example, I'm a gym avoider ('Oh, I have too much work to do today…'), but a personal trainer worked wonders, because I had a place and time that I'd told someone I'd turn up at. So, when I was struggling to complete a project last year, I roped my ten-year-old daughter into making me accountable. I put a star chart on the fridge and every day she asked me how many words I'd written. I got a star if I'd completed my goal and a telling off if I didn't! If this could work for you, consider doing the same with your own family, or maybe get together a small group of writer friends and check in with each other daily or weekly.

Be kind to yourself

Writing a novel can be a hard and daunting task and desperate times call for desperate measures. Sometimes a treat can be that little carrot on the end of the stick you need to get your donkey-self moving. Coffee is good. So are cheese Twisties (if you're not in Australia, you may need to ship these in, but it will totally be worth it). Other writers I know swear by 'I get a pedicure if I write 5000 words this week' and 'I'm allowed to go to the movies tonight if I finish this chapter today'. Stop beating yourself up and start rewarding yourself instead. It's a better motivator and you might find yourself striving to meet that goal a little harder.

Get real

While there are a number of apps I could buy to 'force' myself to stay on task (like Freedom – an app that locks your internet use for set periods of time), the truth is, what I really need to do is get real. When I feel the urge to stray off task, I often stop and remind myself to get real. Whatever the stray is, it will invariably not make me feel as good as having finished the task I'm supposed to be focused on. And then I slap myself around the face a bit and keep on writing. Because, really, as hard as writing is, there's nothing else I'd rather be doing and it's much more fun than viral videos (though I have to admit that one of the meerkat giggling was pretty good…).

About Being Hartly

Fifteen-year-old Thea Wallis was born to entertain. Her mother, Oscar winning actress Cassie Hartley, thinks differently and has kept her daughter out of the spotlight since day one. Coming from showbiz royalty, it hasn't been easy to go unnoticed, but mismatched surnames, a family home in Tasmania and a low-key scriptwriter father has made this possible.

Just like her cousin Rory on the hugely popular TV show Saturday Morning Dance, Thea loves to dance. She learns the show's routines off by heart each week, despite her mother's attempts to convince her that dentistry would be a far more fulfilling career choice.

However, when Rory goes off the rails in LA, Thea's mother is suddenly left with no choice at all – Rory needs them and to LA they must go. Within forty-eight hours, Thea finds herself a long way from Tasmania and living her dream – on the road to Las Vegas with the Saturday Morning Dance team.
It doesn't take long before Thea's talents are discovered and she's offered everything she's ever wanted on a plate, including the dance partner she's had a crush on forever.

But, as her mother has always told her, Hollywood dreams come at a price. Thea soon realizes she will have to work out just how much she's willing to pay. And, ultimately, discover her own way to be Hartley.


  1. Thank you Alison, love the cat. I'm lucky or fortunate about what really works for me. I sit in a plain space with no distractions, nothing to do but write and zip out the words come!
    You have great tips and solid recommendations. I would add exercise to the list, a quick cardio or weight training or simple push ups will get some oxygen stirring around. This is proven to be more alert inducing than coffee.

  2. Hi Allison
    Thanks for the post. Some great thoughts here, particularly the first one. I think people can come to think of themselves as procrastinators and blame it on that, instead of figuring out why they're procrastinating in the first place.
    I must confess I don't struggle too much with it myself. I work full time so any time I do get I'm head down and working. I do begin my day with drumming exercises (my other night job) and that's great for getting my brain working and focused.

  3. Boy, did I need to hear this! Queen of Procrastination at your service....

  4. loved this! Some I'm already doing--others may try to incorporate. 1000 words an hour? hmmm…not me, but a great goal!

  5. Those are some very helpful tips. I've made some lengthy pit stops in Procrastination Station and having others to be accountable to helped get me out on many occasions.

  6. This was well-timed! I took a writing hiatus due to Life Stuff, and I'm determined to get back on the bandwagon today. Note to self: DO NOT TOUCH the Reader's Digest until I've written!

  7. This is how I approached NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last year, especially about having rituals and planning small, not large. I've been in a rut lately, and this post is just what I needed to kick myself back into shape. I like the 1k1hr idea. I used to run those types of drills with my first manuscript, and while some line edits are in order after the mad dash, it really helps when you're blocked. Thanks for this great post!

  8. Gah! Great advice. I'm procrastinating right now. I need to rewrite my ending. Eek!

  9. Great post. I'm finding out that by allocating a certain amount of time to each task I can get more things done. This post is just confirmation of that. OK, gotta stop procrastinating and get some words down. Thanks again!

  10. I've found that having a writing partner to be accountable to works wonders. Last January I pushed through the last 9k words of my book in a week because of word sprints with my friend. The downside to this kind of writing is that sometimes the quality isn't the best, but the bones are there. You can always go back and edit, which is what I've been doing this week.