Procrastination Busters!

June 1, 2008

For the moment, at least, I think I’ve finally managed to break out of the procrastination bind I was in for a few weeks. I spent almost the entire day working on my NF book yesterday, and boy, does it feel good! I had enough momentum going I could have worked through the night, but decided getting a little rest might help me have a strong day today, too!

I thought about it, and here’s what has worked for me, to help get me out of procrastination and back into “real” writing (off-line, working on my book). For purposes of this post, I think for me I have two types of procrastination – active and passive.

Active procrastination is when I deliberately avoid work. It is a conscious decision. For example: write on my book or clean the bathroom? I think I’ll clean the bathroom.

Passive procrastination is when I try to sit down and write, and allow myself to get distracted. Maybe I decide before I get started to zip in and check my email – then look up two hours later and decide I hardly have time to get anything done before bed, so give up for the day. Or similar things. The passive procrastination method has been eating me up lately, so overcoming that is what I’m going to concentrate on, here.

Ten Ways to Break through Procrastination

  1. Avoid TV. Sounds simple, but hard to do.
  2. Avoid the Internet. Ditto. Email, websites, blogs – all are the pitfall here.
  3. Avoid doing “extra research.” This one is a tough one for me. I’m working on a non-fiction history book. Research is what it’s all about. But it’s easy for me to spend hours on this – and avoid writing – when maybe what I was “researching” really isn’t that important, at least, not in the first draft.
  4. Ignore the phone. I need to consider my writing time sacred. Just like I would turn off my cell phone if I went to church, I need to have the same sacredness and respect for my writing time at home. And ask others (friends, relatives, telemarketers) to have the same respect as well.
  5. Avoid re-reading an entire chapter. Sure, reading what you’ve written is an essential part of the writing process. But when I’m working on a book – there’s a lot to read. Instead, I need to stay focused only on the last page or paragraph that I’ve written – not the entire 20-page chapter.
  6. Stay focused. A corollary to #5 – I need to know where I’m going next in my narrative, and concentrate on that. “Avoid narrative distractions” is another way to put this. Do I really need to tell about Abigail’s dress at the ball when the storyline in this chapter is about the use of cotton bales to protect Union ships during the Civil War?
  7. When I stop for the day, make a note of where I’m going next. This technique has really been helpful for me, when I remember to do it. It helps me know exactly where to start the next time I sit down, and sometimes it has helped me to see gaps in my storyline or research that need to be filled in.

    These last three have been the most important for me, lately:

  8. Get right to work! I find the simple act of getting started to be my most difficult task. I can spend an entire hour meandering around before even opening the document on my desktop and sitting down and getting to work. Once I get started on writing, I’m fine, and can usually keep going. But it can take me an hour to get to that point, sometimes – and by then, it’s easy to be distracted and not-write at all.
  9. Make sure you are seated comfortably. The other day I figured out one of the reasons I couldn’t sit still at my computer while writing was simply because of my uncomfortable chair. I would fidgit, my legs would get twisted and cramp, and my arms hurt too because of the position of the keyboard on my desk in relation to my chair. I put a seat cushion in the chair, and voila – I have a six or eight hour day to my credit! Small things – big changes.
  10. Use music to my advantage. I’ve found that playing a CD of some of my favorite music helps in many ways. First, it puts me in a good mood. It gives me a positive outlook, and also helps focus my mind. It helps me avoid TV. It also, in some inexplicable manner, helps me stay focused enough to get started (#8). It helps me over that hurdle – which is a big one for me – and once I’ve cleared it, I can get underway. Music is so important for me to get started on my writing – that within 30 minutes, I am so engrossed in my writing that the music fades into the background, and I often don’t even notice when the CD finishes playing. That’s the kind of concentration I’m aiming for!!

I hope that I’ll be able to remember these techniques the next time I get stuck in a procrastination rut, and I hope you might find some of them helpful in your work as well. I’d love to hear from other writers about what works for you in overcoming procrastination.

©2008 writingreading

Swimming the Ocean

May 21, 2008

I believe writing a book is like swimming the ocean. At least, it feels that way. I swim and swim and swim, thinking I must surely be at the half-way point by now – but I look behind me and see that I am only about 500 yards off-shore. The pull of the tide pushes me in, then pulls me back out, so that I no longer have a sense of distance. My muscles ache and tire, the sun reflecting off the waves is blinding, yet I know I cannot give up. I allow myself to drift for a bit, and relax, but I cannot give up completely, lest I drown.

I’ve been working on a non-fiction book now for over six months, probably longer. I’m talking writing, here, not counting time doing research which is a whole different ballgame entirely. It’s like treading water. Even though I know I can’t write much more than maybe a couple of pages a night, on a good night, and maybe not much more than 10 total in a week – it feels so grindingly dullingly slowwww. And I’m talking about the process and progress here – not the reading-pace of the book. (It’s still a first draft anyway, and that comes later.)

The truth is, I’ve got probably 70-100 pages altogether, written – and so maybe I’m 1/3 or 1/2 way through the book, with however much more to go. But at this point, it so often seems like I will never, ever get finished – so much so that at times I’m tempted to say “forget it” and let my dream die. I know that this book is important to me, that it is something that I am truly passionate about – that it is one of the few things that can break through my daily cynicism and give me Purpose and Meaning.

So why is it that I find the going so difficult? That I can have an entire day stretched before me, just waiting to spend the endless hours writing — and not even begin to get started until 5pm? Or wail and thrash about, shuffling papers or surfing blogs and websites, and then wonder why I didn’t get anything done at all today?

I think writing must be like crossing the vast states of Tennessee, cross-wise, or Texas, in any direction, or going lengthwise up the coast of California. It takes forever!! And it’s usually when you are getting close to the end, when you feel the most like you’re never going to get there! But I’ve made enough road trips to know – you just have to keep going, you will get there!

Maybe it’s all in my perspective. I’m all wrong to think I’m swimming the ocean. I’m just a blind woman in a swimming pool, swimming in circles, and I don’t realize I’ve already traveled so far.

©2008 writingreading