Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Journey with Gillian: Procrastination Doesn't Pay



A tale of deadlines, woe, and sleepless nights.
by Gillian Adams

A couple of weeks ago, I put the final polish on my fantasy novel and sent it off to my agent. It marked the end of a crazy two weeks where I did nothing but wake up, write, eat, write, sleep, write, wake up, delete, write . . . you get the picture. (In case you were wondering, sleep writing doesn't work out so well!)

I had been working on revising and editing the novel since the middle of January, and for some reason, I was having a really hard time with it. No lack of motivation—I had every reason to finish, I was desperate to finish!—but both character and plot work were required, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it all, much less get it onto the page.

So I allowed myself to procrastinate. I had the best of excuses, of course. I was working on the story. I was thinking about it. That counted as work, right? But I kept thinking long after I should have buckled down and started doing.

When I got an email from my agent asking if she could have it by a certain looming date, I started to panic. Because I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near being done. I’d made changes I wasn’t entirely sure about, and I wanted to get feedback before I turned it in.

But there’s one thing I’ve discovered about myself: I work best under a challenge. So I gritted my teeth and started typing.

The allotted two weeks passed in a blur of sleepless nights, Dr Pepper cans, and some of the fasted typing I had done in a while. I discovered that you can get a lot done when you stay up until four o’clock in the morning. Even more when you stay up until five. And when you’ve done that for a few nights, sleep becomes more of a commodity than a necessity—at least, that’s what you think until you fall asleep at your computer and wake up to find random sentences scrawled across the screen.

At last, after finalizing the edits with the input of some sweet friends (including Stephanie!) I clicked send . . . and went to bed.

Now, it could make for a cool story about the craziness of a writer’s life, if I hadn’t gotten myself into the mess in the first place. Sometimes a writer’s life is crazy, but when the craziness is the result of something you did or didn’t do . . .

Well, let’s just say the moral of the story is procrastination doesn’t paySo in your battle against procrastination, what are some things you can do?


Diagnose your problem.

Call your inner writer-doctor and figure out what’s holding you back. If it’s pure laziness, slay it. If you’re simply weary of typing, maybe it is time to take a little break. But know that those little breaks can easily become days, even weeks.

If it’s fear, know that and face it. Fear can be a deadly enemy. A lot of the time, I find that when I’m dealing with a severe case of writer’s block—the kind where I can’t seem to get a single word on the screen—what I’m really dealing with is fear. Fear of failing my dream, my novel, all the people who have encouraged and supported me. But if I don’t try, then I’ve failed already. Don’t ever let fear of failing hold you back.

Allow yourself time to think

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your story is take some time to think. It certainly helped my novel. There was so much think-work I needed to do. So don’t be afraid to give yourself time to sort it all out. But there’s a time for thinking and there’s a time for doing, and you don’t want to be stuck on the thinking forever. Once you have it figured out—or at least, somewhat figured out—dive back into writing.

Brainstorm with friends

When you stare at your own story for an extended period of time, it’s easy to become trapped in a box of your own making. Creativity becomes stymied. Your brain feels stagnant.

Try talking through difficult scenes with friends. Even non-writers can sometimes offer a unique perspective on book problems. Even if their suggestions don’t give you the answer you need, hearing fresh ideas may spark some of your own.

Challenge yourself

No challenge. No hurry. Right?

Unfortunately, yes. Like most of you, I lead a pretty busy life. Unless I have a deadline for a certain project, chances are it will fall to the wayside. So I often set deadlines for myself—though I do tend to be a bit overly optimistic.

But if you’re not accountable to anyone, it’s easy to treat your deadline casually and just smile and wave as you pass by. So it helps to find a writing buddy (preferably someone with a whip to crack) who will help keep you accountable.

At the very least, learning to write under a deadline is invaluable. Certainly having a looming deadline for my novel helped me finish the edits. And it proved to my wimpy-writer-side just how much I can get done when I set my mind to it.

How about you? Do you enjoy setting deadlines for yourself? What are some things you do to fight off the deadly procrastination monster?


Gillian Adams blogs over at Of Battles, Dragons, and Swords of Adamant where she writes about anything relating to books, fantasy, villains, and costumes. Her book Out of Darkness Rising will be published Fall 2013. She loves interacting with other writers and readers on her blog or facebook page.

