Wednesday, 4 July 2012

How To Get Beyond Procrastination

Procrastination – we all do it, but how can we force ourselves to get over it? Today Lesley Cookman, prolific author of the Libby Sarjeant cosy crime series, tells us how she does it.

Well, this is one way... ask a friend in the business if she’d like you to write something for her blog!

I am a master at procrastination. I’m a Master of Arts, as well, but we won’t go into that. My Oxford  dictionary says procrastination is to “defer action”, “be dilatory” and “postpone”. It is all of those things, and it seems to me to only occur when you’re supposed to be doing something that you HAVE to do. I mean, you wouldn’t defer the pleasure of reading a new book by a favourite author, would you? Not unless you’d promised yourself a treat after you’d finished doing this incredibly hard task at which you’re - er - procrastinating.

So, procrastinating is putting off something which you really ought to do. In the case of writers, it’s frequently a deadline. In the case of the pre-published writer with no deadline, it rarely occurs, because writing is something done purely for enjoyment. If, however, you are enrolled on a scheme such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s excellent New Writer’s Scheme, then you have a deadline, to submit your nurtured baby for a critique, possibly a second read, feedback - and who knows? Possible publication. This is an excellent training ground for the exigencies of the published life.

Sadly, this argues that procrastinating means you’re doing something you don’t like doing. Actually, most of us do like it. It’s just that it’s incredibly hard work. It isn’t simply sitting down at the keyboard and copy typing 2000 words a day. You’ve got to think as well.  The sensible advice is, of course, to plan every inch and tittle of your story to the last full stop, then you probably could sit down and copy type it, but even if you have prepared a proper outline and/or synopsis, story-telling is organic. Situations and characters appear out of nowhere. Sometimes you greet them with an air-punch and a shouted “YES!”, frightening the cat. Sometimes you just wrinkle your brow and say “How the hell did that happen?” And then you have to stop and think about it, and then, yes - you’re procrastinating. Wandering into the garden to deadhead the roses (did that yesterday), writing a guest blog (doing that today), dusting - what? Dusting? Well, maybe not.

I haven’t really helped, have I? When it comes down to it, if you’re procrastinating so much you’ve completely lost interest, I’d stop. Even if the hot breath of an editor is on the back of your flinching neck. I’ve done it. Told my editor this story isn’t working and could I start again. That made the deadline even shorter, but it worked a lot better. And the nearer you get to that deadline the less procrastinating you do because you haven’t got the time.  As with writer’s block, about which I’m not sure, you just keep going. All right then, go and make a cup of tea, deadhead the roses, write a blog. But Come Back. And just write. Go on, you know you want to really.

Lesley has been writing for money for thirty years, but only for the last few as a mystery novelist. She has written for trade publications, women's magazines and the stage, was a co-founder of the Green Carnation prize and next year will be the inaugural Creative Writing Tutor at Arte Umbria in Italy. She is a member of the RNA, CWA and the Society of Authors.
Follow her on Twitter @LesleyCookman

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Nancy Jardine said...

It's nice to read about long time authors, Lesley. Thank you. I always just love the sound of the word -procrastination. It's definitely what I'm doing right now, since I picked up this link on Twitter. For the last two+ weeks, since joining Twitter, my procrastination time has exponentially increased!

Lesley Cookman said...

I know, Nancy, Twitter's a shocker. It used to be just email, now it's Twitter, Facebook, blogs...

Cathie Dunn said...

Thank you for a great post, Lesley.

You're so right - it really only happens when you have a long 'to do' list or tight deadline. Suddenly, you shy away from your baby, preferring to groom the cats instead. Just no!

Like you and Nancy, I find dividing my time between writing / editing and spending time on Twitter / FB / blogs tough. Depending on schedule, I allow myself an hour or two max. On other days, it's strictly 'checking only', then back to work.

After I've made a cuppa tea...

Kimm Walker said...

Perhaps I could try dead heading the roses instead of going for yet another cup of tea and a biscuit! My expanding size is not helping me write my book. Thanks for the post.

DW96 said...

curous. I never procrastinate. I just take a litle time off now and then to read favourite author's book. Like the fortnight I've just taken off to read Murder in Bloom (by Lesley Cookman for those who don't know).

More seriously, I found setting targets helps. I've upped mine to 2,000 words a day, but event hen,t here are days when I think,"sod the target, I'll catch up tomorrow."

Lesley Cookman said...

My theoretical word count is 2000 a day, David, but it's often "sod the target"! Mind you, with your next week's project it'll have to be a lot higher!