Last Saturday, I caught up with some writers who were in the memoir-writing class that I did through the Australian Writers’ Centre. I almost skipped it, but am so glad I didn’t.
Part of our conversation centred around procrastination. After each confessing the lengths to which we go to put off writing, we each shared some ideas on how to combat it.
Here are some of them:
1. Start with the simple thing: show up
It’s a bit like exercising in the morning: thinking about the effort or energy you’ll have to spend during a workout is probably off-putting, so rather than thinking about what’s hard, start with the combating the first step: roll out of bed and at least put on your gym gear. Once you’ve done that, following up with the rest of the process is a lot easier.
With writing, start with something simple – the goal is to just start the process. Whether that means sitting at your desk, or opening your notebook or writing program and starting to write, no matter where you are, just start.
2. Follow the 5-second rule
The idea that you’re always five seconds away from making a decision was popularised by author Mel Robbins. I haven’t read her book, but I believe the gist is that rather than procrastinating (which is a natural and valid response to stress) just start something quickly before you have time to think of something else to do.
3. Get the story down.
Leave the editing until later. Much later. Elle was telling us about an interview she’d read recently, about a fiction author who aims to write a novel every year and spends 3 months writing the first draft, and the rest of the year editing it. As someone who started my corporate communications career in editing, I sometimes struggle with the need to get it perfect the first time. But I’m learning to let that go and to just get words on paper. Simply put, you can’t edit something that doesn’t exist.
4. Break it down into bite-sized chunks, and write until you’ve made a dent
Victoria suggested putting story ideas down on post-its and reorganising the events into a more cohesive narrative, then tackling each part of the book one post-it at a time. This is my project for the next week – something easily achievable. If post-its aren’t practical, then Trello is a fantastic, digital alternative. The bonus is, it’s also free!
5. Remove distractions
I think its time for me to uninstall social media apps from my phone. It’s just way too easy for me to log onto Facebook or Instagram and waste time scrolling through my feed. If I wrote in the 15-30 minutes I spend reading useless click-bait every day, I’d have produced 3 novels by now.
6. Remember, your future self will thank you
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but one I forget easily. I think about the feeling I have after I’ve worked on my manuscript, even during just a stolen pocket of time while I’m waiting for the school gates to open, or while I’m on the train on the way to work: I never regret it. I am always grateful and proud of myself for making the decision to spend time on the project that gives me joy. Now I just have to remember this and remind myself that it’s worth it!
7. Share your work
It might not work for everyone, but I’ve found attending regular writing workshops and meetups great for keeping me on task and giving me a deadline to write towards. While I didn’t have any writing to bring with me last Saturday, Elle read out a chapter of what she’d been working on. I feel quite privileged being allowed a glimpse into these works in progress. It’s not easy to share writing when it’s raw and unedited, but I’m finding this process of seeking, receiving, and giving constructive critique incredibly valuable. In listening to just a few of her paragraphs I was reminded of key things I’ve learnt in my own writing journey and new things I need to consider implementing into my own writing.
As a side note, as part of this process, one question came up as to whether and when to incorporate research and facts into the story. Obviously, the answer will depend on the type (and amount!) of research you’ve done and on the type of book you’re writing, but I’d say the rule of thumb is to only include the things that will help the reader understand a character better, or will drive the narrative forward. Everything else can probably go.
I hope you found these tips useful and can use at least one to get you motivated enough to start writing. If you have other techniques that have helped fuel your writing process, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.