I’ve plotted and outlined my story, I’m excited. Inciting incidents and an ending that will cause my readers to ugly cry are dancing in my head. I’ve spent hours curating the perfect writing playlist on Spotify and making inspirational pinboards on Pinterest. My desk is clean, I have a notebook at my side, ready to write down anything that may come to me when I’m in this heightened state of inspiration.
Then I stop.
I’ll do almost anything to avoid being productive, maybe not intentionally, but I will… I’ve cleaned my house top to bottom. Suddenly remembered that I need to clean out my closet or garage. I have chores, errands. Then I start binge-watching shows on Netflix and getting stuck for hours on Youtube watching other authors talk about writing. And then suddenly – it’s gone. I can’t write. The motivation deflated.
So how do we kick procrastination in the ass?
Procrastination is all in my head. It’s about my fear of failing and comparing myself to others. It’s about thinking that I need to be perfect, and re-reading my work and thinking that I’m a complete fraud who can’t write and my words suck and I become my own worst enemy. it’s obsessing over creating beautiful passages and similes, going back and correcting things before I can move on.
Writing isn’t pretty. First drafts aren’t pretty.
When I get stuck on certain passages and can’t move on, that isn’t writing. When I’m constantly re-reading my work and trying to perfect it before I can move on, that isn’t writing. That interrupts the flow of my story and zaps my creativity.
Step one: TURN OFF THE INTERNET!!!
If you’re like me, you might head to Pinterest or whatever website inspires you, and then three hours later you’ve planned your cats birthday party in great detail, and you haven’t written a damn word. No, you don’t need it for research. No, you don’t need it to come up with a different word for arsenal because you’ve just written it four times in one chapter (true story – and there was never any weapons…). That comes later. Right now, you just need to get those words on paper.
Step two: Baby steps
Set a timer. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. And tackle something SMALL. Tackle a small scene, not even an entire chapter. Are you trying to nail a fight scene, or a kissing scene or maybe an important internal monologue. Take a small amount of time and just write that one thing.
Step three: Stop self-editing before you move on
That’s what your second draft is for. That’s what a proofreader is for. You’re too close to your work at this point, it hasn’t had time to breathe and sit. If you continually take time to self-edit (especially AS you are writing, you aren’t doing yourself any favors) The focus on perfection is a doom spiral, trust me on this.
Step four: Allow yourself to take a break.
Take a ten-minute walk around the block. Pet your dog. Go outside and pull some weeds. Whatever it is that clears your head and allows you to stop thinking about your damn book for a minute – do it.
Step five: Bones
No, not like a dog. This has been the biggest a-ha moment in my writing. I just get the bones or the skeleton of a chapter or scene written. I worry about the meat later when I revise. So what does that mean? That means – maybe I have a pivotal conversation and I just write the dialogue. No tags, no action, no scene setting. Just the conversation. And I move on. Yep. I just move on. It’s ugly and anxiety producing at first and if anyone ever read my first drafts of certain chapters, they’d think a five-year-old wrote them. But I swear by it and it’s really helped me become more productive.
The final step: Be nice to yourself.
Stop beating yourself up for not hitting a word count goal. Stop focusing on everything wrong with your first draft and focus on the fact that you started the first draft. Reward yourself for the baby steps. Reward yourself for completing a chapter. STOP comparing yourself to other writers and how fast they write.