Tuesday 9 December 2014


One thing a lot of authors tend to be good at (and wish they weren’t) is procrastination. As enemies of productivity go, it’s one of the worst. Okay, it’s not as bad as writer’s block, although you could argue it’s a mild form of the condition, which can become a real threat if allowed to thrive.

So why am I writing about this in my first blog entry? Well, I’ve been meaning to get around to this for some time now and I’ve been putting it off, finding all sorts of other things to do instead. You know what I’m talking about: surfing the web, going on Facebook/Twitter, watching TV box sets, cleaning the oven. Okay, I made the last one up, although it does need doing, which is why I mentioned it. I never seem to get around to it . . .

All sorts of people procrastinate, although I think writers are particularly susceptible – and it can be really harmful. When finishing your novel, for example, depends on you sitting down in front of a computer screen on a regular basis and filling it with words, not doing so is a big problem. No writing equals no story. 

Why do we do it, then? You have to be pretty self-disciplined to write a whole novel from start to finish, extracting the best part of 100,000 words from your imagination.  And then there’s the whole editing process, which can be even more time-consuming. So why make things even harder by wasting time on trivia?

I don’t know. I’m an author, not a psychologist. It’s what happens in the gap between starting a piece of writing and crossing the finish line. Like a student’s temptation to leave a big piece of homework until the night before it’s due. Remember doing that?  I think it can be about fear of failure and self-destruction. But sometimes it can be plain old laziness. 

I don’t want to dwell on possible causes here. Instead, I want to consider how not to procrastinate. I imagine it works differently for everyone. I’ve heard of authors who can only write on a computer that’s not hooked up to the internet. Others eschew all modern technology, sticking to typewriters or a notepad and pen.  If that’s not your bag, I’ve heard of computer programmes that offer ‘help’ by deleting what you’ve written if you don’t write quickly enough.

Horses for courses, but the latter option sounds a bit extreme to me. Personally, I think the key is to set yourself a realistic daily or weekly goal and do your utmost to stick to it. Realistic is the key word here. It’s easy to imagine yourself writing thousands and thousands of words in one intense sitting, but in my experience it rarely (if ever) works that way.

I aim for 1,000 words a day. That might not sound much, but it’s achievable and, if you do it regularly, it soon adds up. Think about it: 1,000 words five times a week for five months and you’ll hit that magic 100,000-word target. First draft nailed. Of course there’s plenty more work to come in the form of editing – and you’ll need to set new targets for that – but completing the manuscript is always the major hurdle you have to clear. Without it, there is no moving forward. Countless would-be authors have started a novel. Far fewer have ever managed to finish one.

How you manage to achieve your regular writing goal is up to you. I often promise myself something nice at the end. Sometimes it’s food or drink – beer, sandwich, pizza, chocolate – whatever I feel like at the time. On other occasions it’s watching a film or TV show. And when I miss a goal, especially through procrastination, I beat myself up about it. If possible, I try to make it up, but not at the expense of a realistic target.

Oh and one last thing. I find it’s rarely helpful to read back what I’ve written when I’m working on a first draft. If I have to, to check where I’m up to etc, I try to do so with a non-critical eye. A first draft is all about moving forward, keeping going, getting the job done. Once you start veering off that path, it’s rarely long until you find yourself procrastinating again. Now we don’t want that, do we?

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