You Should Be Writing: Turn Your Procrastination into Productivity

(Or at least feel like you’re doing more.)

As a writer and recent former student, there is one area where my skills are rock solid: procrastinating. Why write an article when the bathroom needs cleaning? How can I possibly focus on a short story when I need to find just the right pair of winter tights? And it’s important that I spend hours watching cat videos on youtube – my main character’s mam’s friend has a cat, remember?

You’ve done the same, I’m sure. It goes with the territory.

Meme of Loki smiling from Marvel's Avengers Assemble with the caption "Stop that, you should be writing".

There’s a reason that there’s a million odd hits for “you should be writing” on google images. (Pic from memegenerator.net)

Earlier this month I was lucky to spend a week on an Arvon fiction writing course. I had an amazing time. I learnt so much from my two fantastic teachers who led workshops and one-on-one tutorials, and I really enjoyed having time and the headspace simply to write. I also ate lots of cake. I highly recommend Arvon’s courses if you’re looking to improve your writing skills. They’ve all sorts of courses and retreats covering poetry, screenwriting, fiction, editing and more (they also have a late booking scheme for 18-25s that halves the price of some courses. Go check it out!)

Anyway, this course took place in the depths of Shropshire where phone signal was patchy and the wifi was limited. Surprise surprise – I got loads done. My delay and distract skills barely got a look in. Of course, returning to the real world, the desire to procrastinate returned full force, but rather than try and fight the overwhelming impulse, I’ve put together a few ways to turn the inevitable procrastination into something more useful. A how to “procrastinate smarter” if you like your business buzzwords. Though this is mainly aimed at those of you writing fiction, you can definitely adapt the ideas to suit whatever work it is you’re hiding from.

 

Make a cup of tea

Can’t work without a cuppa, or a coffee, I don’t judge. And what’s this, while I was in the kitchen I must have put my phone down and left it there… ah well, I’m in the study now, I’m comfy, I don’t want to move. I’ll have to leave it there, at least until the next cuppa in half an hour. (All right, there are all sorts of apps you can get to limit your phone time as well, but I find physical separation is best.)

Take your character for a walk

Stepping outside for a breath of fresh air is not only excellent for your own mental health, but it’s a great chance to leave your desk and whatever problems you might be having, and allow your brain to shuffle things around. One fellow Arvon student suggested taking your character for a walk when you go out: you might like a wander in the woods, but what does your character think? Do they take their time or stride away? What do they notice? What might that make them think of? If you’re in the countryside, have they even got proper shoes for walking?

I went for a walk with Ginny Armstrong from my work-in-progress. I had a nice time, but turns out she didn’t: “I divvent dee outdoors, man. It’s cold, my Converse are soaked through, that bird sounds like it’s dying and I’ve got far too much time alone with me thoughts.” Some people are never satisfied.

Walks are also just good for mulling things over. The amazing crew at Writers HQ talk about Magical Thinking Time Moments where you allow yourself time to think about plot, characters, whatever. I use my walk to work as one of these.

Gif of Jurassic Park characters Alan Grant, Lex Murphy and Tim Murphy running away from a hoard of ducklings.

No caption, just great gif (from giphy)

People watch and play god

You’ve got itchy feet and want to leave the house again. Go somewhere like a café or library and people watch. What do you think they’re like? These people are your characters now, so how do you think they would react to made up events? This could be something everyday: a power cut, someone tripping over their feet, the barista mixing up coffee orders (is this the start of a love story or the day from hell for a lactose-intolerant person?). Or it could be something more world-shattering, like them noticing the cute person staring at them and so launching a pre-emptive martial arts strike against this possible stalker? (People watch, but don’t be a creep about it. Have some self-awareness.)

You might develop yourself a starting nugget of a character with this exercise, or just have a bit of fun.

Shake your character’s feet

Make a playlist for one of your characters and smack it on while you’re doing the pile of dishes that you simply can’t ignore.

How does your character react when “I Want to Break Free” plays? Do they grab a hoover and do their best Freddie impression, or are they an uncultured swine?

Freddie Mercury in drag vacuuming, from the "I Want to be Free" music video.

Fun fact: last time I visited my mate’s house, her boyfriend dressed up, cued the music and waited for ages to “welcome us back”. The single’s introduction is much longer than you think.

Write your speech for when you win the Man Booker/Hugo Award/Nobel Prize

It’s ok if you want to stare at a computer screen, but don’t spend your time on social media. Instead, write that awards acceptance speech. All right, so we might be getting ahead of ourselves here, but it’s a great way to help you work out what you want to achieve and define what you want yourself (and others) to get out of your work. You could even go deeper and think about why you write. Can you take it and leave it or is it a deep-seated need? What is that need, that message or feeling you want to spread? You might end up inspiring yourself, and once you’ve done that, the desire to procrastinate will shrink for a little while. Don’t forget to pick out your ballgown or tie, too, you may need all this one day.

There’s loads of other good articles on beating procrastination out there on the web. What techniques and tips do you have? Let me know below or tweet me @scranshums.

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