25 Tips from The Procrastination Station

Some days, like yesterday, I am super productive. I make a decision to write, sit down, hand-write a page or two, and then work on my story. On blog post days, I write my blog and/or just it if I’ve been writing for the duration).

And then there are the other days, like today. Writing can feel like a great adventure, or it can feel like you have to sit down and study for that economics exam you’ve been dreading. (And I dreaded Economics when I took it in business school, especially microeconomics. But that’s a story for another blog post).

Right! Back to writing about not writing. Or The Many Ways in Which I Try to Avoid Writing. This is the work I have chosen to do, and there I am, trying to avoid it like I’m trying to avoid the common cold.

Writing is a recursive vocation. You can write about writing, as numerous authors have done. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Natalie Goldberg. I am currently reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, another writer on writing, the writing life, and how to be a better writer. Usually, it starts with the advice to sit down. And write.

Below are some of the ways I have strived to not write:

  1. Tell myself, “I’ll do it later.”
  2. I have to write long-hand first.
  3. “Ooh, darn. A hang nail. Let me clip that.”
  4. Pet my cat Normie.
  5. Play with Normie.
  6. Pet my cat Gwenny.
  7. Play with Gwenny.
  8. Pet Normie and Gwenny at the same time.
  9. Ditto playing with the cats.
  10. Take a picture of Normie. Upload it to Instagram. Check Facebook for comments.
  11. Ditto with Gwenny.
  12. Read useless, infuriarating, not-relevant-to-my-work articles on Facebook.
  13. Ditto Twitter….
  14. CNN…
  15. Foxnews…
  16. Slate…
  17. HuffPo…
  18. Raw Story…
  19. Yahoo News…
  20. and Jezebel.
  21. Check email frequently.
  22. Go downstairs to tell my mother some funny thing that Normie did.
  23. Go downstairs to find my cat Normie because I need to pet him for the Nth time.
  24. Take a walk.
  25. Eat a snack.

Eventually, though, I have to sit down and write so that I can tick another day off my writing accountability counter. My blog post makes this possible on Mondays and Thursdays, but I try to do more than just the minimum.

Not only is writing a recursive vocation, it also happens to be the writer’s antidote to procrastination. Once you start writing, it makes you want to do more. On days like today, starting really is the hardest part.

Three Writing Strategies

As I am spending the first half of 2014 building writing habits that, I hope, will further me along in my writing career, I have learned a few strategies about writing when I think that I have nothing to write. These three strategies are a combination of strategies I have learned from others and from my own learning experience.

Strategy #1: Warm up writing

Trying to dive into a story full blast without doing warm up writing is like trying to run the Boston marathon without training. You can do it, but it’s painful. Even with warming up, you can die running a marathon. While you are considerably less likely to die if you write without warming up, the going will be slow and probably not your best shot.

Instead, give yourself permission to do writing warmups. In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she recommends 30 minutes of writing first thing in the morning. This writing should fill up about 3 pages of 8.5″x11″ bound spiral notebook. I like to set a timer because I can be a slow writer on some mornings, but I can get in 2.5 pages in that time period. I feel that’s close enough.

Julia tells you to get up early if you have to work it into your schedule. If getting up earlier is not an option, see if you can switch a few things around: take a shower at night instead of the morning; write for 20 minutes instead of 30 on the days where your time crunch is heaviest; or just plan punt something entirely and replace it with writing.

I hope I don’t need to admonish anyone not to waste their precious morning writing time with ironing clothes instead. No one needs or keeps clothes that are that sharply pressed anyway. The moment you sit down – BOOM! Wrinkles. So forget the ironing (please!) and get to writing. Iron at night, when you come home from work, or not at all. If ironing is that important, get them pressed at the dry cleaners so you can get down to the important work of morning writing warmups.

Strategy #2: write your “less important” stuff first

I bet you are wondering right now where this post lies along my continuum of least to most important writing. I ain’t gonna tell ya! Why? Because less important doesn’t mean unimportant.

So you want to work on your story, but you can’t just dive in right? Doing so would be like trying to dive head down into an empty pool. But you need to write something. Certain types of writing do not count:

  1. To do lists.
  2. Email.
  3. Purchasing lists.
  4. Any kind of work-related list that does not lend itself to creativity.

