Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

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  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
January 2017

How Writers Procrastinate

I used to believe that I never procrastinated. Maybe I was better then, but it’s also true that I think I was blind to the ways I procrastinated. I didn’t procrastinate the things that other people did, like doing the dishes or laundry or taking the garbage out. I didn’t procrastinate those things because I was busy using those things to procrastinate the things I really hated, like sitting down and writing the book that was in my soul.

My experience is that pretty much every writer I know is good at procrastinating. And sometimes, to be honest, it makes sense to wait, because it allows our subconscious time to do some work on our ideas before we spit them out. That said, I think most of us could use a lot more help in the direction of getting the work done. And by that, I do not mean simply sitting in a chair with a computer in front of you. For one thing, these days, if you’ve got an internet connection, you can procrastinate all day long every day for years without typing a single word on your manuscript. For another thing, just because my hands are typing words into the computer doesn’t mean I’m actually working on the project I’m supposed to.

Like me, for instance, right now, writing about procrastination instead of working on the actual manuscript I need to work on. Two, in fact. This is easier. And that’s the main reason we procrastinate. What’s easier for you isn’t necessarily what’s easier for me, so our methods of procrastination may look very different from the outside.

Here are some of the things I see writers doing to procrastinate:

1. I have to get clean the entire house before I can write. A tidy house means a tidy mind, right?

2. I need to catch up on emails first. Yeah, and then what? You’ll find something else to do.

3. I need to do RESEARCH. Seriously, this wins the best procrastination prize. You’ll never be done doing enough research. I guarantee it.

4. I don’t know how the story ends. So I’m going to sit and wait until it hits me in the face (or the muse comes down and whispers it to me). Ha! For most of us, the way to find out how the story ends is to get to work writing it (and I include outlining in this, which can be very useful).

5. What if someone steals my idea? You’d think this is just a crazy fear, and it is. But it’s also a super handy way to procrastinate. If I spend all my time worrying about people stealing my ideas and how to prevent that, then I don’t actually have to do any writing.

6. I’m terrified I’ll offend my family/someone. Yup, another excuse not to write. We offend people all the time and seem to be fine with it, talking, posting stuff on Facebook. But sitting down to write something? Oh, we can’t do that. You’re not scared of offending someone. You’re scared of writing and not being good enough.

7. I want it to be perfect the first time through. Welcome to the club. We all want that, and we will never get it. Yes, there are writers who write cleaner first drafts than I do (I want to stab them all). But no one gets it all right the first time. If they think they do, they’re wrong. Waiting to get every sentence right is just a way of procrastinating the dirty work of starting.

8. I want to have an agent or some guarantee that this will be published before I get started. Hahahahahahahahhahah! But seriously, just sit down and write. There are no guarantees in writing or in life. Maybe try to remember that you’re practicing to be a better writer. No one pays a concert pianist for their practice hours, right?

9. I’m working on book sixteen in my series. I have to have them all finished before I start revising the first one. Hey, I’m all for writing, but if you’re using writing to procrastinate editing and learning, well, that’s pretty clever.

10. I’m writing this book I think will sell instead of the book that I should be writing because it’s the book of my heart because I’m scared.

Everyone is scared. Want to know why? Because writing is scary. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. It will make you vulnerable. You will hurt people. You may hurt yourself as you discover the truth about who you are through your writing process. You will never feel like you did it perfectly, and that may always bother you.

So what? Get to work!

Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

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