The Heart of the Delay: Harnessing The Wisdom of Procrastination (AKA Writers Block)
I am sure that at in some era, at some desk, with some kind of paper (and perhaps some very special ink), some writer has breezed through a lengthy and challenging project from beginning to end with no delays. No one in her household has suffered, she's felt pleased at each step of the process, and her shoulders have never cried out for massage. I'm sure of this.
I am equally certain that for most people, writing projects have at least some period of delay. Sometimes, it takes the form of distraction, and a bit of discipline works just fine to bring us back. Other times, our life's work or inspiration of the moment sits there, waiting for us to get back to it, and every incomplete we've ever taken in school, every shaming message we've ever heard, or self-doubt we've ever felt encrusts the project like so many barnacles.
Worse still, "procrastination" and "writer's block" pop up in writer's tracts like names of diseases that need "cures," the right sledgehammer, or perhaps simply to be ignored. While some writers may find it helpful to have a name for what gets in the way of what they're trying to achieve, "writer's block" or "procrastination" can falsely universalize very different phenomena. My obstacles, yours, and hers may be different animals, different species or even perhaps silicon-based non-organic entities. Framing them as negative blocks the opportunity to learn something about ourselves or our writing.
For example, my reluctance to finish my novel may reflect a correct hunch about a major flaw in the story structure I'm loathe to face, while yours may stem from guilt about being the first in your family to succeed at an intellectual task. Each of us has an opportunity to notice and deal directly with the heart of the delay, rather than its limbs which trip us. Dealing with the heart of the delay could lead us down a more effective and sustainable path than the one we'd forge by simply steamrolling over the delay, or walking around it. I might need to bring in a book doctor to raise the quality of my work, while you might need to have a heart-to-heart with a family member, neutral third party, or both about what it means for you to succeed as a writer.
I humbly suggest the following: When next you find your mind meandering anywhere but to your work, don't beat yourself up. Instead, give a listen to what's guiding you astray. The answer may surprise you-and give you some clues about how to proceed with your project on the clearest path possible. Here are some questions to help you determine what's tripping you up, as well as some responses to each.
1) Do you have in mind an ideal way of doing things, and then get paralyzed when you start to do things in your own natural quirky way? Here's permission, then. Write out of order. If ideas for the middle or end of your book come before the beginning, go with it. You can always move things later.Multitask-use one project to procrastinate from doing another.
If you've done your emotional homework and find that you still procrastinate (and many great writers do), have other projects in the pipeline so that when you find yourself drifting from the one big project, you've got others to work on to fill your time until you can get back to that one. If you're stopped in your tracks because you think you have to work in a certain way, get back to the drawing board! Work on the pieces that compel you when you feel like working on them.
2) Is it possible that you lose the big picture of what you're doing in the daily details?Connect your deepest desires and visions to each moment of your work.
Distill your longings into a sentence or paragraph such as "I am a published writer who gets great reviews and makes my entire living through my writing," and post this in a visible place. Say it out loud to your mirror each time you begin your work. It might seem hokey, but many writers find that it actually helps to keep the big picture in mind.
3) Do you have a realistic image of the quality of your work?Find out what if any kind of help you need, then get it.
A society of journalists was asked how many writers were in the room. Nearly all the hands went up. Then the speaker asked how many of the writers considered themselves "good writers." Nearly half the hands went down.
While even the best writers doubt their skill, others suffer from overconfidence. Well, maybe overconfident writers don't experience suffering themselves, but their careers (and perhaps their peers) can suffer for their lack of help getting their writing to a publishable place. If you find yourself putting off work because you don't know if it's any good, find out. Get a professional in the field with obvious credentials to help you make that determination, or do it yourself.
If you find out your work stands up content-wise, you may still need an outside eye to tell you whether your writing is okay on its own, or you need professional assistance to make it publishable. An editor experienced in your type of manuscript will be able to help you polish your prose to a high sheen.
Another option is ghostwriting, or hiring a professional writer to pen some or all of your manuscript. Many of the most famous authors hire ghostwriters to help them get their message across. Sometimes they're credited on the cover with an "and" or "with," but often they're silent partners, hence the term "ghost."
Having marketable ideas is one thing-finding the language to best articulate them is another entirely. Don't kill yourself trying to develop a skill that takes years to hone when you've got other more compelling plans, and when there are plenty of people already prepped for that task. We live in a specialized society expressly for not having to kill ourselves trying to deliver garbage, make contact lenses, paint all the artwork on our walls, and yes, craft and polish all our own prose.
4) Who is in your immediate environment?Take a look, give a listen. Is what you observe conducive to writing?