32 comments:

  1. Wow, that was SO HELPFUL. I tend to have issues with procrastination, so yes, deadlines do help me crack down and DO IT instead of just thinking about it. I'm aiming to be completely done with this first draft by May 31st. :) And I agree about the fear thing keeping you back...I completely get that. I think maybe that's been my problem before, although I didn't know it. Although, usually...it's laziness. :P

    Anyway, great post! Thank you!

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    1. I'm glad it was helpful! I think fear and laziness are some of the biggest things you have to fight when writing. And for me, it's not always fear that people won't like what I write (although that's a part of it!) but sometimes it's just a fear that I won't do the story justice. Which is kind of silly, because if I don't write it in the first place, I can't do the story justice anyway! ;)

      Good luck on meeting your deadline! How close are you to finishing?

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  2. Right now I have been trying to get back on track with writing my novel, but it's been busy, since I have school assignments and due dates for other things. :)This post really helped! I smiled when I read 'Even non-writers can sometimes offer a unique perspective on book problems.' because my best friends doesn't write, but she is one of the people I go to when I can't sort out things for my story or when I need a new idea. she amazing!
    Thanks for the post again :)

    <3,
    Eden
    coffeeandbeautifulmesses.blogspot.com

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    1. Isn't that so cool? It's awesome when you have friends like that!

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  3. I usually try to write a chapter a day when I am home by myself and do not have much to do. Final deadlines never work for me, I have to break up what I am doing into segments and just work on those.

    Like you said, talking about my story helps. I'll sit and talk to my mom (When I can corner her). She never has to really give me ideas or anything, but talking to her and seeing her facial reactions to what I am saying helps kick start the planning. It helps me work through my own tangled thoughts.

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    1. Good point! Setting "segment" deadlines is a great idea. Otherwise that final deadline can seem so wonderfully far away, until it whacks you over the head and you realize it was due yesterday. ;)

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  4. Word wars are helpful to me when trying to get down and write. In a word war, I can write and concentrate much better than otherwise, though I know I can't lean on that crutch forever. I guess competition helps me want to excel. :)

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  5. I loved this post :) I have totally felt the "I'm thinking about so I'm good...I'm kinda working on it right?" feeling so many times before :P All of those that you have listed above and just sitting down and forcing myself to write. Just a little bit and then boom! And idea or something will come and getting me going. But procrastination and writers block are evil and hard to overcome. Not impossible though :) Congrats on meeting your deadline!!

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    1. Word wars are great! Nothing like a bit of healthy competition. Do you do NaNoWriMo?

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    2. I think you meant this comment to go to Bethany :P

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  6. How did you know I've been procrastinating? This post came with creepy-good timing!! Thank you so much :)

    And "and when you've done that for a few nights, sleep becomes more of a commodity than a necessity -- at least that's what you think until you fall asleep at your computer and wake up to find random sentences scrawled across your screen" cracked me up X) I could never do that -- I live for my sleep ;)

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  7. Deadlines? I live on deadlines, challenges, goals and any other word that can fit in there. Not just for writing, either. For everything! The background of my phone is a note with my seven daily and nine weekly goals. I do them *every* *single* *day* (or week as the case my be), even if it means getting out of bed. I set alarms on my phone for my daily ones, and am constantly reviewing my weekly ones. My mom calls me driven.

    I don't always get as much as I want done, but there are circumstances outside my control that cause that. So yeah, long answer, but I can't imagine what my life would be like without goals and deadlines. Thanks for the post, it was wonderful!

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  8. I'm in a diagnosing the problem mode right now. I've totally been procrastinating, stuck, and panicking. The begining of composting and fleshing out an idea is a consistently stressful thing for me. I was htinking last night it has to do a lot with fear, insecurity, and perfectionism. I want so much to have the idea just comes out and wows everyone and in waiting for that I toss everything because it doesn't immediately measure up. A few things I'm realizing is I need to spend more time nurturing an idea before I toss.
    No matter what I won't wow everyone.
    I have to stop being so critical and hard on myself. Craft knowledge means nothing if I can't use it in writing.
    I've been taking an art class and one of the firs thing the teacher said is she likes to have people learn with pen. Why? Because pencils allows for erasing and erasing every little mistake breeds perfectionism. With a pen you either keep going or try again and then keep going. Same could be said about writing!

