Yet another article on the perils of procrastination? Or merely an opportunity to throw in some alliteration? And then a rhyme?
Got a nice little story you’re working on there, hmmm?
It seems these days there are a billion distractions that look like writing. The core mantra of writing is ‘just write’, which means, oddly enough, that at every opportunity you should write. Yet we’re not always in the mood; you see, we might have convinced ourselves we ought to wait for the muse to take us. And sometimes the muse is addicted to Twitter or other social media, because we can tell ourselves we’re doing other things.
I want to focus on the ‘or something’ in the title of this post. Also, for the sake of maintaining the purity of the title, we will assume that you, the reader, are primarily a novelist. If you, like me, are primarily a short-fiction writer, let us combine our word counts and pretend for the sake of this argument that we usually bounce from novel to novel in our writing career (quietly: I don’t know how these chumps do it either).
When I (affectionately) hurled the title of this piece at author Felicity Dowker on Twitter, I realised that not every moment of the writing day is suited for our primary output, despite that ‘just write’ rule. So what can we do to stay ‘writerly’ while not writing?
Procrastinate in a convincingly writerly way, of course!
It sounds like a joke, but let me share with you how I improve my writing brain without writing: what to do to stay writerly while not writing, followed by what not to do.
If you are not ‘writing’ (ie. producing a narrative), you should be ‘reading’ (ie. absorbing narratives).
- watch a movie
- watch a TV show (as a rule, exclude game shows, advertorials and reality TV shows)
- read a book
- go to the theatre
It is not important whether any of the narratives or productions are actually good. A bad book or play can teach you different things about writing than a good book. All things about writing narratives are important. You don’t even have to focus or analyse the work (though I find myself increasingly unable to distance myself from the technical aspects of fiction); you can simply enjoy (or despise) the experience, and let it seep into your brain. All this stuff is grist for the mill. The mill being the giant block of stone in your head that should seriously be writing already instead of reading this article.
If you are not writing or reading, then you are on holidays, convincing yourself you are learning something, working, looking after yourself/family or procrastinating. There are no other things in the world you could possibly be doing that don’t fit into one of these categories, believe me.
Being on holidays is fine, everyone is entitled to time off in their profession. Unpaid time off. Where you achieve nothing except achieving nothing. That’s ok, that is a perfectly valid goal, just don’t take too many holidays.
Convincing yourself you are learning something is time spent doing things like reading this article (if you are still reading you didn’t listen to me before when I said you should be writing). Learning stuff is pretty great. You could actually improve your writing career that way. Just don’t get too distracted by it, as it’s easy to keep learning stuff and not actually get any writing done. That defeats the purpose of learning stuff unless it is for…
Working. Well, we all need money to live, especially as writers. So your day job needs some love. But not too much love. If you want your career to be writing, then your day job only needs enough love to pay for your bills. You can’t get all hung up on advancing your unimportant career, you know, the one that makes you money and pays the bills and lets you realise all your materialistic dreams. Stop being distracted by that already.
The only one on this list you can’t avoid is the responsibilities of health and family. You get a pass on that. Just try to avoid health problems. Yes, I realise that’s much like shouting, ‘Stop drowning!’
If you are doing anything else, stop procrastinating right now!
Reading too many articles about how to write? Barely acceptable as ‘education’! Worse, writing an article about how to write? On a blog, for no money so it’s not even work? Oh dear gods above, please stop it now, that is the second worst thing you could be doing. Yes, the irony is not lost to me; criticising people doesn’t count as writing either, so stop that.
Worst of all, are you spamming social media with marketing or refreshing your Amazon ranking instead of writing or doing any of the other things on this list? No, no, no. Just write another book. Go on, do it now. I’ll stop writing this and go do something productive. It’s like author solidarity.
Hey, you know what? We should totally write a blog post about that together sometime.