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Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

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I love advice, don’t you?

Not the unsolicited kind, when people tell you the obvious, like how you should really stop drinking Diet Pepsi and clean up your office. I already know that stuff…I just choose to ignore it.

I’m talking about all the blogs and books that promise to solve your problems for you. I’m guessing I’m not the only writer who reads anything that vows to increase your productivity, get you out of a slump, or inspire, motivate, and encourage.

The problem is, I don’t think I’ve found one scrap of wisdom in anything I’ve read that has actually helped. I’ve had slumps, off days, and periods of inactivity in all aspects of my life that mean anything to me: writing, exercise, even gardening…by late summer or early fall, I’m just plain tired of weeding and my yard becomes an overgrown mess.

Yet, I’ve always broken out of those slumps and managed to get back to work again. I wish there was some great secret I could share with you. I’ve desperately tried to figure out what turns the red light green again, but the only thing I can pinpoint is: I just decided it was time.

A blogger I like recently wrote a series of posts about how to make your day more productive when working from home. It’s been a long time since I’ve been my own boss, and I’m struggling with that myself. So I eagerly read the entire series, hoping for some tips on battling procrastination. But I’m sorry, and with all due respect, keeping a fancy online calendar and lighting some incense will not do it for me. The calendar would just be another way to procrastinate.

A fellow author suggested that if you never feel the urge to write, you shouldn’t be doing it. This is exactly the kind of advice I can’t stand. If you’re a writer and you’ve ever taken a break from writing, you know how hard it is to get back to. You might never exactly “feel” like it when you can hang out with friends, surf the Net, read great books, enjoy the outdoors, be consumed with tasks that pay the bills, etc. When you’re a writer and you’re not writing, the most common feeling–as far as I can tell, from my own experience–is a nagging sensation of guilt, like you’re not living up to your full potential or making the most of your time. Sure, you get moments when you’re really inspired to write, but unless you act on those urges immediately, it’s easy to do a Garfield and lie down until the feeling goes away.

And creating something new and exciting is one thing…what about when you have another boring-ass rewrite to struggle through, which is what I’m facing right now?

I know all the tricks. I’m a journalist who never misses a deadline if I can help it, so yes, I can make my own deadlines. But then I made them–I know they’re fake.

There is no incense, no fancy calendar, no fake deadline that will make me get down to business. All I’ve ever found that works is to literally force myself until, eventually, it starts to get easier again and I start to enjoy what I’m doing. Some days, all you can do is not give up.

But I’m always open to advice. Got any for me?

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6 Comments

  1. Vanessa

    As someone who faces fairly large amounts of fairly detailed work–High School English Teachers UNITE!9–gosh I know how you feel.

    That basket/bag/bucket of paragraphs/essays/projects/free writes sometimes feels like a bottomless pit. And I concur, if I set my own deadline–I know I set that deadline which often makes it a “I’m not dead yet” deadline and therefore it can move itself wherever it wants!

    You want to evaluate them and get them back to the students a.s.a.p. but then comes…procrastination. I have decided it is a virus. Yes, a virus that eats away the sensible portion of a sane persons brain until you gladly slip into the oblivion of “I will get to work on that JUST AS SOON as I have finished sorting out and alphabetizing my cookbook collection.”

    Fight the fight lady! We all find our own version of “deciding it was time.”

    Reply
  2. Story Teller

    Thanks so much, Vanessa. I really appreciate the comment and feeling like I’m not alone!

    How do you fight procrastination in the end? Have you come across anything that actually works?

    The scary thing for a writer is that we’re supposed to WANT to do this stuff, and if we don’t, is that saying we shouldn’t be writing?

    Reply
  3. Elle

    Sorry to hear you’re struggling, Holli. I haven’t come up with a plan myself. You are right – it’s easier to keep writing than to start writing. Like you, I usually end up resorting to a brute force method of gaining momentum. I sit at the computer until blood drops form on my forehead and I just do it. Two hours: 72 words. I’ll take it. Next day, 144 words: Hey, I improved! It takes a while but I do get to where they just flow.

    See you tomorrow. We’ll vent 🙂

    Elle

    Reply
  4. Laurel

    I struggle with procrastination as well, but on the flip side, don’t you find that sometimes the best work is created under pressure? Perhaps, inherently, we know this, and we create scenarios to re-enact this over and over again because we know that it can only result in genuine effort. I certainly don’t think it means that you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing, even the most successful in their chosen field have periods of procrastination, it’s human nature. If the opposite of procrastination is discipline and action, then these are merely states that we gravitate between. I blame the moon cycles – haha. Seriously, it has to have something to do with hormone shifts, moon cycles, the weather, or some other similar force, because I can go from being the most lethargic, slothlike beast to a woman possessed in no time flat – and I still have all the same deadlines in my intellectual mind that have been there throughout. I say it’s a part of life, something that keeps us motivated on a continuum, and we shouldn’t begrudge procrastination.

    At minimum, it gives us a point of reference for when we’re really ‘on fire’!

    Reply
  5. Javier

    Knowing you a bit, it may be a good idea if you secure a reviewer for your book that you don’t want to dissapoint -a fellow writer, a book house, etc-, then, with an external and real deadline looming, you can perhaps find the focus you always have when doing freelance/office work. Just a thought.

    Reply
  6. Story Teller

    Wow, thanks for all the comments. I’m not writing this blog in a vacuum–woo-hoo! I actually took almost two hours out to work on the rewrite today. It was torture.

    @ Elle: I’m actually reading your story right now. And I agree, sometimes all we can do is just plug along everyday until it gets easier. I sent you a section that I need help on. It’s short notice, but only seven pages. I’m hoping I can get some feedback before tomorrow’s meeting.

    @ Laurel: YES! And welcome to the blog. Even with my journalism deadlines, I often wait until the last possible moment. Perhaps it is just a normal cycle, but I wish the on fire part was more frequent.

    @ Javier: I’m thinking you’re right. I have my own deadline at the end of April, which has a bigger deadline attached–agents don’t look at submissions in the summer. That gives me May to get the book out the door or I’m waiting for Fall. Which would suck.

    As a people-pleaser, I’m much better at meeting deadlines that are set by others (as you well know). It’s the reason I used to give Scott pages of my work in progress (until I realized he wasn’t keeping track). I’ll have to give some thought as to who that reviewer could be. This is supposed to be the last edit before publication. Don’t think I could survive another!

    Reply

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