Fighting Procrastination and Writer’s Block

In honor of my 100th Article, I thought I’d touch on an old favorite. Enjoy:

I’m going to start this one by saying that I tend to suffer from Procrastination. Yes, I freely admit it and it is a constant companion as I take each writing project from Beginning to End.

Procrastination is one of those motivation-sapping things that isn’t limited to creative people. Everyone deals with it in one form or another and combating it can often be as intense as whatever task has been set before you. Procrastination also tends to be the first step toward Full-On Writer’s Block, which I’ll try to address here.

The Bad News is that if you are a chronic Procrastinator, you will probably be dealing with Procrastination forever.

However, The Good News is that Procrastination (and Writer’s Block) can be managed through a number of helpful techniques that have fairly high success rates at keeping the beast at bay for a while. Here are a few of them that I use:

1) Outlines:

Outlines are one of those things that people either love to death or hate with the passion of a hundred suns. There are some who believe that plotting out a story kills the spontaneity of creating and takes the fun out of the process. I’m not one of those people. When you have an Outline, you essentially have a road map of where you want the story to go. Outlines effectively answer the question of “What Happens Next?” and are very useful in moving your story forward. Granted, there are also times where you will have an idea that goes off the Outline. Don’t fret, because this is a good thing. You can always follow your inspiration and steer the story back in line with your outline. I call this situation “Going Off-Road”. The good thing about Going Off-Road is that it means that your creativity is kicking in.

2) Visualization:

Visualization is essentially picturing the scene in your mind and using that mental picture as a dictation source to write your story down. It’s a great way to imagine the details and actions of each scene so you have a more sensory connection to what you are writing about. Imagine watching a movie with no picture. Not much fun, huh? Now, put the picture back up and it all comes alive.

3) Get to know your Characters:

Your characters are more than set dressing. They are the people who populate your story, generate conflict, and move the plot along. When I tell a story, I always start with three basic character types:

Main Characters:

The Protagonist(s): The Hero/Heroine of the Story. They embody the highest percentage of story time because it’s their story and they have something they are striving for. There are optional sidekicks for The Protagonist(s, whose purpose is to assist in achieving the goal.

The Antagonist(s): The Foil for your Hero/Heroine. They exist to prevent your Protagonist from achieving their goal. They also can have optional sidekicks or minions. The amount of story time they occupy will depend on the kind of story you are writing.

Secondary Characters:

Secondary Characters are similar to sidekicks in that they provide a supporting role, but not always. Generally speaking, Secondary Characters come in for limited times and then often leave, either through Death, the 5:00 Train to Tucson, or whatever manner you come up with. Often, they are the ones who put the Protagonist or Antagonist on their respective paths.

Tertiary Characters:

Tertiary Characters are often, in my experience, those characters that are mentioned yet rarely seen. The tricky part about using Tertiary Characters is that their status in a story can change without warning. Think of them as an Extra in a movie that suddenly becomes a speaking part. Be judicious when creating these types because you may end up with a cast of characters that would put Ben Hur to shame.

4) Writing Quotas:

I’ve personally found this very effective in keeping me on task. Set a specific amount of words that you want to add to your story every day and don’t let up until you reach that goal. I use a relatively low number for my daily quota of 500 words. It’s an easy to reach goal and if you exceed it, you have a very good excuse to give yourself a reward for your hard work.

5) Give in to the Procrastination:

Finally, I don’t like to advocate this option, but unless you are on a contract deadline and have to get your book to the editor or publisher, you’re on a self-imposed deadline like I use for practice purposes. So, go play, take a smoke break, coffee break, mess around on The Internet, whatever. Eventually, you will feel the tug back to your story. Just realize that every minute you spend away from Writing is one less minute of story being written.

Guys, don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you’re not making progress. Any amount of work accomplished is progress. I personally have some days where I’m knocking out hundreds upon thousands of words and then others when I can barely make 500.

Don’t. Give. Up.