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    1. I just love the idea about the pen!

      -Abby

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    2. Learning with a pen...that's really an intriguing thought. Especially with computers where you can type and erase the same sentence a dozen times over in less than five minutes!

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  9. I have no deadlines, so I can procrastinate to my heart's content....of course, no writing gets done, then. X)

    and may I just say, YOU'RE SO PRETTY!!! :D sorry. was that weird? :S

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    1. Your right, her hair is just gorgeous!

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  10. From Amo Libros:
    Thank you so much for this post!! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who has been/is afraid "of failing my dream, my novel, all the people who have encouraged and supported me". It means a lot to hear someone who has dealt with this - and is now getting published! - got through it ok. Thanks!!

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    1. I know! It is great to hear that everyone deals with this, not just me. :)

      -Abby

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  11. I have to post a deadline, it's the only way for things to get done. I'm self-publishing my novel so of I don't hit my editing deadlines I have to move back the publication date.

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  12. Oh. My. Gosh. I REALLY needed this post today. I procrastinate WAY too much. I always think that I should go and write, but then I find some excuse not to! Sometimes I just have to be in the write mood to write... Setting deadlines does tend to help me though, I don't know what it is, but when there's a deadline, I end up doing more. However, deadlines that I set for myself tend to seem more flexible than deadlines that other people give me. Right now I'm doing NaNoWriMo camp, which has a deadline. I've found this to be really helpful. Talking with friends does help a lot. One of my best friends helped me to plan out the first few chapters of my WIP the other day, and it has helped me to go so much farther with my story.

    Great post, Gillian! I wish that you would do posts more often on here!

    -Abby :D

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    1. Abby, I'm glad it was helpful! I have to fight the "I'm not in the right mood" bug too. Sometimes writing feels like pulling teeth. But I usually find that once I actually sit down and get started it comes a lot better! :)

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  13. I agree with writer's block being more of fear. I don't actually think it exists any more than a painter would have "painter's block" halfway through a painting - the vision is there, we're just afraid of not getting it written the right way. Thanks for the great post!

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    1. Good way to put it, Kaitlin. I think you're spot on!

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  14. Very cool post. :) Deadlines really help me motivate myself. In one month I wrote half a book when I set my mind to it and that was very good for me. Once a hundred words was a struggle for me, now I'm pushing a thousand or more a day. :)

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  15. I'm doing the Year of Continuous Writing, which started two-ish months ago. It's keeping me accountable. I don't struggle with writers' block much, but editing is another story ... I find it harder because it seems like there are so many things I need to fix and I don't necessarily know how to fix them.
    Thanks for the post, Gillian!

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  16. This is a great post. I've always known that even "real" writers struggle with procrastination, but it's still nice to hear that I'm not alone! I think one of the biggest problems with procrastination is that it's easy to let yourself become overwhelmed by the task at hand. Looking at my finished (but unedited) novel, sometimes it seems like I'll never finish all the rewrites.

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  17. I've diagnosed myself as bored. My WIP is my first one that I've actually stuck to for longer than a day or two. I've been writing it for about a year and a half and, honestly, I stop reading a book if it takes me three weeks. I'll get bored and start noticing all these other things. But I can't bear to quit this after so long.
    I love deadlines. Sort of. It depends. I have one deadline right now with high stakes. After NaNoWriMo this year all the "winners" got a password to get five free copies of their book. Except it has an expiration. I made a chart, but I write when I write (no matter how bad that may be...)

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  18. Ah yes. This right now, this word... procrastination... yepp, it pretty much describes it. Schoolwork and writing both. *sigh* And yes, pure laziness...

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  19. (I apologize if I've already commented on this post. . .I looked through trying to find myself and haven't so. . . .)

    I do struggle with procrastination. When I take a day or two off, a lot of the time it ends up being weeks off. That's one of the reasons it was so difficult to finish the first draft of my first completed work--I was procrastinating because some of the plot was so difficult to write about. I just needed to buck up and do it, even if I only set the timer for five minutes or something. I do have to say that writing by hand is very conducive to procrastination, but I think there are both pros and cons to writing by hand so I'm not going to diss it. (Google does not tell me that's a swear word but it does say it's informal. If anyone here considers it a swear word I'm sorry and I hope you'll forgive me!)

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