Cook dinner, wash the clothes, stack the dishwasher, sweep the floor, dry the clothes, bath the kids, do the ironing, rearrange your sock drawer, paint the house, knit a scarf, do some more research, buy Scrivener, create a storyboard for your novel, write an outline for your novel, colour it in with fancy colours, buy new pens, clean your desk, backup your hard drive, write a blog post, buy groceries, level your WoW character, read a book, plant a vegie garden, hand-make Christmas cards (all 300 of them), scrapbook your photos (from the last 40 years), clean out the attic/basement/garage, build an extension on the back of the house for your very own writing room…. The list goes on.
Some of these things are actually important. (Feeding your children, for example.)
Some of these things actually help you write your novel. (Writing an outline, researching, or cleaning your desk.)
But many of the things we prioritize above novel-writing are merely clever ways to procrastinate.
There are a lot of reasons we procrastinate. I’m not going to try to cover them all here. Instead, I’m just going to give you five reasons to STOP.
1. It won’t get better if you pick it.
Writers are imaginative people. It kind of comes with the territory. The upside to this is… well, you know the upside. The downside is that it’s all too easy to imagine things going badly.
What if I suck as a writer? What if everything I write is terrible? What if I’m not good enough to write a whole novel? What if I write a book and it sucks? What if my friends read it and they think it’s terrible? What if I never get any better? What if I do, but I can’t get an agent? What if I get an agent and can’t get a publishing contract? What if I get published, but no one buys my book? Or what if I self-publish but no one buys my book? What if people buy my book and they hate it? What if people hate my book and they write scathing one-star reviews everywhere about how awful I am?
What if I’m a failure at the only thing I’ve ever really, really wanted to do?
Woah, Nelly. Hang on a minute. Before you start relegating yourself to the “I Failed as a Writer so My Life Is Worthless” club, how about you actually sit down and write something?
Fear is natural. Fear of the unknown. Fear that you won’t succeed. Fear that you will, but it won’t live up to your imagination. But that fear will never go away if you feed it. Instead, practice overcoming it. And there’s no better way to do that than to keep writing.
2. It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.
You know the most fun part of writing a novel? The first chapter.
Hands up if you’ve got half a dozen files labelled “Chapter One” somewhere on your computer. Keep your hand raised if you’ve got more than a dozen. It’s a little known fact* that one of the easiest ways to procrastinate when you’re writing a novel is to… get this… start a new novel.
The thing about writing is that the fun bits are fun, but the hard bits are hard. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that applies to everything in life.) So we start our new novel feeling fresh-faced and bushy-tailed, bounding into the fun part of introducing characters and having everything go horribly, terrible, disturbingly wrong. And then…
Well, then writing seems a bit more like work. We can’t figure out the next plot point. Or we realise our characters can’t possibly escape from the situation they’re in. Or it suddenly occurs to us that the entire story is one clichéd mess of overdone tropes and Mary Sue characters. And it’s not fun anymore. So you go back and edit what you’ve written. Repeatedly.
But let’s be honest here. How many people want to read an awesome first chapter, followed by a one paragraph summary that goes something like this:
…and then the hero finds a heap of clues, and eventually realises it was his BEST FRIEND ALL ALONG! There’s some fighting and stuff, and in the end the hero kills his best friend, and his best friend’s girlfriend falls in love with him, and they live happily ever after. Oh, and he’s also gets all his best friend’s stuff. The end.
If your story feels like it’s not working, take some time out to plan, plot, outline, create colour-coded maps of your novel, and anything else that appeals to you. But don’t do it forever. Don’t do it as a means of procrastination. And don’t start a new novel. Work out what happens next in your story, and then get back to writing it.
* This is not actually a little known fact. We’ve all done it.
3. Tomorrow never comes.
As I said above, there are a lot of legitimate reasons why you don’t get any novel-writing done. There’s your day job, for a start. And you need to spend time with your Significant Other and your children. There’s that pesky need for food, drink and sleep. And society frowns on you if you don’t adhere to at least some measure of cleanliness.
But let me fill you in on a little secret: It never gets any better.
You will always have legitimate drains on your time. Always. The trick is to find a way to fit writing into your schedule even when you’re busy. Maybe you legitimately don’t have time to write every day. Or even every week. But there’s a very fine line between not writing because you don’t have time, and not writing because you’re procrastinating.
Did you know that over 85% of diets start on a Monday? And the main reason they fail? Because when the dieter has a piece of cake on Wednesday, she says to herself, “Well, I’ve blown it for this week. I may as well call this week a wash and start again on Monday.” Then they binge on whatever-they-like for the rest of the week.
Don’t be the writer who says, “Well, I was supposed to write on Wednesday afternoon but I was too tired and too busy. I’ve already blown my weekly target, so I may as well call this week a wash and start again next week.”
Don’t write tomorrow. Write today.
4. It’s written in the stars (but you don’t have a telescope).
Next month you could walk out of your house and get hit by a bus. And when you’re lying there on the street, the world getting dimmer and dimmer around you, which thought would you prefer to go through your head:
- Thank goodness I spent all that time cleaning the cornices and cataloguing my fourth grade stamp collection!
- Thank goodness I finished writing my novel!
Yes, I know this is entirely unrealistic. (Because who keeps their fourth grade stamp collection?) But it illustrates a point.
Anyone who has had a near-death experience will tell you they spent a lot of time re-evaluating their life, really looking at what’s important and how they can follow their dreams. Because they’re suddenly aware of their own mortality. Suddenly aware that maybe they can’t put off their dreams until after Christmas, after the kids are at school, after their finances are secure, after they retire, after anything at all.
Because “after” may not come. All you really have is “now”.
5. No one else can do it.
Do you know how many people can write the novel you’ve got in your head? Only one. You.
No one else in the world can tell your story as well as you can.
And you have a responsibility to tell it. You have a responsibility to yourself, to the people who will be your readers, and to the world at large. Because, in this one thing, you are completely and utterly irreplaceable.
So don’t deny the world your story. You are the only one who can make your dream a reality. Sit down, start writing and stop procrastinating.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to work on my novel. (As long as I don’t get distracted on the way.)
Are you a procrastinator? Any words of wisdom for us all?