I gave a version of this blog post as a presentation at my writing class on Monday. You should have seen their little faces. I’m not sure if they were expecting something a bit more ‘inspirational’ and a bit less ‘unvarnished truth’ but they all looked a bit shell-shocked by the end of it. So here we go.
Let’s start with a couple of classical quotations to get us in the mood.
Ancient Chinese Proverb:
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Then the next step. Then the next one. Then all the other steps. What were you expecting, a travelator? This is ancient China, not Heathrow Airport. Put your back into it.”
Latin motivational motto:
“Memento mori” (remember you will die)
Are you a procrastinator?
Well, you’re reading my blog post rather than getting on with achieving your life goals, so I’m going to say yes. Unless your life goal is to read my blog post, in which case, yay!
What causes procrastination?
It’s easy to say procrastination is a result of laziness, or a lack of clarity around goals, or an absence of motivation. But in fact, the most common reason, among writers at least, is this: fear of failure.
What are you afraid of?
That your writing will suck and people will judge you harshly for it? Well, here’s a little secret for you. Everyone’s writing sucks at first. Tolstoy sucked. Jane Austen sucked. Stephen King sucked. EL James sucked. Oh wait… so, ok, some people’s writing still sucks, but there’s only one way to get better. Guess what it is? Yep, that’s right, write. Write write write. Try to get feedback so you can improve. If you’re too scared to show your writing to people you know, try the Internet: Wattpad allows to you to post your work pseudonymously and get feedback from complete strangers. I’ve also heard WriteOn recommended, although it is part of the evil Amazonian empire. If you’re into fan fic, there’s An Archive of Our Own. Even if you don’t get any feedback, you’ll still improve just by practising your writing. ‘How to write’ books, workshops, classes etc will also help, but aren’t a get-of-jail-free card: you still need to write. Think of it this way: if you write enough, you might, eventually, not suck at it. If you don’t write, you’ll definitely always suck at it.
But I’m just not feeling in quite the right frame of mind…
Neither am I. But I’m writing this anyway. If you wait until the right mood takes you, you might be waiting a long time. I’m sorry to have to break this to you, but writing is not always easy. If you want to have written something, you need to write something. So grit your teeth and get on with it.
If I’d give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, based on my personal experience, it’s this: set yourself a daily word target. And then hit it. Having a quantitative target provides clarity and encourages you to work quickly. It’s great to have a n-year plan, but plans need to be achieved day by day. And if you break your aims into chunks, they seem easier. Let’s say you want to write the first draft of a 90k-word novel in a year. 90/12=7.5. So that’s 7,500 words a month. 7,500/30=250. So that’s 250 words a day. That’s not so much, is it? You can do that in half an hour before breakfast, or on your lunch break, or when you get home from work. Now get on with it.
I’ll finish off with some general tips and tricks…
– Abstinence can be easier than moderation: try swearing off the Internet (or daytime TV, or housework, or whatever is your particular crack) altogether for a day, a week, a month, a year, or forever
– Scheduled time for writing is good if you’re busy. Make sure it’s focused time though – short bursts of eg 10 mins can be better for this than longer stretches
– Having two or more writing projects on the go at any one time can help since you can procrastinate from one by working on the other…
– Although working on only one thing at once makes it more likely you’ll get it finished
– Beware of ‘fake productivity’ ie spending lots of time on research, planning etc – sooner or later, you’ve got to get down to business
– And finally, when in doubt, write something. Anything. Doesn’t matter if it’s crap. You can always improve it later. Words on a page are always better than a void.