Sometimes our muse decides to be evil and runs out on us for a few hours. Or days. Or…weeks. :S And we find ourselves staring at our screens, chin in hand, drooling onto the keyboard listlessly.— Okay, maybe I’m the only one who drools onto my keyboard, but still. You get the idea.— Or on the other, fortunate, hand, our muse is very much alive, shouting at us about so many different plot points and character developments all at once. We know exactly what we’re supposed to do. We can do this. We’re going to write our little butts off. We’ll—“Oh look, it’s a video of a dog doing yoga. I must watch this. This is very important.” And so the rest of the day is eaten up by pixelated youtube videos featuring adorable animals.
Procrastination is normal.
We all go through this stage. Many times. Sometimes at various points during the day.— Look at me, I’m procrastinating as we speak!— Now, it’s important to learn to master your procrastination. Your novel will not write itself, after all. But when a strong bout of procrastination hits you and you simply cannot bring yourself to write, it does not have to be the end of the world. You can use your procrastination to your advantage by taking this break from writing to work on other things for your novel.
So if you thought this post was about the best cat tumblr sites or the best Buzzfeed quizzes to take, sorry. You’re going to have to peruse the internet on your aimless procrastination journey by yourself. Here we’ll be discussing the various ways to use your short attention spans to your advantage. (*whispers* But if you want to talk about some hardcore procrastination after you finish your writing quota for the day, I can hook you up with a great “What Kind of Sandwich Are You?” quiz later.)
Here is a list of a few things to do when you feel like you need a break from writing:
1. Update Your Novel’s Outline and Character Profiles
In a previous post, I talked about creating an outline for your novel on a Word table or an Excel spreadsheet to make it easier to gauge your progress at a glance. If you’re struggling to get words on the page, this would be a great time to fill in your table. (Or create one if you haven’t already. Please refer to previously mentioned post/link for details on that.) It will make your life a whole lot easier if you consistently plug in new data into your outline. The purpose of your outline is to be a guide to help keep track of your novel’s progress, continuity and the overall idea/goals you want to accomplish. If you don’t update it, it will be of little use to you.
Same goes for your character profiles. (Again, more on that in previous post.) In early drafts of your novel, your characters are constantly fluctuating: maybe it’s their physical description or their personality or the motivation behind their actions that you keep changing your mind about. As this is happening, you should make sure your profiles for those characters are in sync with your current draft.
So if your short attention span is getting the best of you, why not let it work for you to focus on short snippets of information at a time as you fill in your table’s columns or update your profiles?
It doesn’t require high levels of concentration and you can make it more fun by jamming out to music that would’ve otherwise distracted you from writing. Do the desk chair dance!— if you don’t know what this is, you’re really missing out.—Who knows, maybe you’ll get pumped enough to go back to writing.
2. Create/Improve Your Novel’s Extra Materials
A lot of books today have fun bonus material that goes along with the narrative. This includes anything from maps to illustrations to family trees to even Indexes. Just take a look at Fantasy author Christopher Paolini’s extensive Language Guide for his Inheritance Cycle series, for example. (They’re great books for any Fantasy readers out there by the way!)
If you’ve decided to include extra material for your novel, you can take full advantage of that and use it as an excuse to procrastinate. Go create that map! You can even live up your childhood days by coloring it in if you’d like. There are also programs on the internet that let you create virtual worlds and maps online if you are not artistically inclined and would like a better visual. If you already have these images or extra materials, there is no harm in perfecting them. Go perfect that map!— I love novels with maps. They’re awesome. If you don’t have one you should seriously consider getting one. Unless, of course, it really doesn’t work with your story in which case I would sadly understand.
Realistically, the final, real version of your map/illustrations/family tree etc. will not be something you hand drew.— Unless you’re an amazing artist and I would have to bow down and go hide my shameful stick-figure drawings from you— But it’s good to have a solid idea or blueprint of what your world looks like. For visual learners like myself, it is beneficial to have a physical image of the world your characters will be roaming around. Even if you don’t use a map. You can still jot down ideas of the physical space you’ll be working with in your novel. It will help with setting, description and many other things as you write.
Eventually, when your novel gets published— Yes when. You will get published. I believe in you!— someone else will be in charge of illustrations and maps and family trees and book covers. (At least, in the traditional print publishing sense.) But this someone needs to know what exactly it is they will be creating for you. By having the image already, you can be clearer in your instructions and it can make everyone’s life easier.
(Self-publishing is a completely different animal and I do not have sufficient knowledge to speak on how the printing of maps, illustrations etc. would work in that case. If you know how it works, I’d love for you to share your knowledge in the comments below! I, and others I’m sure, would appreciate it.)
3. Read, Read, Read
This may sound counterproductive. “What are you talking about, Paola?” you may be asking, “Isn’t reading taking time away from writing my novel?” Yes and no. For me, and I believe for many others as well, reading is actually a great way to get inspiration or motivation to write. There’s that famous quote that’s always used:
“You can’t write if you don’t read.”
I’m not sure who actually said this quote—Does anyone know the origin of this quote by any chance?— but it most certainly rings true for me. Every time I’m reading a good story, I always think about how I can improve my writing to match the skills of the author I am reading. Same goes for when I read a poorly written book. That is in fact how I started my current work in progress; I read a rather disappointing book with faulty prose and decided that I could write something better. Granted, that was the overconfidence of a thirteen year-old speaking, but I’m sure the sentiment can be true in other occasions as an adult. The point is, reading will almost always lead to writing. We can get great ideas and tips on craft from reading. So don’t feel bad about picking up that book.
Now, when I say procrastinate by reading, I don’t mean curl up under the blankets with hot cocoa and your cat and be dead to the world for hours on end. — Just to be clear, I don’t have a cat. I’ve been told this makes me not a “true” writer and that I miss out on a lot of adorable cat-interrupting-one’s-writing moments. Because apparently all writers have to have cats? *Shrug*
When I say read, I mean read with a purpose.
If you are currently working on characterization, go read an author whose characters you fell in love with. If you think you’re procrastinating and avoiding writing your novel because you’re struggling to create setting, study a book whose world came to life for you. Or, if you really don’t think you have the self-restraint to stop reading a good book once you’ve started, try reading a book that you think is lacking something: setting, characterization, description, plot etc. The key is to analyze how well these authors use their craft (or don’t use it well), and use it (or improve it) in your own work. However, remember not to imitate. Learn from them but create your own voice. Let their writing spark an eagerness to work on your own novel. And stay focused!
In the end, it’s pretty simple: Reading = Inspiration = Writing.
So go read! And then write! And if procrastination makes you stop writing, go read again! Chances are, you’ll end back at your novel with a new idea or writing goal.
These are just a few examples of things you can do to make your procrastination be productive. See? My procrastination led me to write this post. It wasn’t in vain. At least I hope not. If your procrastination led you to my blog and this post, I hope my list helped you focus your procrastination or inspired your own ideas. Of course, you are always welcome to come by again when the procrastination bug bites or at any other time. I hope you do. :)
What do you do when you procrastinate? Do you have any other tips on how to make your procrastination work for you? I’d love to hear from you!