Thursday, July 04, 2019

Put a Stop to Procrastination – Today!

By Shanna Swendson, @ShannaSwendson

Part of The Writer’s Life Series 

JH: Some days, we want to do anything but write. Shanna Swendson returns this month with tips on getting back to work when you don't feel like writing. 

Shanna Swendson earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas but decided it was more fun to make up the people she wrote about and became a novelist. She’s written a number of fantasy novels for teens and adults, including the Enchanted, Inc. series and the Rebel Mechanics series. She devotes her spare time to reading, knitting, and music.

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Take it away Shanna…

Shanna Swendson
Shanna Swendson
No matter how much you enjoy writing, when you tackle a big project like a novel, there are bound to be times when you find yourself procrastinating, when organizing your sock drawer sounds a lot more fun and rewarding than sitting down to write. If you want to finish that book, you need to learn what to do when the procrastination urge strikes.

Is it the book? 

The first thing you need to figure out is whether it’s the book or you that’s the problem. One reason for procrastination is that you’ve come to dread working on that book. You may be stuck, unsure what needs to happen next. 

Sometimes that happens when you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere along the way, and you can’t go forward because you’re heading in the wrong direction. You may be discouraged because the book you’re writing isn’t the wonderful story that lived in your imagination. You may have run out of the initial enthusiasm that propelled you through the early chapters but that’s nowhere to be found when you’re struggling with the middle. All of these things can make you want to do anything but write.

If it’s the book that’s triggering your procrastination instincts, it can help to get some perspective. 

Go back and re-read the last few chapters and see how you feel about it. If you’ve lost enthusiasm, make a list of things you like about this story or that made you want to write this story in the first place. 

If you’re stuck, make a list of things that can happen next. If you know a future scene, write it even if you don’t know what happens between where you are and that scene. That may give you ideas for what might come in between. 

Try outlining what you’ve written so far and what you think might happen and see if you’ve made a wrong turn.

If you’re not on deadline, letting yourself take a break can also help. Doing something different like taking a walk, working with your hands, or even organizing your sock drawer can free up your mind to solve your problem.

It’s good to remind yourself that this is just a draft. Once it’s written, you can revise it, but there’s nothing you can do with a blank page other than fill it. 

Give yourself permission to write nonsense and fix it later. It may help to change the way you write so that it feels less official. If you write on a computer, try scribbling out some notes by hand. Write in crayon so it feels like play. 

I’ve seen a suggestion that using the Comic Sans font on your computer is freeing because it looks silly rather than like a real manuscript. These are all good tricks to take the pressure off writing so it feels less like a chore. 

(Here's more on Procrastination Be Gone! Tips for Staying Focused as You Write.)

Or it is you?

The problem can also be with you. You don’t feel like writing, whether or not you know what to write. I call this a case of the “don’t wannas.” I might have the next several chapters outlined, but I would do almost anything to avoid writing. 

I’ve tried a number of anti-procrastination strategies. By far the most successful I’ve found has been scheduling work sessions. I’ve also tried a “reverse schedule” method, in which you schedule the things you do to avoid a task and leave the rest of your time open. Theoretically, that makes you less likely to want to do those things and less likely to feel forced to do the task. I didn’t find that very helpful, but if you tend to be a rebel, that may work for you.

I find that it can sometimes help if I give myself a very small goal—I don’t have to do a full writing session, but if I can just write a hundred words, then I can do something else. Since starting is the hard part, once I’ve written those hundred words, I usually want to keep going. 

Getting outside accountability may also help. Set a goal and tell a friend about it, then check back in after you’ve done it. I’ve found that group writing sprints get me over that starting hurdle. 

Rewards are another good way to get you through a bout of the “don’t wannas.” Think of something you want that you can do or have when you’ve met your writing goal, such as an episode of that show you’re binge watching. 

Needing a break

Procrastination can be a sign of burnout, so if you find yourself dreading writing sessions on an ongoing basis, you may need a break. Let yourself do something fun without any “I should be writing” guilt and you may find it easier to get back to work.

While the middle is a common spot for procrastination to strike, the end of the book may be a danger spot, too, especially for your first book. That’s when the fear of failure—or success—may kick in. 

Once the book is done, you’re no longer in “someday I’ll write a book” territory. You’ll have done so, which means you have to face the reality of what happens next. Other people may then see it, and it may be rejected. As long as you can put off finishing it, you can put off that potential pain. 

The possibility of success can also be frightening because it means things will change and you may be expected to do all this again. To get through this, you have to think about what your goals are, what you want to accomplish, and what it will take for you to get there. You owe it to yourself and to your story to at least try to finish. Tell yourself that you’ll decide what to do with it after you’re done, but for now, it’s just for you. That can take some of the pressure off.

Next time, I’ll look at some creativity boosters I’ve tried.

About Enchanted, Inc.

enchanted, inc
Katie Chandler had always heard that New York is a weird and wonderful place, but this small-town Texas gal had no idea how weird until she moved there. Everywhere she goes, she sees something worth gawking at and Katie is afraid she’s a little too normal to make a splash in the big city. Working for an ogre of a boss doesn’t help.

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Katie gets a job offer from Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc., a company that tricks of the trade to the magic community. For MSI, Katie’s ordinariness is an asset. Lacking any bit of magic, she can easily spot a fake spell, catch hidden clauses in competitor’s contracts, and detect magically disguised intruders. Suddenly, average Katie is very special indeed.

She quickly learns that office politics are even more complicated when your new boss is a real ogre, and you have a crush on the sexy, shy, ultra powerful head of the R&D department, who is so busy fighting an evil competitor threatening to sell black magic on the street that he seems barely to notice Katie. Now it’s up to Katie to pull off the impossible: save the world and–hopefully–live happily ever after.

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1 comment:

  1. The site is having some technical issues with comments right now, so I'm passing along one from Ruth.

    Shanna—Thanks for an excellent post! You might find my post at Anne R Allen about recent scientific research into the "real" causes off procrastination adds another approach to the issue—and offers additional ways to resolve it.