Procrastination is an immortal and indestructible d-bag who will follow you around your entire life trying to get you to watch a YouTube video of a dog being weird.
But the good news is that while you can never get rid of the looming shadow of distraction and procrastination, you can force yourself to ignore it, and you can also channel it into doing things that are still productive and relevant to your work.
THE IGNORING GAME
You know exactly what I’m going to say here. You’ve probably been telling yourself to do it for the last twenty minutes.
Turn off the internet.
Turn off the TV.
Turn off your phone and put it in a drawer.
And then, via an old timey not-connected-to-the-internet-completely-analog-clock-or-pomodoro-thing, set yourself a goal and a feasible time in which to accomplish or work toward it.
Then, when the alarm goes off or the time ticks over to freedom, take five – ten minutes to get yourself a drink, or walk around, or blast Beyonce, or check Facebook to see WHAT YOU’VE MISSED and read that Cracked article someone posted on twitter and watch those videos of animals riding roombas.
TRICKING PROCRASTINATION INTO BEING USEFUL
Procrastination during the day in small portions isn’t actually bad for you. If you’re pulling an eight hour writing day, taking half an hour to chill out and give your brain a break with funny internet stuff or chatting to a friend won’t hurt.
But some days, even when you’ve tried unplugging the modem and have thrown your phone down the toilet, you’re still going to be unable to focus and spend two hours staring out the window or trying to check twitter on your egg timer.
This is when it’s time to admit defeat. You’re not going to get any work done on your actual project today, so you can either take the rest of the day off (allowed, if you’ve been working well for the last few days, or if you’re a part time writer and you’ve been at your actual job/parenting all week and could seriously use a nap and some Project Runway) or you can channel your distraction into something that’s still quite useful.
This can mean several things:
Research for the topic of your novel/screenplay/play so that you have it all there, ready and waiting when you get back into the actual writing and need to check up on a fact.
Research avenues of production or publication. As a novelist, you may want to look into literary agents and publishing houses, to see what they require of you when you’re ready to get in touch. Or you could research the process of self-publishing, how to be super effective at getting your work out there when the time comes. For screenwriters, you could look into the black list, or agents, or look up local producers and people to connect with.
Research how to improve at your craft. This is a bit of a double edged sword, as there’s plenty of blogs and articles out there (hello!) by fellow amateurs or even professionals whose processes just won’t work for you. But while you should always take writing how-to and THE 8 THINGS ALL WRITERS SHOULD JUST STOP DOING articles with a grain of salt, they’re a fun read to see what you agree and don’t agree with, and why.
Research the kind of author you want to be. This is my favourite, because it involves sitting down with your favourite book/movie, the one that got you into this whole mess, and remembering what you love about it and why it inspires you.
Remember, for a writer, reading is research. Just don’t do so much of it you actually forget to write something.
Writing is all about re-writing. Even if you don’t have any fresh ideas, go back over what you’ve done. Even if you accomplish nothing else today, you probably really needed that proofread.
Always, always, always practice your writing. You may have hit the wall with your main project, but it’s not your only avenue. Write a short story, write an article, write a blog, write a review, write a really long email to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. No piece of writing is ever wasted, and no writer, however successful or popular, has ever finished learning.
SELF PROMOTION AND NETWORKING
Yeah, this is the one most writers struggle with and hate a bit. Many writers are, by nature, not big on talking themselves up. Self-depreciation is the default, and approaching people to talk about their work, let alone themselves, can be a nightmare situation.
But it’s not actually all that scary. Networking on the internet is all about finding people you connect with and share interests with. Basically, follow a bunch of writers you like on their blogs or twitter accounts and interact with them. And in doing so, you’ll be exposed to some of their followers (just don’t be that jerk who ONLY comments to link back to your own site. That makes you a spambot, not a person).
Even if they don’t respond to your comments (though a lot of the time, they actually will) they’ll appreciate them and might follow you back or take note of you. And think about it this way – what do you have to lose by sending someone a comment on the internet? Not a thing. Rejection stings a lot less here in webland.
And don’t forget to check out the many writing/filmmaking facebook groups, where you can meet a lot of great people and get tips, feedback and encouragement for your work.
As for self-promotion, it can actually be really fun. Keep an active blog and twitter account, and just write about your processes as a writer, what you’re working on, and then just talk about topics or shows or movies or books that grab your interest. Hell, I’m doing it now! And it helps tie back to that networking thing – I’ve met some pretty cool people through blogging and tweeting.
Other self promotion specific to your book can be working on your cover and accompanying promotional materials with a designer (or scouring the internet for a really great pre-made one), working on your synopsis (and then reading it out loud in your best trailer voice over guy impression). If you have the money, hire a photographer and take some awesome author headshots. If you don’t have the money, grab a friend and do it anyway – you’ll probably have more fun, and iPhone cameras are pretty awesome now.
IN CONCLUSION, OR, STANDING TRIUMPHANTLY OVER THE DAZED DRAGON OF DISTRACTION
Procrastination is the bane of the writer (and every other work from hom-er, but this here is a writing blog), but there are more useful ways to deal with it that don’t involve cleaning your house from top to bottom or watching four seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in a row.
Just try to stay focused and keep your mind with your project, but don’t be afraid to give yourself the day off once in a while. Just as no work comes from lazing about and avoiding the computer, no good work comes from creative burnout.
But this is just what works for me. What are some of your tricks to keep yourself productive?