I have decided that procrastination might be the primary vice of my writing career. I used to think I was too preoccupied with my corporate responsibilities but. now that I have switched to writing full-time, I realize the problem is that I can find ways to become preoccupied with just about anything. The burning question is how can a person who loves writing as much as I do be so out of sorts with the writing itself.
Well, I know how. Fear is at the root of my problem. I keep stalling because becoming a novelist is something I always wanted to excel in. Even with my multiple fallback plans, I have stored all my eggs in this basket. Honestly? I don’t want to have to resort to those fallback plans. The pressure is real. Hence, even though I can, in theory, believe in my writing capabilities, living by that faith is a whole other ballgame. Even when what I write seems to satisfy me, I keep wondering what if it’s not good enough.
Resulting in all the bottlenecking of my creative endeavors.
There are some ground rules I try to follow to jar me out of my whack. Mostly, it is to keep me from lulling myself into the fear sinkhole. They work too. Often enough to share the list of precautions with my fellow writers:
1. All good lists begin with a list. That’s right. I make a list of things I will cover for the day. This is a great habit I picked up working in corporations. All jobs are broken down into tasks and if you keep them listed, you don’t get waylaid by less important activities too often. I don’t get through all of my daily lists every day, but that’s what carry-forward is for – which is also acceptable as long as you don’t use it as an excuse to not give working through your goals a good try.
2. Find a comfortable space. Some people enjoy writing in a crowd, like at a cafe. Some people like writing among nature. I find both distracting. I like writing in clear spaces. Give me a blank wall to face and the words sort of scribble all over it. The beach is also lovely. Like I said, open clutter-free work areas. It’s best to try out different types of workspaces to discover what makes you feel most settled to get those creative juices flowing.
3. Remove all distractions. This one is a real toughy for me because this rule includes the Internet. And the Internet has Netflix. I do a lot of research online, including continuous vocabulary checks. And I very often do this while drafting. I’m trying to convert to the habit of listing out points of research and conduct those at a separate time from my drafting hours. This attempt to change is successful sometimes and at other times, not so much. But it’s still a rule that needs to be here to remind me as much as anyone else. Other forms of distraction may include TBRs, food, sleep, household chores, parents, children, and pets.
4. Fix a schedule and stick to it. Again, different people enjoy writing at different hours. Some burn the midnight oil while others get up with the sun. But it’s important to find your most constructive hours and stay with it. I keep drifting between being a night owl and an early morning songbird. The important factor here is that the world around me is sleeping at both times. Although, recently, I have been trying to get up early on a regular basis and get some writing in as a way of a daily headstart. It’s a psychological experiment I am doing on myself that seems to be working.
5. Drink coffee. Coffee and writing seem to have a ritualistic bond. Even though I have never been much of a coffee drinker before (i.e. I hardly ever took tea/coffee when I used to be an office girl unless meeting etiquette demanded), I find that a good cup of caffeine really perks up the brain cells. From the moment the aroma hits the nostrils, in fact. I’m trying to not look at it as a propensity to substance dependency but there you have it. I seem to write better on days I drink coffee than on days I do not.
6. Write what’s ready first. I often get stuck when I try to write from start to finish without skipping scenes. Well, I found out that’s how you get writer’s blocks. A good plot outline should have skipping scenes now and then covered. Writing should be as much about entertaining yourself as about your career goals. Maybe the joy should even take precedence because, let’s face it, in this business, passion takes you places. But bogging yourself down with getting every scene or chapter written in a sequence can become counterproductive at times. Follow your outline, write the scenes you find joy in first, and then return to write out the passages that join the story together. Meanwhile, make big bold highlighted notes in your draft to mark the places you skipped.
7. Draft first, edit later. Oh boy! I’ll be honest (because I always am). This is another rule that is yet to be mastered by me. I edit. Constantly. Every paragraph, every scene, every chapter, while drafting. Before I can move on to the next paragraph, scene, or chapter. Perfection is a pet peeve. And until I am satisfied, I just keep returning. And until I read back, I can’t seem to pickup my from where I left off. While this soothes my OCD, it isn’t the most efficient way to get that novel written. But any writing course will tell you that just get it all on paper before you worry about the slicing and dicing. Turn off the spell-check if you have to. Make it a habit of writing frantically before the ideas ditch you. Hemingway’s first drafts used to be three times the final manuscript so who are we to get it right the first round?
8. Word counts don’t matter. Well, they do actually. Especially if you’re writing genre. But as I explained in Rule #7, once you start editing, the extra words will fall away. Painfully, because editing is excruciating, but there you are. Also, when writing scenes, really, don’t worry about word counts. Write the scenes until they satisfy you. Once the whole book is written, chapters have a way of balancing themselves with one another.
9. Get snacking out of the way. This one is for those wandering souls. Food tends to be an easy distraction when words don’t come easy. At least, they do for me. Often when I’m struggling with the words, I binge eat to relieve the stress. You need to nourish yourself so your mind does not stray to that slice of cheesecake in the refrigerator.
10. Don’t limit yourself with too many rituals. As important as it is to find the perfect workspace, the perfect hour, the perfect set of tools, it is more important not to let logistics take control over your work. That is where you will find the excuses to not write.
So that about covers it. While I am not always able to follow my own dictates but when I do manage to stick to this checklist, my writing does become more efficient and I do get more productive days in. I hope you guys can benefit from it. Cheers!