On one end of the solitude-contact continuum is the person who works best alone. On the other end is someone who needs a partner to check in and collaborate with at each stage of the process. What are your needs around other people's involvement in your work? For the solitary type, the solution could be finding a "room of one's own," or at least a borrowed space with peace and quiet enough to think and write.
At the other end it could be finding a buddy, coach or collaborator to check in with regularly. In the middle, where lots of people find themselves, are authors who attend local writers groups or participate in online communities. Take the time to notice and get to know your own needs, and to create the space and/or support you need to move forward.
5) Is some healing in order?At the deepest level of your awareness, what do you feel and believe about yourself and your writing?On another plane entirely from practical concerns are wounds of the soul that need healing. It's difficult to allow our excellence to shine when we truly believe we're not worthy, or that to succeed would betray some unspoken agreement about staying small.
If everything within you wants to move forward into the world with your writing, and something inside you is holding you back, realize that only you can make the decision to find the therapist, spiritual counselor, coach or practice to move you through that place. Procrastination could be a signal to finally heal an old wound.
6) Is this project the best expression of what you love and want to put out into the world right now?Ascertain or revisit what made you put your energy behind this project.
Whether it's money, prestige, self-expression, career advancement or something else, ask yourself if your original reasons are congruent with your current needs. If not, give yourself permission to do something else.
7) Are you afraid of the impact you'll make on the world, whether positive or negative?You should be-if you've never been published before, you're about to lose your anonymity.
Consider using a pen name, at least for the time you're writing. You can always change it back later. I did this for the very first essay I ever published, because at the time, I felt shy about writing about sex, and also wanted to protect those whom I discussed in the essay.
guerilla tip: Most writers will not become all that famous, and the feedback most of us receive is damned scant. So-consider using your real name before going to press. If you go on to build your career around related material, you'll be grateful you did.
8) Do You Need to Reassess your Pace?Maybe the goals you've set aren't realistic for you.
Procrastination can be an utterly human attempt to create a sustainable work pace. If you expect eight hours of writing a day from yourself six days a week, no wonder your body's rebelling. If your goals more clearly meet your known capabilities, and you're still having difficulty meeting them, ask yourself honestly whether your timetable makes sense for you today.
Your life may have changed since you last set the pace of your writing treadmill. If so, change your expectations to ones you're more likely to achieve-then reward yourself when you do. If you still have trouble, consider structural supports, like a writing buddy, group, or some form of coaching.
9) Do you think your first drafts have to be perfect?Come on. You're slinging mud on a wall. Or, if you prefer, as one of my clients put it, "I just put one word in front of the other."
You're going to go through so many revisions from the time you put those first few words down to the time you're polished, that you might as well bulk up the page now. There will be plenty of time for trimming later.
10) Do you hate the idea of rewriting yet one more time?Of course you do. People in other fields get to be finished with their tasks when they stop working, and enjoy the fruits of their labors. But nooooo, not writers! There's always another draft in the wings.
Face it-endless rewriting sucks. You know and I know it needs doing, but isn't there a better way? The bad news is, the only way around is through. The good news is, you can reward yourself for each phase, and I encourage you to do so.
11) When was the last time you saw the sky?Get outside, for crying out loud. Humans were never meant to spend all day immersed in words.
Some days, your procrastination may be telling you to Get A Life. If so, listen. Enjoy yourself. However talented you are and however important your work, you aren't your writing. At least not entirely. Breaking up your day with physical activities, or anything very different from writing will give you a fresh perspective on your text. Plus, when this project is all over, you'll want to have had a bit of sunshine from time to time, maybe a friendship or two.
Remember, not all bouts of delay are alike. Yours might carry a message. Take the time to listen, heed and respond to that message. Your writing-and your life-will be better for it.
You are welcome to reprint this article any time, anywhere with no further permission, and no payment, provided the following is included at the end or beginning:
Author Jill Nagle is founder and principal of GetPublished,http://www.GetPublished.com, which provides coaching, consulting, ghostwriting, classes and do-it-yourself products to emerging and published authors. Her most recent book is How to Find An Agent Who Can Sell Your Book for Top Dollar http://www.FindTheRightAgent.com.
Crime Writing Beckons
If your cash is running out fast and you have an incessant need to write, why not turn to crime?No! Not committing crime, but to writing about crime. Crime is all around us, and people want to know about it.
What Nationally Published Columnist, Cindy Laferle Has To Say About Writing & Journalism
Today Norm Goldman, Editor of sketchandtravel and bookpleasures is honored to have as a guest, the nationally published newspaper columnist and author, Cindy LaFerle. Cindy recently published a book entitled, Writing Home, a collection of essays focusing on home, family and motherhood.
