Sunday, 18 October 2015

Productive Procrastination

Tips for using procrastinationWriters procrastinate. Editors procrastinate. Students, office workers and builders procrastinate... avoiding difficult tasks is something we humans excel at.

So, yes, it's understandable. It's natural. It's forgivable... but it's not very useful.

Or is it?

There are two ways to make use of the temptation to procrastinate:

·         We can analyse it
or
·         We can try to direct it

Analysing Your Procrastination


As writers, we tend to be quite introspective. So, as analyising procrastination involves asking yourself a lot of questions, it can become quite interesting.

Before you can inspect the cause of your procrastination, of course, you have to notice that you are doing it. Sometimes, this is easy. Sometimes we know exactly what it is we are avoiding or, at least, we think we do.

But sometimes  it's a subconscious thing. So, to catch it, we need to pay attention to our behaviours. If we can learn to recognise the things we do when we procrastinate, we should be able get past it and complete our tasks before we get too close to any looming deadlines.

How to use ProcrastinationSo, is your house unusually spotless? Are you rearranging the tins of soup in the cupboard? Trying out a lot of new recipes? Spending a lot of time browsing the internet for said recipes? Is your inbox looking particularly well organised? Chances are, you're procrastinating.

So, what are you avoiding? Let's say it's writing that short story you were supposed to have done by the end of the week... Why are you avoiding it? You were excited about it at one point... weren't you? Why? Or, if not, why are you supposed to be doing it? Is it an assignment? A commission? An entry for a competition? What will you, or might you, gain from completing it? How far have you got? Do you still like the idea? Why? Or why not? How about the characters?


Asking yourself these kinds of questions should help pinpoint the cause of your procrastination. And, hopefully, once you know what you are avoiding, and why you're avoiding it, you should be able to eliminate, or work around, the problem. I don't know what the right questions are for you, or what answers you might find, but for me it's usually one of the following:

·         I don't care about the characters yet - So I need to get to know them a little better and make sure they are well rounded.

·         The story idea doesn't interest me anymore - This means I probably took an 'easy' option when developing it, and I've fallen into cliché.

·         I can see a plot hole looming and I can't find the solution - This usually requires me to step back from the story and look at the plot as a whole. Sometimes the answer is as simple as moving a few scenes or untangling a subplot.

In theory, once you've solved the problem you were avoiding, you should be able to get on with your work... but even if you aren't quite there yet, you should be on the right track. If you're still tempted to waste time ironing your socks, perhaps you should try directing your procrastination into something more useful.

Directing Your Procrastination


This can follow on quite well from analysing your procrastination problem, but it's also the perfect option for anyone who is so set on avoiding something that they don't even want to think about it, let alone analyse it.

Directing procrastination simply means doing something useful with the time you would have spent doing nothing. So, here are some suggestions to get you started:

Gathering Inspiration - Start, or add to, a list of story/poem/article ideas. Jot down anything you think you'd like to write about and, more often than not, you'll want to get started on at least one of them... 

Charting Tension - This is an exercise my younger students love. (Although I do introduce the concept as The Mountain Range of Excitement... so that might explain why.)

Fiction Plotting TechniqueThink about the plot of one of your stories. It can be your current work in progress or a past story - either way, you'll learn something about your structuring choices. Take a blank sheet and a pen. Think about the beginning of your story. What happens next? Does the story get more exciting? How exciting? How fast? Draw a line to indicate this rising tension. Now, what happens next? Does the tension fall?  How steeply? How far? Draw another line to indicate this. Now what? Does it rise again? Does it fall back to where it started? (It probably shouldn't go any lower than that - unless you want your reader to fall asleep...)

Think about how the tension rises and falls throughout the story and extend your lines across the page to represent this.

Character Development - You know those silly questionnaires you see online? The one's that ask you what colour your shirt is and who you last spoke to on the phone? Find one and fill it out from the point of view of a character. You might be surprised by what you learn - answering as the character can reveal a lot more than just writing a 'character profile' as the author.

Timelining - Think about the story you are (meant to be) working on. It's always useful to know which scenes take place where and when. I like to do this in a spreadsheet, but pen and paper or a word document would work. It's also a good way to check for continuity and make sure you don't have characters in multiple places at once.

Setting Goals - Think about your writing goals, either long or short term. Now, break them down into smaller tasks. For instance, if you want to have your novel finished by the end of the year, but can't quite commit to NaNoWriMo, promise yourself you will write an achievable amount each day or each week. Whatever your goals are, use your procrastination time to create a chart for tracking them - you'll soon start writing just so you can fill in your chart and tick things off. (We never get too old for reward stickers or gold stars!)

Tips for setting writing goals

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