Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Write Now - Fighting procrastination

Butt in chair. It may be the most difficult writing challenge. Most writers I know who have a hard time getting work done every day can't quite get themselves to begin. Often, this starts even before facing the sometimes dreaded empty page. Stepping away from the mundane for dedicated writing time can stop some people.

The irony is that the very people who have trouble starting are usually the people who, once in gear, fill pages and enjoy doing so. For whatever reason (perfectionism? fear? distractions?), they can't make that small jump from where they are to where they will belong.

As I one-time chemist, I tend to think of this in terms of having the potential energy for a reaction. This is usually illustrated by a little hill that needs to be climbed. Catalysts are materials that lower that hill for chemical reactions, so I'll offer a few ideas that might make catalyze your efforts.

Leave things ready. Writing a sentence about what the next day's work will be probably provides the biggest help, but let's get even more fundamental. Before you leave your computer, close browsers and other distractions and open the file for your Work in Progress. When you turn on your computer, you want this file, and only this file, to be what you see. One exception - you can have a timer cued up for a fifteen-minute or more countdown.

If you write longhand, adapt this idea. Have your notebook open and waiting at the breakfast table or next to the coffee pot. Have a kitchen timer at the ready, too.

Some people break off writing in the middle of a scene or sentence. This is a great trick for some writers and an abomination for others. I've done it with success, but follow your own muse.

Make an appointment. Put the time you will write onto your calendar, and, if possible, set an alarm. Make it as big a commitment as a doctor's appointment and as unavoidable as taking a kid to soccer practice.

Build a word cache. Come up with a dozen or more provocative words and write them onto individual Post-Its. Before you go to bed, choose one and stick it where you have to see it. (The refrigerator door is likely to be a good choice.) When you see it, force yourself to type (or write) it into your Work in Progress. This will get something onto the page. Then try to write a relevant sentence.

You can also build a cache of sentences that are related to your Work in Progress and might engage you. I'm not sure they work as well on Post-Its, but it's fun to get the day started by cutting and pasting one into a manuscript.

Answer a question. Instead of starting with words or sentences, think ahead of time about what you want to know. This can be as big as asking what the theme of your story is (my actual question for work today!), but usually it's better to have a simpler, more tangible question. I get the biggest payoffs from questions that create images in my head. Asking what a heroine is wearing, what a castle wall looks like, or what a villain is carrying in his backpack creates a clear visual that puts you into the story.

Again, make sure one of these questions is in front of you and unavoidable.

Within all of these, I haven't mentioned demands put on you from other people. We live as part of families, businesses, and societies. That's good news because we write for and about people in relationships. But their demands can push writing down the list of priorities.

Sometimes life does indeed get in the way, and I have great sympathy for writers who care for people with undeniable needs like children and elderly parents. Almost all of us, however, can carve out some sacred time for ourselves. In mentoring and teaching, I have not yet found anyone who could not regularly find 15 minutes a day, five days a week. (And, yes, there are exceptional weeks of illness, death, and disaster, but these pass or become the new normal -- with opportunities for writing emerging with time.)

You are not greedy if you give yourself the gift of writing time. You have the talent. You have the desire. And you deserve it.   

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