You can use these kinds of writings to get yourself going:

  1. Morning writing warm ups (see Strategy #1).
  2. Timed writing. Set a timer and write. Anything! Go! Now! Write for 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 90 seconds. How did you do? Was writing longer easier? Harder?
  3. Object writing. Pick an object and write about it in all its sense-bound glory. Include all the senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell, feelings, and kinesthetics.
  4. Combine writing types. For example, #2 and #3 in this list can be combined. You can write sense-bound details about an object for varying amounts of time.
  5. A work- or craft-related blog post.

You may find that creative ideas come forth in these exercises that you can then use in your stories. Great! Add it in. Our brains like to add in things for one project while being completely absorbed in a different tasks. That’s what I find so amazing about all kinds of writing. One type of writing feeds another. Since you’re always “eating”, you end up feeling satisfied.

Strategy #3: stay focused

Remember, writing is enmeshed with your life. Start with your morning pages, progress to timed writing, and then dive right into the story or blog post that you want to work on. Getting your fingers moving across the keyboard, or the pen moving against the paper. Start writing a story that has nothing to do with your deadline-driven writing project. You don’t have to stay at it all day.

If you get stuck on your story, dive off the page and write something else. You do not have to force yourself through it, nor stare at a blank page and wonder what the hell you are going to write. If you write, write, write all the time, you will eventually find out what works right for you when you need to write.

Rollin’ On: Day 3 of 350 Word Writing Plan

I worried a bit when it was after 4:30pm. I had not yet begun to write, and I have phone plans with friends tonight. I would have been happy with 350 words. I ended up with 708 words that brought one of my scenes to a close.

That brings my 3 day, zero fuckery 350 words a day writing plan, word total to 2,008 words written in three days. My minimum required words for 3 days is 1,050, which means that I am almost double over my self-required minimum daily words to write.

Even better? I wrote 2,008 words out of a 5,213 word story in three days. My goal is to write somewhere between 6K-10K words so that I have enough to get my writing workshopped by my critique group.

Huzzah! There’s nothing like getting your writing life on track. Now if I can get my health on track, too, that would be like winning the lottery.

Schedule Test: 350 Word Writing Plan

A friend shared a link to a blog article by Chuck Wendig about how to become a full-time writer. Wendig also links to his article on his Zero Fuckery Writing Plan. In short, set a 350 word writing minimum five days a week and stick to it, whether it takes you fifteen minutes or two hours. In one year, you will have written a 91,000 word novel.

The last two weeks were a waste because I was sick. When I am sick is the hardest time to get me to be productive. Between that and other excuses, I did not write. This week, I decided to put this plan in motion.

Instead of 350 words, I wrote 500. Today, I wrote 800. I am not trying to push myself. I am merely trying to get to 350, and then seeing if I have anything else to say. I imposed a two-hour writing block within which to get it done, and I still wrote 800 words.

My goals for 2014 include get healthy and write a book that is ready for publishing status. So far, Wendig’s plan is helping me out in that arena. And I haven’t even started on my novel. The words I wrote this week are for a short story that I am going to submit for critique in my writer’s group. Once this is done, I will get to work on my novel.

Nothing makes you feel accomplished like setting a goal and meeting that goal.

Old Cat Meets New Trick

I am of the feline persuasion. Old cats can learn new tricks. My seventeen and a half year old cat Hunter learned he can get my mother to instantly give him treats and food. All he has to do is stand on his hind legs, balance himself against the kitchen chair that my mother is sitting in, and stroke both of her cheeks with his paws.

My new trick was this: Even when my head feels like it is going to implode from congestion and a high-powered antihistamine, I can still write stories. Yes! It’s true! I do not have to be running at maximum capacity to work on my writing.

I am shocked, I tell you. Simply shocked! Okay, well, maybe. Not really.

Recently, I have not been doing writing after morning pages and my blog. I have trouble concentrating and staying focused. This distractibility has been worsened by the medications I take for my fibromyalgia pain.

I am also a Facebook addict. I have been ignoring my self-designated rules for what activities I am to do during the day vs. during the evenings. I decided to make myself sit down and work on my story.

I tend to edit as I write, which can be a problem. Too much editing prevents me from moving forward with my story. I figure I will have to make multiple editing passes on my short story anyway. I have to remind myself not to get bogged down by minutia.

The perfectionist in me longs to find the perfect way to express a thought. Perfectionism has made me feel like I am never good enough. Enough is enough!

