Overcoming procrastination

In the last tip I talked about methods of helping you finish what you start; this time it’s how to finish what you start within a reasonable time. Procrastination is the problem: the tendency to put things off. Why do we do it? Because writing is hard work. Also, with fiction in particular, you have to deal with the fear that the magic (for want of a better word) will disappear. I’ve sometimes looked back on Ulterior, examined the breakdown of the story, marvelled at the way some of plot strands came together in unexpected ways, marvelled at some of the prose I came out with, and I’ve thought, Where the heck did all this come from! With fiction, the writer relys solely on his imagination. And there is a tendency to fear that it’s going to dry up. The usual reaction is to put off the writing and not face the stress caused by this fear. And if your house is anything like mine, there are plenty of things sitting around that are only too happy to accommodate you. Load up Internet Explorer instead of Microsoft Word; spend three hours surfing eBay. Or sit in front of the telly and vegetate.

It’s probably a bad idea to have the internet on the same computer that you do your writing on, but often it’s unavoidable. In fact, it’s sometimes quite useful to be able to look up a quick spelling at Dictionary.com or do a quick bit of research on Google. I tried something maverick a few months ago: I bought an ancient Commodore Amiga 1200 computer to use as a word processor. But I found that I missed being able to port my documents quickly between computers using my pen drive. I’m afraid there’s no solution except good old-fashioned discipline: setting a regular period of time aside exclusively for writing.

There’s another major distraction I’ve fallen victim to in recent months. When I come home from work, my usual routine is to make the dinner, then eat it in the living room whilst watching an episode of something on DVD. By the time the hour is over, my brain is so abuzz that it’s almost impossible to sit down at my computer and focus on writing. TV seems to provide exactly the wrong kind of stimulation. But I’m so attached to my dinner-time routine that I’m loathe to break it. An idea might be to go out for a walk afterwards and let myself daydream about the content of my writing, easing myself into the right frame of mind.

Something I’m thinking about doing when I move house is having a creativity room, a place without distractions, where the only things in sight are items conducive to creativity. Like my computer, digital piano, desk, sketch pad, etc. And the golden rule is, when you enter, you do something constructive, whether it’s drawing a sketch, composing a tune, writing a short story, editing a film, or whatever. And if you’re not going to do something constructive, you don’t enter.

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