For many writers, procrastination is public enemy number one. It’s all too easy to lose an hour, then two, then a whole morning, and hell… before you know it, most of the time you could have spent writing is gone and you’ve written 100 words and you hate yourself.
In my ongoing battle with procrastination, I like to check in with myself occasionally to assess how I’m managing it, and what’s helping me be more productive. I thought I’d share some tips, and some apps that are working for me, in case they’re useful to anyone else.
I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, which helps explain why procrastination is such an issue for me. But I think it’s an issue for nearly everyone, so hopefully many of these tips will be useful to anyone who struggles with productivity for whatever reasons.
I am the king of distractability. Interesting articles, research, hot guys on Tumblr, kittens being hilarious…. There are a million things out there on the Internet that are more exciting than the frankly tedious task of putting words on a page. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job – but the actual act of writing the story is the hardest part for me.
Even without the Internet, working from home means cats demanding my attention, and kids if it’s school holidays or outside school hours. Plus it’s amazing how appealing housework can be when you’re supposed to be writing All The Words.
For managing Internet-related distractions I mainly resort to technology. I use Focus to cut me off from the sites that distract me when I’m supposed to be working. Focus is Mac only, but there are a ton of similar products out there designed for different devices.
Blocking out background noise
To help me concentrate and to cut out the irritations of background noise, I listen to wave/rain/wind sounds in my browser using A Soft Murmur. This helps me so much, and stops me from wanting to kill my family when they whistle/sing/shout/crash around if I’m working at the weekend. It can also be good for writing in public places if you use headphones.
Physical distance from distracting things
On the days when laundry and cleaning toilets is more appealing than writing, I take myself off to a local café and write there instead.
People-watching can still be a distraction but it’s more fun than wielding a toilet brush.
CREATING A SENSE OF URGENCY
If you’re the sort of person who needs a deadline to get shit done, this can be a problem when you’re a writer. Writing a novel is a marathon rather than a sprint, and it can be really hard to sustain that focus for 50-60k words.
Deadlines and plans
My tips for this are set some deadlines. Even if they’re self-imposed rather than from a publisher, make them real. I book editing slots so I have to get my stuff done by a certain date. Pick a date and stick to it, share it on your networks so you’re accountable. Break your project into bite sized chunks, set daily goals and try and stick to them.
There’s a fantastic free app I found recently called Pacemaker (thanks to Santino Hassell who mentioned this in a blog post) which allows you to set a project time, word count goal and decide how you will manage your time. It’s a little like the Nanowrimo stats, but much more flexible. For example, with Pacemaker you can decide whether you write more or less at weekends, and can also factor in days off, and it will adjust your plan accordingly.
As well as setting deadlines, writing with other people can be helpful for motivation. Join a sprint group, write with another author in g-chat and engage in a bit of friendly competition to help meet your word count goals.
Writing against the clock
Use a timer. For me the act of writing against the clock often triggers just enough anxiety to kick my lazy arse into action. My favourite timer is the Pomodoro timer app I have on my Mac (but there are loads of different ones for various devices).
The principle of the Pomodoro technique is that you work in bursts of 25 minutes with 5 minute breaks. When I’m in super flaky mood, this often helps me get my brain into gear.
If all else fails, as a last resort, I use Write or Die. Write or Die is awesome (and the web version is free), but it scares me. So I save that for desperate times.
I freely admit I’m a needy bastard. I come from a fanfiction writing background where I posted my work a chapter at a time and thrived on the dopamine hit of reviews and comments every time I added a few thousand words. Making the shift to writing original fiction into a void was hard.
What’s helped me with that, is using alpha readers during my writing process. Alpha readers are people who I trust not to crush me at the delicate first draft stage. They read my new words every day or so, and they cheerlead and encourage me to keep going. They’re allowed to tell me if something in the story is off, sure, but they need to deliver the shit sandwich with a healthy dose of positivity too.
This means I get that feedback on a daily basis, and I know there’s someone out there looking forward to seeing what happens to the characters next. I’m a people pleaser, so that makes me want to write the next instalment. It works for me, and there are several books of mine that I honestly think would never have seen the light of day if I hadn’t had someone telling me on a daily basis that the story didn’t suck.
So that was long… But I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that this blog post was not brought to you by procrastination. I did all my words this morning with the help of a Pomodoro timer, Focus, and some friendly competition with Annabelle Jacobs in g-chat.
I hope some of this is helpful to some of you. If you have tips/apps to share, please let me know in a comment. I can never have too many anti-procrastination tools in my armoury.