“I’ve got this assignment to do.”
“Oh, I am just catching up with a friend.”
“I’ll just watch one more episode of Community.”
Writers are their own worst enemy and we tell the biggest lies to ourselves. As I recline on the sofa cuddling my cat who is desperately trying to escape my hold, I always lament to my mother how I cannot write for I am so, so busy with my every day life: she must wonder why my nose is not growing by the minute. Each new episode of Sex and the City I queue up on the TV to watch next, each time I decide to reorganise my bookshelf… they are all lies. These things do not need to be done in the time I have set aside for writing. Occasionally, there will be a legitimate reason for me not sticking to my writing time – such as The Block I talked about last week, or my appendix exploding (seriously). But most of the time it is Procrastination – that little devil that sits on a writer’s shoulder and whispers of the temptations outside the study room.
So how do you beat Procrastination?
Procrastination doesn’t just affect your writing life, but your academic work and sometimes actual work too. You always want to put off what seems like a daunting task. I’ve searched high and low for a miracle cure that will dispel this feeling and make me sit down and crack out my next chapter. Alas there is no such thing. It is all about training your mind, or finding little bursts of encouragement. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to stop lying to myself.
Isn’t the internet great? It’s how you are reading this article after all, how we chat to friends across the country, how we find out the latest news. But the internet is probably one of the biggest distractions, at least for me. When I am writing, Facebook is all too seductive as I sit staring at a blank page. One click and I could be there, whizzing through the exciting stories of my friends, and that cute cat that can skateboard. REMOVE THEM. After I found myself lost on youtube for over two hours, and my alarm started bleeping at me to let me know my writing time was up and I had to go to work, I realised I had a serious internet addiction issue. So I downloaded an extension you can get for free on Google Chrome (and I have been assured something similar is around for Safari). It’s called StayFocused. It’s a great little tool and you can put a time limit on how long the site is blocked for. When you try to access your blocked sites then you are told to get back to studying. It’s a great tool and one I would recommend for others with an internet addiction like me.
There is also a version for this for your phone if you are one of those people who find that more distracting. It’s called Forest and what you do is plant a tree for a certain amount of time and if you click on your phone and try to use it you can kill the poor helpless tree. This is again a free app, but you can download one for a bit of money (I think it’s 80p) and you can connect and compete with friends to battle for the best forest.
As for anything else, remove yourself from their harmful reach. I always find it best to work outside of my house where things of comfort and easy access are – such as food. I’m much less likely to stroll around a coffee shop umming and arring over food than I am at home where I stare aimlessly at a fridge despite not being hungry. Books, too, I cannot lug with me to the coffee shop. I am alone. And actually, usually without internet. Win win.
Stop allowing yourself to have an excuse. If you have genuinely left your assignment too late, or have other work to do, and you are in any way like me, you have done it in part because you would rather have a good excuse not to be writing. Get yourself organised. Get your work done during your non-writing days, or simply spend less time writing, but do NOT let yourself bypass the writing day simply because you had too much on today. This is no excuse. I have a diary and my writing days/hours are blocked out entirely so I have to try to fit my assignments around it. I’ve done it for three years of university, so don’t tell me it’s impossible. If you are determined to get this thing written then it is definitely possible.
Just Start Writing:
I find that sometimes I have worked myself up into such a state about not wanting to write, that I turn it into some demon type task in my head. Almost akin to cleaning the oven out. So I hate it and tell myself, well I shouldn’t write if I am going to hate doing it. But really this is some concoction the devil on your shoulder had laid in your mind. It’s not true, you love writing, you love your main character, and despite your differences you really want to do your best by your book. I find the best way to counter this type of procrastination is by simply writing. There is no Block, though you have convinced yourself this thing IS The Block. It’s not. You’re Procrastinating. You’re probably about to throw a mini tantrum because you don’t want to believe it. If this is the case, I am probably right.. Even if it’s not the story you are working on, or not the part of the book you wanted to next tackle, you need to start writing and remembering why you love writing so much. Soon you’ll be back in nonsense land and wishing you didn’t have to stop again.
Find a Procrasto-Buddy:
This is not someone you procrastinate with, rather someone who you give authority to give you a slap every now and then. Mine alternates between my mother, and my housemate. The odd slaps usually come after a continuous hour of having to listen to me whine about not having time to write but wanting too. These buddies are what you really need to kick you into gear with a stern talk. It needs to be someone who won’t take your bullshit. Who knows that you don’t have anything else to do. Who know’s that your plan is actually to curl up in bed and watch Netflix. So they frog march you to your desk and sit you down and don’t leave until they see you start typing. They are the best friends for a writer.
DO NOT PANIC
Working yourself up into a state is a serious threat and a danger to your writing. I’ve seen people break in the libraries and my writing group with the sheer pressure of trying to beat this demon. When you start to feel that anger mixed with hatred mixed with tears, take a moment to breathe and go for a walk. Sometimes you just need to clear your head and get away from what is distracting you to help you realise you are actually procrastinating. It is an issue not many realise they are having until the time window you’ve set aside for yourself is gone. This is when the PB comes in handy too, to give you a slap when you are laying curled up on their bed crying about not being able to write.
You are letting yourself down:
I have this message typed out on my ‘snooze’ for the alarm I set for writing. My phone judges me, but the slogan works to spur me into action. At the end of the day nobody else is going to care whether or not you have written a book. It is only going to matter to you. By procrastinating you are letting yourself down, nobody else, and that is the worst feeling in the world aside from stepping on your pets tail. Remind yourself of that the next time you find yourself lying on the sofa in a pool of crisp crumbs. Who is really going to care if your book is never written?
Sadly, this demon cannot be fought easily. It is going to be hard and I am not going to lie and tell you that hey you open your laptop and you are good to go. It is a long war we fight. But I find these methods are the best for me when procrastinating. Some of the methods I spoke about in my how to deal with The Block can also help. Hopefully, I have given you some weapons and armour in dealing with it, but please as always feel free to share your own tips of the trade.
That’s it for this week, happy writing Ink-Slingers!