The Procrastination Hurdle, by Elaine Wilson

If I was doing an MA in Procrastination, I would no doubt earn a Distinction. I’m easily distracted, lazy, bit of a flake and quite often prefer a night smoozing at some poetry reading or book launch, rather than sitting at home and actually getting some work done. It’s the age old story of someone who likes to call themselves a writer, but puts off the writing until it can no longer be avoided.

Why is this?

I ask this of myself so often but I haven’t got the answer and it doesn’t make me prolific either. However two things have. (Or as close to being prolific as I’m going to get.) First of all, a friend of mine in the same situation suggested we both write together, in the library, in a cafe, in her flat, in my flat, anywhere as long as we made a commitment to each other. It’s much easier to let yourself down than it is to let a friend down. We treated it like a job, sat at our desks with a coffee at our sides, 9 o’clock sharp. Although most of the time it was usually 10 or 11 o’clock before we got going. Once we did, it would be heads down until we’d written at least 1000 words. More if we could manage it. The plan was to write the novel we dreamed about writing, she managed, I didn’t. Although I managed to write a very long short story, complete to its resolution and everything. It needs a lot of work, the tenses are all over the place, and I’m sure some of the 13,000 words can go. But it’s a complete first draft of a story I needed to write and regardless of its quality, it means I haven’t completely wasted my summer. Re-writing the thing will be another effort I’ll just have to make.

The second thing is a deadline. I’ve tried giving myself deadlines in the past, it doesn’t work. As it says above I don’t mind letting myself down. But I can’t fail someone else, especially a magazine editor. I write music and art articles for an online magazine, not because I know much about the subjects, but because having to write regularly to a deadline forces me into action. I have no choice but to do the work or public opinion about me in the world will crumble. It’s ok for me to know that I’m a bum, as long as everyone else thinks I’m industrious and productive.

This is pretty obvious stuff to be honest, but it has taken several people several years to point these lessons out to me, and it’s finally sinking in. Making commitments to someone other than myself takes the ego out of writing, it stops me from thinking, ‘I’m so rubbish, why do I even bother?’ Because that’s the real source of the procrastination, a fear, not unfounded, of making an ass out myself, of wasting my time or even worse, wasting the reader’s time. This is why it’s a good idea to write with a friend or for an editor, they don’t stand for any nonsense.

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2 thoughts on “The Procrastination Hurdle, by Elaine Wilson

  1. Like Elaine, I feel I should be entitled to a degree to add to my CV. Procrastination BSc (Hons) would do nicely, thank you. Witness the fact that I am here commenting on this blog, rather than writing a book review or doing some copy-editing. However, I have also been procrastinating over replying to this blog post for some time. That brings me to my own anti-procrastination top tip, which is as follows: find something else that is even more urgent and important than your writing (a tax return, a job application, etc), preferably with its own deadline. You may be amazed by how your powers of procrastination can be turned against themselves such that you’re writing again whilst procrastinating wildly over completing the other task.

  2. I have found creating a structure first to be useful.

    If you are writing a short story, why not split it up into manageable chunks instead of staring at the entire thing? The structure does not have to be start, middle and end, but they are not bad ones to use.

    Then decide what will happen in each structure at a high level – not who says what or what they look like etc, but rather the actions in that structure. Does Character A have to do something in Structure Three so that Character B will be able to do something in Structure Four?

    If I do some high level planning in this way, I often feel motivated to write the bones of a scene related to Structure Six say first, possibly because it is the part of the story that interests me the most. Then, once that one is in place, I can think about the others.

    So perhaps taking a piece of work (essay, short story, novel) and fragmenting it first – if only at a high level – may help you see writing the piece as a series of steps. And it’s much easier to write ONE step rather than all of them. And once you have written ONE step, the motivation to write the second step is that much greater.

    Just a thought from one bum to another!

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