I’m not much of a procrastinator when it come to writing anymore (god, at the beginning it was a miracle I got anything done). This doesn’t mean I don’t have my glitches, though. It often goes like this: I’ll finish a day’s worth of writing, completing a scene I was really excited to write. I feel accomplished! Look at how much I did! The next morning, I get up and sit down at the computer and… check my email. Check my websites. Check websites I haven’t been to in a while. Pick up beloved book from the shelf beside my desk and read a few pages. Watch videos people have sent me. Next think I know, it’s 9:30 and I’ve just wasted my entire writing morning doing… I can’t even remember what. Frustrated and angry, I go to work. Next morning, sit down, repeat procrastination process, catch myself half way through and force myself to focus Rachel, focus! Maybe write a little, then go to work feeling depressed. And to think I got so much done two days ago!
This is/was my cycle of productivity/inactivity, and it’s been killing my ability to write on deadline. Lately, however, I’ve picked up a new trick. I didn’t invent this trick, but I can’t remember what productivity book or list or article I skimmed it off of. Basically, it goes like this:
When I sit down at my desk to write, I open my novel in progress and look at the last scene I wrote, or the scene I stopped half way through. With that clear in my mind, I ask myself “What happens next?” I sit perfectly still and focus on that question until I have an answer I’m happy with.
The answer has to be small, simple. Vague things like “climatic battle” are useless for this. I’m looking for “character A has to convince character B to join him.” A single, simple action. Then, I write until that action is complete. After that, I stop again. What happens after this? What’s next? Then I write that. Rinse and repeat as needed until word goal has been reached.
During this process, I never let myself think too far ahead. Vagaries and broad pictures have too much wiggle room, too many gaps and crinkles to get mired in. Right now, all that matters is getting to the next point on the chain, the next action. By focusing on the small, manageable steps, I keep my focus and dive. Even better, with goals this small, this manageable, procrastination feels silly and unnecessary. I become, in short, a writing machine of city destroying proportions.
Of course, by keeping the focus this narrow, sometimes I don’t make the best decisions. But, writing is not a performance art. If I mess it up, I can fix it later, no big deal. So long as something gets written, the day was not wasted. So I go step by step, action by action, scene by scene, until, sooner or later, a novel comes out. Then, once I have it, I can worry about making it good.
And that’s how I beat procrastination!