I’ll start my novel once I’ve fed the dog, put the washing in the machine, scrolled through social media, made the beds, made a sandwich…
I know all the ploys, all the tricks to prevent me from doing what I long to do the most – sit down and write my novel. For some reason, this odd, counter-productive behaviour has taken over. In the couple of minutes I’ve taken to write this paragraph, I’ve already scrolled through my Instagram feed, twice.
I’ve used all the usual excuses. My writing environment isn’t right, I slept badly last night, I’ve got too much paid work to do, family and work colleagues are constantly messaging. I even took myself off to Dorset for a few days so I could be ‘creative’ in the quiet countryside. Let the space and calm of having nothing to do but write seep into my brain and work its magic. The plan was to write for two hours every morning while cows grazed and pheasants strutted around outside my window. Followed by a couple of hours in the afternoon strolling along the Jurassic coast, searching for inspiration amongst the grizzly cliffs and pebble filled beaches, the gentle sshhh of the sea in the background.
It sort of worked. I did write every morning at least for an hour, in between naming each of the 300 cows that walked past the window on their way to or from milking and spending at least an hour a day persuading my cocker spaniel that the pheasants were not there for her sole pleasure. Kiss and chase I think you call it – perhaps not so much of the kiss.
The one thing my little writing retreat did confirm was that this is the life I want. A life filled with words and peace and nothing but writing and thinking about plot and characters and dialogue. So that’s that. There’s no way around it – I’ve got to kick this irritating habit that’s wormed its way into my psyche almost as dogged and determined as my cocker with those pheasants, or with the rabbits on Crickley Hill, or the smell of burgers on the BBQ or my daughter’s guinea pigs.
“Procrastination is not just avoiding or delaying a task,” says David Ballard, head of the American Psychological Association’s Centre for Organisational Excellence. “It also has to include an aspect that’s counterproductive, irrational or unnecessary.” (Quick look at my iphone – should also own up that I’ve also had a quick trip to the fridge to finish off the strawberries I bought yesterday).
In an article written for Time Magazine David Ballard gives a whole host of reasons for procrastination as well as strategies for combatting them. Things like; if you work better in the mornings, schedule in certain tasks for then. Cut large projects or tasks down into bite sized chunks. So, in my case, don’t think about writing ‘the novel’ think about a chapter, a scene, a paragraph. If like me you’re a deadline junkie – rather than waiting until the last minute to get the work done, give yourself smaller rewards after you’ve completed certain smaller tasks – finish 1,000 words and allow yourself a five-minute social media break, a quick look in the fridge (damn the strawberries are all gone).
If distraction is your Achilles heel – put your mobile away, or at least turn off the sound and mute notifications for a certain time period. Ballard says sometimes the thought of a never-ending stream of tasks can become a distraction in itself. Once you’ve finished one task, take some time out, just for a minute – stretch, switch off for a moment.
To be honest it’s all common sense. I know I should put my phone on mute when I’m writing and mute certain people throughout the day – so I spend a few minutes once a day reading their messages rather than continuous interruptions. I know I work better in the morning. I used to regularly start writing at 7am for an hour before getting dressed and getting ready to tackle my ‘paid for’ work. So, it’s time to take control and stop messing about. If being a writer is really what I want to do, it’s only me that can make it happen.
So, my first step was to find myself a writing mentor. Someone who would help me set deadlines and expect me to send her a certain amount of words each month and then offer feedback and, hopefully, encouragement. I met her for the first time yesterday and I feel so much better. It’s 7am, my phone is on silent and I’m on the laptop putting the finishing touches to this blog post and then meeting up with Tom, Sarah, Mike and Gina – the four main characters in my novel. We’ve got some catching up to do. They’d better be ready for me because I’ve got 1,000 words to write today.