Keep your Book Dream Alive
Is your book nearly finished, finished, published, or even in its early stages? Do you want to know how to promote it with ease and low cost?Maybe you have already tried other methods to sell you book and felt tired of?- Submitting unseen or unheard media releases- Chasing book reviews that yielded small negligible results- Selling only a few books at your book signings- Exerting a lot of effort to travel, to speak, only to reap mediocre book sales- Experiencing radio and TV talk show low book sales results- Wondering why your bookstore or distributor has stopped selling your books- Worrying about who will promote your book now that your publisher has stopped- Feeling dismayed your book isn't giving you the ongoing, passive income you hoped for- Feeling discouraged about all the wasted time and money you have spentKeep Your Book Dream AliveJust like you, I wrote Ten Non-Techie Ways to Market your Book Online because as an author, just like you, I was tired of the old ways to get my books sold. Lackluster sales and chasing a low-results pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I turned to the Internet four years ago.
Is Your Title Compelling?
Short Story Writing Tips:Your title is your selling tool. It's the first thing readers will scan and contemplate whether to read your story.
Six Tips for Submitting Fiction - if you want it to get published
You can learn a lot about what it takes to place a story in an ezine by starting up one of your own.Last month I started work on a new ezine for writers, which I intended to use to publish high-quality, contemporary fiction, from writers all over the world.
Seven Important Lessons for Experts Who Want to Get Published
At first, I noticed that I could have written many of the articles that appeared in Instructor magazine. Having earned a B.
Writing Your Best-Selling Non-Fiction Book Title
Your struggling to sell just a few copies of your book, ebook,report or other information-based product each month?Are you stumped by the lack of response you are getting?You are positive people want your information, yet no matter how hard you try, you can't seem to tap into the flood of demand with your infoproduct.Happily, there is one simple, quick change you can make to your product that can make a massive difference to your results -- improve your book title.
Who Else Wants To Make $3546 By Simply Pressing a Button!
If you have been online for any length of time you have probably stumbled across many of the incredible claims of online marketing gurus making thousands of dollars just by sending out simple emails with the click of a button.If you are like me, you are intrigued and want to learn exactly how these gurus make more money with a few minutes work, then most people bring home after working for an entire month!To me it just didn't seem fair.
Ten Tips to Help You Finish Writing Your Novel
1. Set aside a time to write and keep it sacred.
Are Writing Exercises Effective?
It was reported that the great American author Sinclair Lewis was once asked to give a lecture on writing to a group of college students: "Looking out at this gathering," he said to the assembled students, "makes me want to know how many of you really and truly wish to become writers?" Every hand in the room went up. Lewis looked at them for a moment and then folded his notes and put them away.
8 Ways to Improve Your Writing Immediately
Is it possible to improve your writing instantly? The answer, happily, is "yes."While researching a book on famous speeches and essays, I found eight easily correctable mistakes writers often make.
Authors-Stop Expensive Mistakes Before you Spend on Professional Services
So many clients come to me as a book or marketing coach telling me how they spent and wasted a lot of money and time following different well-known gurus in the book and publicity fields. Debbie's Story A recent client, Debbie, already got her books printed--over 900 left to sell from the 1000 at too much cost.
Making Better Word Choices - 4 Examples
Choosing the wrong words can have a poor effect on your writing and on you. Whether you are writing a cover letter for a job, a business proposal, or an application essay for graduate school, using words poorly can result in negative feedback.
Story Building with Imagination
In the words of Aristotle, "happiness is self contentedness helping to make children deeply and quietly glad that they are who they are, and gives them a priceless legacy: the strength to meet life's stresses and the courage to become committed, responsible, productive, creative, and fully human adults..
The Value of Adding Images to Technical Documentation
It's cliché, but true-a picture does paint a thousand words. This is an important message to remember when writing any sort of user documentation, such as an installation guide or an instruction manual.
Critique Groups - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
What do people expect when they join a writing group?The list of anticipated benefits includes friendship, constructive criticism, support, encouragement, help with editing, inspiration, and advice on everything from plotting to possible markets. These expectations may or may not be met.
Local Knowledge: Background and Historical Setting in Novels
You're writing a story set in your local city, but one hundred years in the past. How can you recreate the feel of the past in your words of the present? Local knowledge, that's how.
The Write Habit: How to Strengthen Your Writing Muscle
Writing is a muscle that needs exercise to stay in shape.I realized how true that saying is when I took what I called "a well-earned break" after I finished my first novel.
In Praise of Personal Pronouns
Rudolph Flesch, a pioneering advocate of readability, put great stock in the liveliness of the written word.One way of getting that liveliness into our writing, he said, is to use the personal pronouns: you, me, I, we, us, he, she, him, her, and they.
Trying Too Hard
If you dread the thought of writing, if you fear your desk, and if you hate your computer, then you are trying too hard.If the thought of writing makes you feel guilty, makes your heartbeat quicker, and makes you sweat, then you are trying too hard.