Procrastination? Oh look, there’s a squirrel!
Hi, Sarah here. If you think writing is easy, think again!
Yes, an author might have a burst of creativity, ideas may come thick and fast, but translating those scenes in one’s head into a publishable book can be tortuous. Sometimes anything seems a better option than actually putting words on the page.
Recently, Liz Fielding and I sat down to discuss the problem of procrastination. Then we were distracted!
So — yesterday we finally sat down to discuss it!
Procrastination is the thief of time
Liz: Ah, the P word, Sarah. What can I say? When the words are slow to come, there is always the lure of Pinterest…
It’s a rabbit hole down which a writer can fall for hours. Hunting for an image of the perfect location. Looking for a picture of the heroine you see in your head — the one with impossibly bright red curly hair. Searching for the hero who has just spotted her sitting out at a beach party. Then there’s the jewellery fit for a sheikh’s princess. And stationery. (All writers are into pretty notebooks!) And when all else fails, nail art!
And don’t get me started on social media.
Sarah: Even this blog is a distraction, since we began discussing it when I was supposed to be writing my book! I have reached the point where I have the full story sorted out but not yet written. I have a timeline, I have the story and most of the scenes. In fact, to paraphrase the immortal Eric Morecambe, I have all the right words, but not necessarily in the right order!
Research can be dangerous! (Even if not really procrastination …)
Liz: That is so familiar! I’m a pantster — a fully fledged fly-into-the-mist writer which means that plotting out a story is a dangerous game.
I wrote an outline for a novella over a year ago in an attempt to be organised. I thought it would speed up my writing. Instead, it stalled me. I write to discover what my characters will do to surprise me. To find out what happens. And I already know. I doubt it will ever get written.
Sarah: I am exactly the same! As soon as I have finished my story in my head, I want to move on to the next one. Luckily my current work hasn’t reached that state (yet) but it has soooo many distractions!
My heroine has dashed off to save the hero, who is being held in a dilapidated house in London. Now, what sort of handles would a small, mid-Georgian townhouse have had? A latch, or a handle, or a knob? Luckily I know a very knowledgeable gent who was only too happy to help, and I came across some fascinating details….
Liz: That’s procrastination again, Sarah! Those details will side-track you every time. I frequently stop to check what flowers will be blooming in my location and, more recently, details of fishing licences and inheritance tax led me astray for hours.
Organisation, organisation, organisation…
Organised writers make a note to check later and carry on writing. I can’t do that. It has to be right before I can move on. It sounds as if you have the same problem! What has been your biggest ever procrastination moment? Costume? Food? I’ve always steered clear of writing historical romance because of the research involved.
Sarah: Food is always tempting! So many old books have been scanned now and are available free online. For The Highborn Housekeeper, my latest Harlequin/Mills & Boon historical, which is out in July, I referred constantly to Elizabeth Raffald’s 1786 edition of The Experienced English Housekeeper. I didn’t manage to put in her opinion that coal stoves are much better than charcoal (which is, apparently, pernicious to cooks), or her portable soup for travellers (made with three large legs of veal) but maybe next time….
Getting back on track
Then it depends what stage I am at with my book. If I am actually writing the story, I can set myself a goal of a certain number of words. If it is plotting, scene setting and research etc, then I prefer to set myself a certain amount of time. Experience has told me that four hours is a realistic target. At nine o’clock in the morning it feels as if there is plenty of time to get 4 hours of writing done, but then I stop the clock for tea breaks, loo breaks, when the postman calls, when I have lunch — you get the idea? Suddenly, 4 hours takes me all day. But at least by keeping an eye on the time I can see what I am actually achieving.
But I digress again. Let’s look at solutions, Liz. How do you get down to work during those times when even ironing seems alluring (or maybe that’s just me). I try to clear my desk of clutter — i.e. I move the pile of “To be done” papers onto another surface.
Liz: I agree that clearing the clutter helps. Things nagging at the back of your mind will drag your attention — already eager to be off and playing truant — away from the writing. A talk to be written, a newsletter, a trip to the post office. We’ve both moved house recently and I still have a stack of pictures to be hung, bookshelves that need sorting, a basket of the why-on-earth-did-I pack-it “stuff” on the floor.
I’m a slow writer so the word count thing doesn’t work for me. Jotting down the bare basics of the next scene and then giving myself a writing sprint of twenty minutes has been a really useful way of helping with focus. A lot of small steps quickly build up into chapter.
If music be the food of love…
Music also helps. Instrumental, classic stuff, nothing to intrude on the word space. On good days I put on a piece of Mozart’s less flashy stuff and don’t even notice when it goes off. Alexa is great for that!
Sarah: I also use music. Instrumental classical, like you, and often piano music, not to enjoy it, but so that it covers all those distracting noises like chatter, other people moving about the house etc. It seems to work for me.
What really matters?
Liz: Since moving close to my daughter I am doing more babysitting and family stuff. I’m also going out a lot more. The suggestion of a walk at Standen House on a beautiful spring morning is always going to win over a morning at the typeface. And the answer to a “fancy a swim?” text from my daughter has to be a yes. Exercise is soooo important for those of us who spend hours at a desk! East Grinstead is a busy place, with a lot to distract the easily led!
I recently read a book about time management called Juliet’s School of Possibilities by Laura Vanderkam in which the main message was “We will always find time for what matters to us.”
We do get led down the path of procrastination, Sarah, but we always find time for our families, for friends. And we always — almost always — get the book in on time.
Sarah: It’s called being professional, Liz. (Dear reader, please forgive us if we allow ourselves a teensy smug smile here.)
I am sure others have their favourite distraction-busting techniques, and we’d love to hear them, so over to you, fellow busy-bees….
Sarah and Liz