You are sitting at your writing desk, chewing the end of that pen, staring at the notebook wondering what the hell to do next. The words just don’t want to come and your mind is a blank slate. Then again, you might be doing this staring at a computer screen. It doesn’t really matter which; you’re equally stuffed. It may be a sunny day outside and you just remembered that piece of weeding, lawn mowing, tree pruning, garage cleaning, or perhaps there is a video you wanted to see and now as good a time as any. Perhaps it will lead to inspiration. Relieved, and maybe feeling a bit guilty, you get up and give into temptation. I think you’re starting to click to what I’m saying. All those distracting thoughts have surfaced and are bubbling away, prompting you to act on one of them—anything but think about that cursed piece of writing!
If you give in, one of the procrastination demons has gotten to you and poisoned your mind!
Let’s face it. Writing is damn hard work. It’s lonely, your bones fossilize as you spend hours frozen in one position, and irritation seeps in when you hit that mental pothole, or is it sinkhole? You are going down for the third time, hands waving madly for help, but there is no one there to throw you a lifesaving inspiration. The hard reality is that getting out of that mental hole, you will have to do entirely on your own. We’ve all been there at one time or another, and when one of those demons strike, it’s misery and can drive one to drink.
Accepting that sometimes things just don’t flow no matter how much you are straining, spinning your mental wheels in that sand pit is only throwing up more sand and getting you mired deeper. So, what to do? Let one of those demons control you because it’s the lesser of two evils, or you roll up your sleeves and tackle the problem head on? Me? I do both. A bit of distracting indulgence gets the blood going and I tell myself I’m not really avoiding confronting the issue—not much anyway. If the words won’t come, they won’t come. A cup of coffee or something stronger may lubricate the old brainpan and get things moving.
Okay, that gets you staring over the lip of that mental pothole, but you haven’t gotten yourself out yet. Whether the pothole is deep or shallow, you still have to get out of it in order to write that next sentence, paragraph, etcetera. How then do you get out? More basically still, how did you fall into that hole to begin with? Recognizing these two things creates the first rung of the ladder to your way out.
Let’s tackle the latter issue first—falling into the hole. There is no mystery here. You fell in because you don’t have a detailed book outline! It’s simple as that, and no one should tell you different. Short stories? That’s another, ah, story…
I have found the best way to avoid falling into the clutches of a procrastination demon, the big, hairy ones, the small ones are basically minor distractions, is to have a good book outline where all the major elements of the plot, sub-plots, and story sequences have been worked out beforehand. You are building a street map for your novel. It tells you exactly how to get to where you want to end up. Jotting down a few notes here and there in the belief that everything is cool, you got it wired in your head, you have a street map that’s full of holes, not much good for anything. Those holes are procrastination demons, rubbing their hands with glee, waiting for you to fall into one. The smaller holes might cause you to fall flat on your face as you trip, but those things aren’t terminal. And you know the worst part about all this? You have created this problem for yourself!
Everybody hits a snag that grinds your writing to a stop. That’s the price we pay as writers. However, taking an easy way out by procrastinating will not get that page or chapter written. To build those steps that will get you out and start writing again, revisit your outline. Focus on the major plot thread that has unravelled or is really a dead end you never tied at all—the cause of your procrastination—and see what needs to be done to weave it together with the other threads. Sometime that may be simple, and sometimes that will require redoing parts of your plot. Build that street map right before you start writing and you will not have to agonize or worry about those procrastination demons. Well, not as much.