by Tina Isaacs
Everyone suffers from a procrastination problem to some degree or another. It’s very tempting to push a task that is difficult or time-consuming to later, but delaying the inevitable can cause other problems such as missed deadlines or worse, absolute non-completion. When the work doesn’t get done at all, this can cause unnecessary expense and even cost money if a penalty is involved, perhaps leading to other legal ramifications and consequences.
With writers, the dilemma of the inner procrastinator becomes particularly disturbing (crossing over into an utterly pathological condition!), because writers are governed by their own time management issues and constraints. Often, writing is forced to be squeezed into whatever leftover time after juggling the day job and family obligations.
For established writers facing strict deadlines (such as a timetable fixed by a publisher), this problem is less obvious. The real expectation of prospective publication, looming cut-off dates for submission, contractual and financial implications for not complying is enough motivation to crack the toughest cookie.
But what about writers working on a debut project or simply struggling to get that ‘smashing idea’ from their heads onto paper or typed out? The uncertainty of whether their work will ever be able to be published will constantly feed the inner procrastinator.
How do these aspiring writers get into a routine of consistent and habitual writing? How do they ‘jog’ their inner procrastinator into rhythm?
I’d like to share a few ways I’ve forced myself to overcome this problem:
- Being active within my local writers community, surrounded by other committed writers who constantly share their practical experiences and successes, talk about their soon-to-be-published books and launches, immerses me in an environment where writing is not relegated the status of a mere pastime. These writers treat their vocation as a full-time occupation capable of generating a livelihood. I find this one of the greatest motivators for me to get my act together.*
- Signing up for a writing course. In my case, I signed up to the mother of them all, a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing program. The costs alone (money, time and hardship) was certainly enough to push me in the right direction!**
- Keeping a close ear to online/social media networks involving the literary industry for the same reason eg. befriending other writers on social media, joining writers groups on Facebook, following Twitter accounts of writers, publishers and literary agents, and keeping abreast of book launches and reviews on Goodreads;
- Subscription of online and print periodicals or literary magazines to keep me reading and constantly in touch with goings-on in the industry;
- Keeping abreast of short story contests or literary submission invites, noting their deadlines in my diary and working towards them within a reasonable timeframe. This keeps my writing varied (which eases boredom, one of the worst enemies of a fiction writer’s mind) and constantly reaching towards an attainable goal. Participating in writing competitions can only go towards improving your writing, because the more you write, the more you develop your writing voice. In the writing industry, this also helps towards improving and developing a writers’ resume and presence in the industry;
- Participating regularly in Writers’ Readings, Write-Ins, Exhibitions, Conferences and Writing Retreats within my local vicinity that have me thinking about writing and ‘walking the talk’ all the time;
- Within the past year I have begun collaborating with a few writing partners. We beta-read and critique each others’ work on a quid pro quo basis. This not only cost effective, it also allows both parties to provide frank feedback on each other’s work (an impartial second-view of your manuscript helps tremendously towards the improvement of your writing), in addition to creating an external motivating factor through the mutually agreed deadlines for completion of set chapters. This arrangement requires trustworthiness, open communication, similar or comparable writing levels, and a lot of discipline;
- For the first time in 2014, I took part in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This annual worldwide campaign/movement challenges fiction writers from across the globe, from any genre or language to write and complete a 50,000-word novel within the timespan of 30 days, i.e. during the entire month of November. The deadline of completing 50,000 words (broken down to a daily word count of approximately 1,667 words) forced myself through excuses, self-imposed obstacles, distractions, beating my horrible habit of re-editing and second-guessing my writing. It also helped me compartmentalize my thoughts and focus my attention quickly (a technique I’d used for my work, but never for writing). Although I can’t say whether I am able to partake in the challenge annually, I am proud to say I did achieve a NaNoWriMo win in 2014 (i.e. completing that 50k challenge) and gained the epiphany that I could push myself through anything if I forced myself to it a constant daily habit. Read about the campaign from the campaign website http://nanowrimo.org and at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Novel_Writing_Month;
- Participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge organized by http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com this April. Similar to NaNoWriMo, but for bloggers, this campaign invites bloggers to make daily posts on topics in alphabetical order during the month of April every year, with rests every Sunday. The challenge is to complete posts bearing letters of the alphabet, with the letter “A” in Day 1, letter “B” in Day 2 and so on until all 26 alphabets are exhausted. I decided to utilize this campaign to develop each chapter of the books I been meaning to write (you’ll see these chapters as ‘Pages’ of my website above). On slower days, when I’m bogged down with other work or cannot afford the time for my chapter research, I write short anecdotes and musings as ‘blogposts’ (in the Ramblings section of my website) as a way of keeping my writing habit churning. This is a great way to keep my mind active too, because the challenge of coming up with a topic which fits the alphabet of the day is akin to a writing prompt for fiction. In fact, this very post is my submission for the letter “J” (clever, huh?)
These techniques have helped me in the past few years to get my act together – I’m now working on my debut fiction novel and a non-fiction project – and are some of the lengths I have gone through to jog and beat my inner procrastinator. I’m happy to say that, because of these numerous techniques, the so-called “writers block” has yet to cast its claws into me.
For those aspiring writers amongst you who lack the motivation to get cracking on that novel, I urge you to try these (or any similar methods better suited to your personal circumstances) to motivate yourself to keep writing.
I mean, that brilliant book isn’t going to write itself!
Coupled with the right attitude, the passion and determination, I assure you it works! The idea is to keep the writing momentum going. By force of inertia alone, you would become a successful writer in no time.
Remember the saying: A professional is an amateur who never quit – Richard Bach
*This writer is founder and moderator/administrator of the Malaysian Writers Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/malaysianwriters/ which is described as “A platform and community for writers of fiction, non-fiction or poetry of Malaysian citizenship/permanent residence or non-Malaysians who write and work in/from Malaysia; who are published or aspiring; writing in any genre, via any medium and in ANY language (includes short story writers, columnists, journalists, bloggers, editors, copywriters, scriptwriters and literary translators).” **This writer is a candidate for the MFA at the University of Tampa, Florida, due to graduate in 2016. Read more about her experience in Why The US MFA Works For Me.