Getting started is often the hardest part of any project, whether it’s tackling that difficult scene or cleaning out the basement you’ve been tossing things willy-nilly into for the past ten years. I spend an inordinate amount of time procrastinating, especially when I’m making the transition between two very different tasks, say–for instance–wrangling my three children into bed and writing. A lot of laundry-folding and RSS feed checking goes on during that time.
Along the way, I’ve developed some tactics to help me get past the how-do-I-even-begin hump. Here are a few:
1. Warmups. Not every project lends itself to warmups, of course (I don’t know what sorts of warmups one can do before scrubbing out the bathroom–and no, I don’t really need to know if there are). But you can ease into a difficult task. No one goes into a rigorous exercise routine without stretching out their muscles. I don’t tackle a difficult piano piece without limbering up my fingers with scales, or something easier.. In the same way, writing warmups can help get you into the mood before you have to figure out how to rescue the beautiful Princess Meliandora from the Dark Lord’s impregnable fortress. I recommend freewriting.
2. Break it down. Writing a novel is a big undertaking. So is cleaning your entire house. Or starting a business. Or creating a historically accurate Marie Antoinette costume. My advice? Break the project down into manageable chunks. Don’t think of it as writing an entire novel, but as getting to that first candybar scene. Focus on one drawer instead of the entire house.
And celebrate the milestones, even if it is with a cookie or five minutes to check Twitter/Facebook/email/[insert social media of choice].
3. Give yourself a time limit. I’ve extolled the virtues of writing in sessions of 10-20 minutes before. You can do anything for a short burst of time, whether it’s weeding or scrubbing the inside of the oven or drafting a blog post. Sometimes that short time period is enough to get you going so you can continue even when the timer beeps. Or, if you’re like me, you write super-fast in order to cram in as many words as possible before the time runs out!
4. Get support. Make your goals public. Tell your family and friends what you’re going to do. Use the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter, tell your Facebook friends you’re attacking the attic today (and that they should send in search parties if you don’t re-emerge in a few hours). Get your spouse to prod you, and your friends to harass you about your goal (in a nice we-support-you sort of way). Tell your blog readers you’ve decided to post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday–oh wait, did I say that out loud? *grin*
5. Get it on the schedule. Clear your schedule for your project. For the longest time, exercise wasn’t even in the kitchen for me, much less the back-burner. Now, with my husband working from home, I have a standing date with his iPhone to listen to a podcast while taking a brisk walk during the kids’ afternoon Quiet Time. Hire a babysitter, send the family out of the house, or go out yourself–just block that time off. Put it on the calendar, even. In pen. It makes it all the more real and official.
What about you? How do you deal with procrastination?
My biggest starting point is to carry something to write on so when I start hearing words, even in snippets, I write them down. Once I finally get to sit down to write the story, I find myself not facing a blank page. I’m facing a page with snippets to type in of anywhere between three and twenty scenes and some easy bridges to build in between certain things and places I already know I want to expand into this or that because of the material I’m reading. I have inspiration for the story and dialogue that captures my character’s personalities vividly and a line or two that reveals my theme that I didn’t even know I had.
This is something I used to do with fanfic and let it get away from me, not really trying it on original fiction until this last month when I decided to track my snippet writing for NanoWrimo. When I want to write a brand new story, I can cull through my snippets and find something that already set my passion for writing on fire. It’s a new/old experience, but it kind of makes me giddy.
Thanks for bringing up this topic. I probably wouldn’t have quite realized how important this is to my process if I hadn’t had a reason to articulate it.
Oh, yes. The collecting phase. I carry around a little notebook for snippets and ideas, but I don’t use it as often as I could. Doesn’t help when things come to me in the shower or at night when I’m *supposed* to be asleep. It’s something I can definitely work on.
Thanks for sharing those, Rabia. All good suggestions – especially the breaking up into small parts. That doesn’t come naturally or easily to me.
I crossed out Monday and Thursday in my diary with hatching around large words: Writing Day.
There is a small space at the bottom of the day for evening things. That’s gone a long way to making sure I do write on those days. Not all day but for those hours set aside for writing.
My biggest problem is when I’m tired or feel less than good. I find it very difficult to decide on a schedule, to stay on it if I manage to make a schedule and can be easily distracted.
Keeping the computer in ‘off’ mode until I’ve done my writing is a good move 🙂
I’ve never put writing on my own calendar, so this is one place I should take my own advice! Once in a while, I’ll take my laptop to a cafe place to write, or ask my husband to take the kids for the post-dinner bedtime routines (usually we split them up between us) so I can write at a time when I’m not already wiped from the day. I’m seriously considering the regularly scheduled babysitter option (or perhaps a cleaner? I prefer spending time with my children over cleaning, anyhow :D).
Who wants to clean? Good exercise but that’s about all – and the following day/week it has to be done all over again. It’s a road to no-where.
Children grow up quickly. Make the most of them while they’re little 🙂
I love all these suggestions, especially the part about focusing on cleaning one drawer instead of the whole house. Makes me want to roll up my sleeves and start right in!
One thing I do that helps me get writing in the limited time (and is there ever enough time?!) I have to devote to it is to set up the scene I want to work on in my imagination, and then play it out while I’m occupied with other tasks–folding laundry, grocery shopping, walking listening to music, or driving. That way, I am somewhat warmed up by the time I sit down to write, and itching to get my fingers on the keyboard to start writing.
Yes, figuring out how the scene’s going to flow beforehand is a good idea. For me, though, I need to make sure I don’t rehearse it too much in my head or it will be stale by the time I get to the keyboard.
Lindsay B says
Great list of tips!
When it comes to writing, I try to plot out my scenes when I’m off walking the dogs or jogging at the gym. That way it’s easy for me to get started writing when I do find time to sit down.
Of course, I’m not just if that works for other projects. Thinking about how I’m going to clean out the basement probably wouldn’t help much with getting it cleaned. 😛
I like to make out a cleaning plan for how I’m going to do a big job beforehand so I’m not overwhelmed when it’s time to actually do it. 🙂