Monday 30 July 2012

Procrastination Part 2 (aka How to Start, and Keep, Writing your Novel)

In recent years, I have been lucky enough to spend much of my day writing. Of course, most of this time is spent trying to get started, trying to avoid getting started, or trying to convince myself that I didn't really want to write in the first place. 

But gradually, I have  hazarded upon a handful of strategies that seem to make the whole process a little less painful. I hope they work for you too. (And please share any of your own tips).

1) Create your writing space

Whether it's a whole room, a desk, or a corner of the kitchen table where you always work, invest a little time in creating a formal space for your writing: it lends an authority to your goal, reduces the risk of squandering time on locating the right tools and place; and, most importantly for me, it helps to make the whole process fun. And, if you're lucky enough to have a large enough space, indulge in a little inspirational decoration: when writing Waving Bella, I littered my desk with shells and driftwood from the beach, and kept a postcard of Marc Chagall's Promenade beside my laptop.


2) Make writing dates

Whether you write every day, or can only manage an hour or so a week, make it a date. Treat it like a job, and help your family and/or friends view it the same way too. Then make sure you have a really good excuse if you don't turn up.

3) Walk

When I'm really stuck, I find the best thing I can do is to go for a walk. Preferably on a wild, deserted beach. Failing that, I do some pressing but mindless chore. Whether I consciously focus on what I'm trying to write, or simply let my mind wander, I usually end up with a new perspective. Or at the very least, a  new place to start and a very clean toilet.

4) Read

It's a cliche, but writers really do need to read. It doesn't have to be the same genre as your own work but, take it from a Speech and Language Therapist, words feed words. Even if it feels like time away from your writing, make sure you read a little every day: the benefits will more than compensate. And remember, it doesn't have to be Dickens: these days I mostly read Dr Seuss (but seriously, have you checked out his rhythm and flow, and the sheer creativity of his language?).

5) Just start

I know, I know: how can something so simple be so hard?  But I have a little trick that helps: be it a letter, an essay, or your latest chapter, begin with the phrase the sort of thing I want to say is...and then keep on writing. Sometimes, you'll find your stride; sometimes, you won't. But you'll have made a lot of useful notes in the process.


  1. I like to think of myself as an aspiring writer ... ahem ... and I have an idea for a novel-in-waiting ... we shall see ... but at the moment I'm having bad writers blog on my blog, and I'm feeling quite down about my writing - to the extent that I've been reediting posts and getting quite obsessive about words and sentences ... not good ... so I am very glad you wrote this post, as its full of some very useful ideas - especially if you're not writing, then, read, which I often do (currently reading the twilight saga above all things!), and I like the idea if creating a special space for writing, and making a writing date. I remember reading the artists way - that had some useful ideas too ... I really dislike writers block, and I'm so hard on myself when it happens - its like I've lost the abilityt to write, and the words just wont come!

  2. thanks for such a thoughtful comment. i so know what you mean about being hard on yourself. i think that's why, for me at least, it helps to write "what i'd like to say..." and turn off the critic. that said, sometimes a block is a block- that's when the reading and the walking (and cleaning) come into play. failing that i cling to my believe in ebb and flow and wait for the next new moon...

  3. Suffering from a lack of motivation myself and a heap of procrastination, your post has great timing.

    I love the date idea. A set time just to do it. I also clean, but feel its a form of procrastination. I try to get the machines on (dishwasher and washing machine) first thing then I have to face the screen and write, otherwise the dishes and clothes sing out to me and pull me away at the first sign of a word struggle.

    I have learnt that routine works wonders for children and I hate to admit it, but it works for me too.