A Writer’s Malady – Procrastination

Writing is difficult work. Every day you face a blank page that you must populate with just the right words to move your story forward. Unlike other jobs, there are few tangible rewards, no bi-monthly paychecks or praise from a boss. However, when the writing is going well, it is difficult to describe the high you get. Your brain is on overdrive, the words in your head speeding ahead of your fingers on the keyboard. You can’t believe how brilliant and moving your words are; this is award winning stuff. Time goes by at supersonic speed and suddenly you realize that the sky outside your window is darkening, you’ve missed an appointment, the pile of dirty laundry is still lying on the floor in a heap and you never took the components for dinner out of the freezer. Unfortunately, wellsprings of inspiration are an infrequent occurrence. Here is how it usually goes.

I set myself a schedule to write for four hours. I sit down at my computer, my mind as blank as the screen. I open up my document and read through what I wrote the previous day. I tweak a word or two and check the time. Five minutes have passed. I read the titles of the books stacked on my bookcase and study a hang nail on one of my fingers. I should take care of that, I think, and search in my purse for a nail file. Once I file the offending nail, its shorter length looks strange compared to my other nails and I take the time to remedy the situation. I look at the time, another fifteen minutes have passed. I write a couple of sentences, read them over, delete them. What I need is a something to drink. I go into the kitchen and make myself some hot chocolate – unfortunately I’m not a coffee drinker so that’s the best I can do for a brain booster. I sip as I stare at the screen. I write a paragraph and then review it. I do a word count, 185 more words. I look out the window and watch two squirrels chasing each other. Why are they doing that? It’s not mating season. Do squirrels chase each other as a form of play? I google squirrel behavior. Ah, it’s a way to establish or maintain dominance – good to know.

On bad days, there are endless ways to procrastinate and it can eat up a huge amount of the time that you’ve set aside to write. So how do I combat it? When my mind refuses to cooperate, I try free writing, putting down whatever words pop into my head even if it’s complete nonsense. Sometimes this will trigger an idea. Other times, I go back to previous pages and refine what I’ve already written and this can bring me to the next new sentence or paragraph. Or, I try writing about an event that happens later in the book. Writing ahead of where I am can sometimes make me think of what has to come before it. I often find that listening to music frees up my mind. If all else fails, I leave it for a while, exercising or running an errand. I remind myself that even Pulitzer Prize winning authors have gone through what I am going through and the only way to be successful is to keep coming back to the page until it is done.

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