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 pay. So 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.
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.
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.