I'm a writer and I don't like writing. How's that for a catchy opening?
Seriously though, I don't like writing. I like having written.
What's the difference?
Well, imagine you hate working out. You have to drag yourself to go to the gym. You grumble as you hit the Stairmaster or treadmill or free weights. You sweat, you pant, you wonder if your flab is jiggling and whether everyone is staring at you as you try to benchpress a measly twenty pounds while they go for a hundred.
Then afterwards, you hit the showers and you emerge glowing with good health, a sense of accomplishment, and a knowledge that you did the right thing for your body. (After all, benchpressing a hundred comes in twenty-pound increments, right?)
See? It's the same thing with writing. Writing is hard work. You dread it. You have to drag yourself to the computer. You grumble as you force yourself to pull up your current work in progress. You sweat, you pant, you wonder if everything you type is junk, you wonder if all the other writers are staring at you for writing a measly five hundred words while they're compiling whole novels.
Then afterwards, you take a well-earned break and have a glowing sense of accomplishment and a knowledge that you did the right thing for your career. (After all, whole novels are completed in five hundred word increments, right?)
See? Having written is a lot more fun than writing.
But of course you can't have written without first sitting down and writing. Well nuts. You knew there was a catch.
How, then, do you write? You apply one of the most brilliant slogans ever invented: you JUST DO IT. You grit your teeth, open that document, and set yourself a goal of, say, five hundred words that you WILL type in before you allow your butt to get off the chair.
And then something magical will happen. You'll lose yourself in your story. Time will fly. Something will disrupt you and you'll blink your eyes and realize that you've typed in six hundred words, or seven, or even eight. And hey, they're not too shabby.
Believe me, the very act of opening up that document of your work in progress is THE single most difficult thing you can do. Or, as Louise Dickinson Rich (a writer from the 1940's) put it, the secret is to place the seat of the pants in the seat of the chair. Once you're there, the time will fly. You'll type in words. Sometimes those words will be decent, other times you'll go back the next day and delete almost everything. But you'll make progress.
The trouble is, it is way too easy to avoid planting your butt and opening that document. Suddenly, all your emails need to be checked. Or the news headlines must be read. Or your desk must be cleaned off. Or your fingernails need to be buffed. Or the ice cube trays need dusting. My goodness, the list of trivial excuses to avoid actually typing could…well, fill a book.
What are some favorite excuses to procrastinate?
What are some techniques to avoid procrastinating?
- Surfing the net
- Compulsively checking emails (guilty!!!!!)
- Doing detail work around the house - cleaning the top of the refrigerator, re-lining the cabinets with shelf paper, dusting the chandelier, stuff that must be done…now?
- Endlessly re-tweaking what you've written before. Some people call this the "first chapter syndrome." It means you'll never get past your first chapter because you're too busy re-writing and re-writing and re-writing and re-writing and re-writing…
- Opening a computer game, i.e. solitaire, because you'll only play "one more game" before you start writing…and next thing you know, an entire hour is gone.
- Fill in your own preferred excuse. I'm sure you have a lot.
Believe it or not, writing gets easier with practice. One of the reasons why writers such as Nora Roberts or Jude Deveraux hit the New York Times bestseller list is because they write. They don't let themselves get bogged down in detailed housework, nor do they endlessly re-tweak their first chapters. They write. And write and write and write. They move forward. They progress.
- Being on deadline. There's nothing like some serious stress over a looming cut-off date to get your fingers moving. One woman in our chapter needed to write something like 30,000 words in one month to meet the deadline for her second book. She cancelled appointments, withdrew from all activities, and burned the midnight oil - and got it done.
- Being accountable to another person, i.e. a critique partner. My critique partner and I don't critique each other's work too much any more, but we are excellent at egging each other on. We live 1500 miles apart, but we shoot emails back and forth almost daily, filling the other person in on our progress. "Okay, I'll get one thousand words written today," I'll promise her, and somehow telling this to my friend makes her my "boss."
- Getting out of the house so that household chores don't call your name. Every time she sat down to write, one woman in our RWA chapter became so bogged down with the "need" to do ridiculously detailed housework that she was literally unable to progress. (We narrowed it down to a lack of self-confidence left over from many years ago when her ex-husband constantly belittled her writing.) Her solution was to get out of the house to a nearby café, where she would give herself a minimum goal to accomplish. Another woman says that getting out of the house is like disciplining herself to go to work. (Discipline being the key word here…) Yet another woman who is also an artist reports that she "paints to get out of writing, and does housework to get out of painting-a merry circular dance. When I'm down to cleaning the bathroom or dusting (the most boring thing on earth), I finally realize I need to put my derriere in the chair."
- A variation on this theme is to get out of bed and head straight for the computer (I would assume this works only for "morning" people or those without day jobs…). One woman reported that she woke up "on fire to write, and I straggle into my office with a cup of hot coffee and ideas flowing out of the tips of my fingers, in my bathrobe, PJ's, hair uncombed, teeth unbrushed ... and sit and write until noon! Whatever time I get in here isn't important, just waking up and going to the computer. If I take the time for a sweep through the house to see what I can do to procrastinate, I'm a dead duck." Another woman says she must "get up, get coffee, go directly to computer, do not pass go. I go to sleep thinking about what I finished with the day before. Whatever it is that goes on in my head, goes on while I sleep, and that's what gets written the next day."
- Set the kitchen timer, and do nothing but write during a limited period of time. It seems much easier to go through the agony of writing if you know when you can stop. One woman in our group works in intense bursts of between fifteen and thirty minutes, then breaks to do a household chore or enjoyable pastime: balancing the checkbook, playing piano, making tea. Then she goes back for another burst.
- Never never never stop and re-read what you've written earlier. You'll only get bogged down in re-writing. The time to re-write is after you've finished your manuscript. If you're in the middle of chapter five, and you realize that you left out a critical plot point in chapter three, then make a bracketed note right where you are in chapter five to go back and change chapter three later on. Then keep writing.
You can too.
Patrice Moore thanks the members of her RWA chapter, the Inland Empire Chapter of RWA (please visit the website at www.iecrwa.com), for their contributions.
Patrice lives on a forty-acre homestead in north Idaho with her husband and two daughters. She does what she calls the three H's: Homesteading, Homeschooling, and Home Business-ing. Visit her website at www.patricemoore.com to learn something about her lifestyle and writing.