THE WORD ON THE .NET

Writer T. James' Exploration of Words, on the Internet.

Procrastination: The Writer’s Disease. Is There A Cure?

So, I’ve finally been inspired for my new story. Have I made progress? Yes, some, but not as much as I could have done. Halfway through week one I contracted a serious case of procrastination—the writer’s equivalent of cooties. In fact, I doubt any conscientious keyboard-monkey will read this post for fear of catching it, but I hope some are brave enough because I also share the cure that worked for me.

Procrastination: The Death of Productivity

My symptoms have been pretty much textbook: finding irrelevant and pointless activities to divert myself with rather than actually buckling down and increasing my word count. Below are some of the physical signs that made it clear to me I was infected:

First, I had to de-fluff and remove fingerprints from my mouse, because I convinced myself I could operate my computer faster, and so write faster.

Then, for reasons of artistic inspiration, I had to replace my old mouse mat with one with a map of Middle Earth—because I was writing fantasy.

It was also vitally important that I admire my collection of Angry Birds toys. This, I was sure, would help me visualise fantasy creatures. I also made sure I pressed each of their foreheads several times—the strange cries and noises would help with the atmosphere of my novel.

Nurturing your inner child while writing is an invaluable aid to creativity. So I played with my Angry Birds catapult.

When these at-my-desk activities failed to increase my word count, I reverted to type and found a game to play. I told myself that the tactical warfare that is pool would enable me to write more realistic battle sequences. It was that, or read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Pool sounded more fun.


The Cure

Eradicating this particular strain of the disease has been difficult because—in order to stand the best possible chance of finishing this novel (the third I’ve started)—I figured I needed an outline; something to enable me to keep up the momentum of the story during the potentially slower “middle” section where I’ve tended to get bogged down before.

The cure was drastic, but didn’t take very long. I admitted to myself to an isolation ward. No people. No communication devices. In fact, no electronic devices whatsoever. When I’d got over the shock (which took a whole two minutes) I lay down on my hospital bed and thought. I simply let my mind wander over what I already knew about the characters, setting, and the events of the story so far. In under half an hour I had a more satisfying and dramatic ending, subplots for nearly every major character, character development arcs for several more, some ideas for possible themes for the novel, and some clues as to how the subplots were going to weave together to form a coherent whole.

It wasn’t an epiphany, but simply ridding myself of all distractions for a little while, immersing myself in the fantasy world and allowing possibilities to form without judgement or censure, before finally allowing my mind to link them together into a whole, worked wonders.

Simply thinking was my cure. I’ve found my subconscious often writes better stories than I do.

So, what are your most common/most fun symptoms of procrastination? Do you have a cure you want to share? Please leave your medical tips below and disinfect another writer today.

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14 Comments

  1. Sometimes the procrastination wins, but I’ve found that looming deadlines are pretty motivating, as is my desire to write full time. Sometimes I really only have a half an hour to write and at the beginning I either need to simply sit down and do it, or go do something else because f’ing around for a half an hour is annoying.

    So, mostly I use force. My subconscioushttp://thewordonthe.net/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_cool.gif is a better writer than I am too. It solves all my problems for me, when I let it.

    • Ah, using The Force! Why didn’t I think of that? Is that what people use light pens for? ;-)

      This has to be one of the least documented advantages of having a publisher or an agent: you have someone who to regularly send you nagging emails. Maybe, as a self-pubber, I could write nagging emails to myself. Do you think it would work?

  2. I love competing with myself, so word sprints are a big help. It also sets specific time limits, so I don’t get caught up in the six-hours-staring-back-at-me trap.

  3. It’s so easy to become a master of procrastination. During my worst bouts even folding laundry has lured me away from the laptop. Glad you found a cure that works for you.

    • Laundry?! Yikes, that’s bad. At least it’s useful, unlike most of mine. You have helped me though – when I think of slacking off again, I shall remember that I could be doing laundry instead. That’s got to be worth twenty thousand words or so. :-)

  4. Ah the fun of procrastination, I’ve sat at the computer for a while and not got anything done, then when I go to bed, it all flows out with it being pretty hard to shut down.

    Usually I end up playing games or seeing what my friends are up to and wait for their responses.

    • Your subconscious, like mine, apparently needs house training. Gushing and flowing are all very well, but there *is* a time and a place. Still, at least it makes you more sociable which can’t be a bad thing… B-)

  5. My biggest problem with procrastination is when I procrastinate by doing something else productive and thus justifiable. I’ve learned to accept whatever productive thing my brain fancies doing at the time, and only feel guilty when I procrastinate doing unproductive things.

    • A little time ago, in a galaxy not-so-far-far-away, you were smaller, greener, with larger ears. I believe you said something like: “Do or do not…there is no try.” You are very wise. ;-)

  6. Procrastination and I are old friends. The problem I find is sometimes getting the right mix of taking a break and not just messing about on facebook.

    • Repeat after me:

      “Begone, oh Foulest Facebook.
      Thy stench fills mine nostrils until they flare, embarrassingly revealing my nasal hair.
      Thenceforth, I shall allow you to besmirch my nose no more! Your pointlessness will no longer render my brain cells sore.
      This I vow, by hook or by crook – I shall spurn thee, oh Foulest Facebook.”
      ;-)

  7. That mouse looks more like a Star Trek phaser!

    Be glad you haven’t tried something like playing “a little” Skyrim for some real procrastination.

    Or, there is always the infamous. “Just one more episode” in a Battlestar Galactathon…

    • Exactly! Always use futuristic and streamlined peripherals – it doubles your writing speed.

      I have not bought Skyrim. I will not buy Skyrim… will not buy Skyrim… will not buy… not buy… not… …maybe I should watch Battlestar Galactica instead. I loved the Youtube video, although I haven’t actually pulled a marathon like that since my student days, I still remember all the symptoms: the furry teeth, eyelids like cork board, and muscles like ratchets after sitting for waaaay tooo looong.

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