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Don’t procrastinate!


Do you find it difficult to get started on your writing? Is it always easier to put off finishing that research/ starting that novel/embarking on the second draft? You are not alone, for many writers suffer from procrastination.

This is primarily because writing is such a uniquely lonely job. Where else would you be sitting by yourself and supplying your own self-discipline? Most jobs have a structure and a time-frame which really help the individual to get on with the job. Even consultants and freelancers have deadlines to meet, but for the writer there is generally no specific outside pressure to help things along – it’s up to them to get themselves motivated, get started and get on with it.

The particular problem of procrastination is different from writer’s block, although it’s often confused with it. Not being able to write is often put down to lack of inspiration and it certainly can be felt as an actual block. What we’re dealing with here though is a bit more mundane but also more easily resolved.

Firstly it’s important to establish a regular routine for your writing. Especially if you’re fitting it around other commitments such as childcare or work, it’s vital to screen off a reserved bit of time when you can concentrate on your writing without interruptions. Better still if this is a set time each day or each weekend. Many writers I know find that the best time is early in the morning, before everyone else is up, but for those who function better later in the day it may be that the evening or even after everyone else has gone to bed is best.

Author Esther Freud, quoted in our Comment column recently, said: 'My life changed when I took control of my time. Instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, I sit down to write for three hours every day. It's much more effective - it's about giving yourself the space for creativity to come.‘

This is probably an argument against freeing yourself up to write full-time, at least until you’re sure this is the right thing for you. Don’t give up the day job deals with this and for many writers having to fit their writing around the other commitments, rather than having the whole day stretching in front of them, may be a better way to go.

It is an argument though for making your writing a priority. Don’t let everything and everyone else in your life come first, focus on what you want to achieve and make the time to do it.

So, arm yourself with self-discipline, carve out some regular time, sit down at the computer and get going. If you feel blocked on the particular piece of work you’re working on, try something else – a short story, an article, a poem or perhaps even an idea for another novel.

The important thing is to get started and get some momentum going. Don’t keep stopping to read what you’ve read, try to complete a certain amount of writing in your time-span and then edit it later. Many professional authors edit the previous day’s work before carrying on. Either way, let it flow and don’t inhibit yourself by trying to make each sentence perfect before you proceed to the next.

Postpone odd bits of research which suddenly seem necessary. Don’t stop to go off to check some fact or other, as this too can be a form of procrastination. Make a note to check it later and then carry on writing.

Some authors find that it helps to set a certain amount of time aside for their writing, or to aim at a certain number of words in each writing session. This may seem a bit crude as a way of approaching a creative activity like writing but, if you have a tendency to fritter the time away, it’s worth trying as a form of external discipline which will help you keep going.

All of these suggestions will help you to concentrate and focus on your what you’re producing. So, good luck with that writing and remember, don’t procrastinate!

© Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage. 2010