A Thing About Procrastination and Editing

Actually it’s not. It’s links to things about procrastination written by other people, with some comments added.

The first one is Why Writers Procrastinate. This is an
important question, because there are different reasons for procrastination and if you don’t know why, how can you fix it?

The linked article looks at two reasons:

Because we’re afraid

Because we lack inspiration

That first one, I think that comes into it a lot when editing. The mantra “You can fix it in the next draft” isn’t as easy to believe when you’re writing that next draft. But you know, it still applies. The lovely thing about word processors is you can ALWAYS fix it in the next draft, whether you’re on the second draft or the fifty-millionth draft. Although if you have fifty-million drafts, you might want to have a good look at your editing process. Forty-million drafts is probably the most you want.

But look, whatever stage of editing you’re at, what you are doing now DOES NOT NEED TO BE PERFECT. It just needs to be better than what was there before. But if you’re not sure whether you’re making it better? You are. And if you’re not, well the earlier version is still there to go back to, so what do you have to lose? Run with it. See where it takes you. Make all the changes you want.

This article is another look at similar ideas. Read that bit under “Embracing Hard Work” and remember two things. First, when you read a finished book, well, it’s finished. It’s the end product of lots of work. Your own writing, it’s not finished or you wouldn’t be editing it. You can’t expect it to be as good. Also the author of the finished book? Probably went through the same thoughts as you are now. Books just don’t spring into being formed. They require work.

And on the subject of hard work, don’t forget you are creating whole people and places out of nothing using just words from your head. That IS hard. Most people can’t do that, and yet you did. The fact that you’re editing means you MADE UP A WHOLE STORY WITH CHARACTERS AND THEIR WORLD just from what was in your head. You did that, and now you can make them better.

But what if the vision in your head doesn’t match what’s on the paper/screen? It probably won’t.

  • Vision in your head: chemicals moving between cells.
  • What’s on paper/screen: words. Not the same.

Remember, the point of writing is to provoke an image in a reader’s mind. That’s it. Not to perfectly recreate YOUR vision in their head. That’s where people get muddled when it comes to writing description, but that’s another topic.

OK now we’ve give some thought to the Why, let’s move onto the WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT.

How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing

She gives us four steps. Read them. Come back.

Step #1: Break Your Project into Bite-Sized Chunks
A novel is BIG thing. Whether you creating the first draft or editing, it’s big and it can be intimidating. So make it smaller. Whereas with a first draft, you might break it down into, say, a daily word count, when you’re editing you might (or should!) concentrate on one aspect at a time. Look, it’s perfectly fine to do a draft where you just focus on the structure, and another where you focus on character arcs, and then setting and then… This idea that you write the first draft, “edit it” and then you’re done is well, crap. Sure, it works for some people but it just as surely DOES NOT work for everyone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do, just concentrate on one thing.

Oh, there’s a thing when renovating a house where you do the floor first, then the walls, then the roof. Because if you do the roof first, and then  have to prop up the floor, you’re ruin the roof. Also, it’s a good idea to repair the roof before you start wallpapering or else come the next big storm, you will be replacing all that wall paper. Writing is the same. Fix the structural things first. It always good to put down best words you can  but don’t fuss over sentence structure when you might be deleting that whole scene tomorrow. Multiple drafts are a good way to work. And remember the first rule of writing:

What works for one person, won’t necessarily work for other people you. Also, what worked for you last time, won’t necessarily work for you the next time. Adapt. Try different things. BE CREATIVE. Ha!

Step #2: Schedule a Time to Make a Start
I like this one. Last year, I made 6.30-7.30 pm my writing time and my productivity (and writing) improved greatly. This year, with a different WIP, that is not working for me. Different story. Different needs. But saying THIS IS WHEN I WILL WRITE is a good thing to do. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day. You might want to sit down at the start of the week, or day, and mark out times on a calendar/diary. And that time is inviolate.

Step #3: Set a Timer Going
I really think this step relates to the first step. Sitting down to “write” can be hard. It’s a big thing. It’s scary. But ten minutes? That’s a tiny amount of time. You can spend just ten minutes writing. Easy. And you can do a lot of writing in ten minute blocks (fifteen thousand words a day actually 🙂 Or twenty minutes or thirty minutes or whatever works for you. Put on the timer, do NOTHING BUT WRITE. Then you can check email, Facebook, play a game, make a cup of tea, whatever. Afterwards.

Step #4: Write Like Nobody’s Watching
This goes back to what I said earlier.  Also, no one is going to read what you’re just put on the page, unless you show them. No one. Just do it. And if it’s not as good as you– look it doesn’t matter. You can fix it in the next draft. And really, you’ll probably find when you come back to read it, that’s it’s better than you thought. Because you’re this wonderful person who can make up whole people and their stories just out of their head.

Another technique I am using a lot at the moment is having a routine or a trigger that tells your brain “Now we were going to write”. This might be putting on music that you only play when you’re writing. Sitting in a place that you only sit in when writing. Or something that has a definite start/end point like making a cup of tea. Whatever. It’s a signal that you’re going to start writing.

How Writers Can Stop Procrastinating Forever
This article is about making choices. Because that’s what you’re doing, you’re making a choice to do something other than writing.

End writing procrastination now: 7 steps
This covers all the things above, but in different words. If the other links didn’t speak to you, this one might.

Also, it mentions goals and rewards. Positive reinforcement. The problem is procrastination is it’s negative reinforcement. You don’t write, you feel bad about not writing, you don’t write… One way to break that cycle is to set goals and when you meet them, reward yourself. It might be an actual reward (Facebook time!) or it might the feeling of accomplishment from meeting the goal. Make the goals both obtainable but something that is progress. It might be “edit a scene” or it might be “add more words to the new draft than you did yesterday”. It might well be that just opening the word processor is an accomplishment. Somes day it is 🙂 The next day, you can read the first scene.

Or it might be that you need to challenge yourself. Edit one scene of at least one thousand words every day for a fortnight. Read the next three chapters.

One thing I didn’t see mentioned in the above articles: creating IS tiring. It’s important to recognise when you’re avoiding writing because you are tired, or you’ve done enough for the day. Also, sometimes part of a story does need more thought before you jump into editing. Be aware of this. Not all avoidance behaviour is procrastination. Sometimes your brain is saying “OK let’s just stop for a bit.

And a final thing: EDITING IS WRITING. Editing is when you take the block of words and turn it in something wonderful. It is not a necessary evil, is is part of the creation process. Enjoy it!


Image: layout requires a “featured” image at the top. There are some words that are hard to find the earliest usages of because they don’t written down a lot. There’s a slight bigger version of that one here

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