Using Procrastination to improve your writing
Updated: Aug 5, 2018
"Procrastination” - that dirty word for authors. You know what I’m talking about, we’ve all been there. But getting distracted doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Here are some tips on how to avoid everyday interruptions and when you can’t, ways to use those unfocused moments to enrich your writing.
It’s usually something like this…sit down at computer, get up and get a cup of coffee, sit back down at computer and open to last scene of WIP, decide to read back over the beginning of that scene, instead read from the beginning of the chapter, start to revise, again, and then – oh look, squirrel!
This is not writer’s block nor is it avoidance. This is a busy, creative mind with lots of ideas which needs a way to focus and settle down.
Some backtracking can be good…
Reading over your last chapter or scene, while time consuming, is a good way to get yourself back into the moment, especially if it’s been many hours or even days since they were written. This is very useful for ensuring the tone, style and characters’ attitudes don’t deviate throughout your book.
…but don’t let it slow down completion of your first draft
However, and every author will tell you the same, leave the revision until you are done with your first draft. Just get the ideas down on the page first, all of them, the whole story line from start to finish. Once you have allowed your creativity to flow uninterrupted and your novel is “complete”, you can then go back and work on tightening up your story, removing unnecessary scenes and characters, filling in plot holes and editing sentence by sentence.
Don’t underestimate the power of the distractions
It takes a lot of focus and dedication to be a writer, but sometimes, even with the best of intentions, there are interruptions. Instead of giving up on your wordcount for the day, is there a way to use this disruption in your book?
If something is interesting enough to catch your attention, it might also interest your readers and bring a bit of real life to your writing. For example, does your character watch a squirrel as she thinks about how to confront a problem?
I am lucky enough to have my writing desk with a view of a primeval tree filled with green parrots and a resident chipmunk. Yes, I’m guilty of spending endless hours watching them, but I’ve also dropped them and their odd habits into my novel when I can.
Here’s a short scene from my current WIP, When Bandara Says. The two characters are hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains. Recognize anyone?
Jeff grabbed Jennifer’s arm and pointed to a ground squirrel running between some bushes. It suddenly darted into the shade and dropped to its belly, arms and legs splayed, enjoying the feel of the cool earth.
They continued down the path, the gravel crunching beneath their feet.
It could be the bridge that introduces the next step in your plot.
If you have been struggling with how to introduce a new character or work in a plot twist, spend a little time analyzing the events that have distracted you over the past few days. Can those incidents be used to progress your story naturally?
Does your main character need that coffee on the way to work which allows him to meet an old high school flame? Does a text message distract her eyes from the road for that fatal moment, causing an accident that will bring trauma and more credibility to the heroine?
Beware, however, that if this “aside” doesn’t add to the realism of your story and instead sidetracks the audience, it can be as disruptive to them as it is to your writing and is best left out.
Take a break
Sometimes procrastination is a ploy to gain us a little time away from our computers. This is okay. Take a few moments to empty your mind through meditation or allow yourself to focus on other things for a while – read a book, play with the children, call a friend. And never forget that you need to move throughout the day. Even short walks around the house, a visit to the park, or even a well-needed run or yoga session can bring you back to your manuscript with fresh ideas and new fervor.
The bottom line is don’t be too critical if you find your mind wandering or yourself procrastinating. Take the opportunity to have a little fun and use it as fuel for your writing.