Posts Tagged ‘beating procrastination


the 7 habits of highly effective authors

First off: finished my third contracted book! BOO YA!

Many years ago, my grandfather gave my then boyfriend, now husband, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. At first we had a good laugh. My grandfather has a habit of giving books out randomly in a “I just finished this and I liked it, here you have it” sort of way. Actually, it’s a pretty awesome thing to do, but at the time it struck us both as sort of weird. However, my husband (then boyfriend) now looks on that book as the greatest present he ever received. It was dropped into his hands at just the right moment in his life, towards the end of college with real life looming on the horizon. It changed the way he thought about life, and thought I’ve never read it (I have a certain aversion to self help books) I might as well have considering how much my husband quotes it.

I’m not going to into all the habits, but there’s one that I keep going back to over and over again, that the promises we make to ourselves are just as important as the promises we make to others.

As writers, we tend to work in bubbles. Deadlines, when we have them, are distant, all or nothing sorts of things that have very little to do with the words we’re actually writing or editing or crying over that day. Even once you land that mythical publishing contract, most authors are left to fend for themselves during the day to day writing struggles. This means managing your own time, and it is a bear. Over the six odd years I’ve been seriously writing, I’ve set thousands of  self imposed deadlines, and missed nearly as many, especially for my first book. What did it matter, anyways? It’s not like anyone knew that I’d missed my deadline but me.

But as time went on and my time began to fritter away, my husband’s repetition of this little phrase from a self help book kept coming back. Eventually, I began to understand that if I was ever going to have the kind of writing career I’d imagined, I would have to start taking myself, and my self-imposed deadlines, seriously.

The first thing I did was cut waaaay back on the number of deadlines I set, especially the arbitrary, unrealistic ones I knew I couldn’t make. Then I picked 3 deadlines I felt I could realistically make, and set these in stone in my calendar. I treated them as I would deadlines for my day job where there were real consequences, and real stigma, for missing milestones. I made a solemn promise to myself that I would keep these deadlines, even if it meant working more than I’d anticipated or missing something fun because my time was already promised. I would write, I would make these deadlines. And I did.

Sure, I still missed a few, and I made myself pay for that with extra work rather than playing like I wanted to. Then I went back and looked at why I’d missed that deadline, making notes so that I could set the next one more intelligently.

It seems like every writer and agent blog tells you that if you want to be a professional writer, you have to treat your writing professionally.  This is much harder than just keeping a schedule. This is keeping your schedule when your book is an unfixable mess and it’s spring time and real life is busy and there are new raids in WOW and the internet is interesting and no one will ever know if you blow off writing and watch Hoarders.

Make promises to yourself, and keep them. Never treat your writing time like free time. It’s your great dream, if you won’t live it, no one will help you. Never make excuses, never let anyone take it away from you.


Stupid human tricks

My deadlines are looming, and I’ve been hitting the keyboard extra hard the last few weeks (and today, apologies for posting late!). Day job work has also picked up, and so I’ve been chugging along there as well. Things have also been breaking around the house, so I’ve been fixing those. Also, when I have time, I eat, see friends, and, every once in a while, get some sleep.

I’ve never been quite this busy over quite such a long period of time before. My schedule, if I want to get everything done kind of on time, and have it not be a train wreck, and still kick enough ass at the day job that we can eat, is demanding, to put it delicately. Less delicately, my schedule is a ravenous minion of Cthulhu that’s been eating my limbs one by one anytime it catches me slacking.

Since I’m fond of my legs, and I hate typing one handed, this means that procrastination, especially during writing time, CAN NOT be tolerated. To facilitate this, I’ve adopted a number of stupid human tricks to help my monkey mind stay focused on the task at hand.

TRICK 1: Unplug router during writing hours, removing wonderful internet from writing machine. This is so dumb, because the router is right in the other room, I could easily walk over and plug it back in, but I don’t, because while my willpower can lapse long enough to double click the browser icon, it has a hard time staying under for the walk down the hall. Amazing how a barrier to entry, even a small one, can help the brain stay on track.

TRICK 2: Keep goals small. I’m talking really tiny. Every morning, I write out a quick list of what I’m working on. Not even scenes, just “Character must go here, character must talk to this person, foreshadowing X must be revealed,” and so on. Once I get my list, I focus on the first task and I do not get up until it’s done. Not if I have to pee, not if the house is on fire, I am not allowed out of my chair (or think about anything else) until I have finished my tiny task. Come on, it’s only a little, just do it. You can do it, right? And I do, eventually. This system can be really annoying, but I have to admit, it’s amazing how fast things get done when I really have to pee.

TRICK 3: Write before anything else. For my mornings, the only things that come before writing are bathroom, coffee, and letting the dog out. After that, I am in my chair. I don’t do this because I’m a morning person (though I’ve kind of become one because of it), I do this because the early morning is the only time I can work. Any other time, I’m too tired, or too much is going on, or people are doing fun things in other rooms. So I just write first, and I keep myself going with the promise that after this, I can do whatever I want. It’s not true, but sometimes moving forward means lying to yourself like a bad salesman.

There are my tricks, which are mostly me treating my brain like a hyperactive five year old. I hate having to resort to this kind of behavior, but I have to get things done. No time for nice! So what are you stupid human tricks for productivity? I’m always looking for a new act to add to my repertoire. 🙂


Sitting down, getting it done

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!