The one thing that has made me happier than I have ever been and less angry than ever is that I write. I am finally in the zone where I can tell what is a good decision vs. a bad decision. I am living in peace because of writing.

When I fail to stay focused, I pay the price by becoming even more distracted and do my writing less.

Back to focus.

Back to Self.

Back to writing. That is the only way forward for me.

Writing Rituals

Since I began my daily writing in this journal on January 5th, I have struggled with getting my writing schedule squared away. I have attended to learning HTML/CSS coding, updated and posted my resume, been in contact with a recruiter, and applied for a few jobs. I managed to outline the story I wrote, but I feel I am in a sort of writing limbo.

I know what I would like to do next to work on my story: Write character arcs. Revisit dialog & remove anything that does not move the plot along. Fix internal logic errors that I noted while re-reading my story. Check for word repetitions. Remove cliches and/or update them in an unexpected manner. Remove boring backstory that I put in to get up to 50K words during NaNoWriMo.

More importantly, I need to start warming up with creative writing in addition to writing in this blog. I took three Berklee College of Music courses, two in creative writing and one in lyric writing. I still have the workbooks, rhyming dictionary, class notes and exercises, teacher and fellow student commentary, and some video lessons. My favorite resource is a pocket-sized book of Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I highly recommend this book. If you like this author, I also recommend her autobiography, Long Quiet Highway. 

I have been burned in the past by taking on too much. When time in a psychotherapy session, I was talking about all the plans I had for my life. He expressed surprise at the number of things on my list and commented that maybe I had too many things. I was deeply hurt at his lack of understanding for my need to move beyond the current confines of my life at the time and follow my heartfelt dreams.

Fifteen years on from then, I get his point. I tend to suffer from the “Ooooh! Shiny!” disease where the latest thing to catch my attention is what I do. This means a lot of starts and memories, but that’s about it. With my writing in 2014, I want to break out of ineffective habits and start new ones.

This blog is one of those new habits. I am about ready to add a second daily writing habit where I am engaging in creative writing and revisiting the old lesson plans (but not in any particular order). After that, I will start attending to my book. Looking at my story causes me to see all the things that are wrong with it, and I get depressed under the weight of the task.

However, I learned through my writing coursework that, in order to get good, you need to practice creative writing every day. If I do 10 to 15 minutes of warm up writing, then I think I will start to feel like I can write creatively in a way that will bring my story to life because the gap between what I think I can do and what I can actually do will get smaller.

I am happy to note that I have accomplished one goal of 2014 so far: Write every day. The great thing about this goal is that every day I get to celebrate it anew, with each word, each warm up, each story, and each blog post.

NYC Writer’s Group 1st 2014 Critique Session

Yesterday I attended the first critique session of the NYC writers group that I joined late last month. A longstanding group member, who I will call TS, had shared two chapters of a romance story. I read the story twice and decided to make “big picture” comments, which is what I tend to notice when giving feedback. This is one of the reasons that being an editor has appeal for me.

Approximately 30 people showed up today to give TS feedback on the story. We started by stating our names, our preferred genres, and our writing goals. At least five people said that their goal was to “finish something” by the end of the year. I was so happy to hear that I am not alone.

Each person had two minutes to give one positive and one constructive comment to the writer. In addition to the written feedback that each person contributed, TS wrote as she heard our feedback. A few pauses were needed. Almost everyone kept under the two minutes. And then the floor was opened up for discussion.

Wooo-whee!! Was that ever intense!? And I’m not even the writer! I was surprised at how many people, including myself, felt so passionately about making TS’s story work. TS did a great job of explaining her reasons. The story and characters are well rounded, for the most part, and the dialog worked very well. Two intense hours later, the session finished. I was a bit worried that I would be in tears when my time to share came.

However, I left with somewhat excited feeling that I have a lot of work to do on my Butterfly Wings rom-com story that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2008. BW is my “to do” that needs to become “to done” for 2014.

Writing can be improved. Dialog can be made believable. Characters can be flawed human beings without being too stiff or stereotypical. I can see that, in the frenzy of writing 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo, a lot of extra words made their way into the story as I was figuring out where to go with it.

I have to keep trying. To keep trying is to keep writing is to keep improving is to keep living. I can not imagine my life without writing being a part of it, whether it is this blog, fiction, or in a journal.

Can you?