Anything but writing…
What do you do to stop yourself writing? Go on, fess up. I’ve decided to start an entire new page dedicated to procrastination — and some tips on how to beat it (please feel free to add your experience and advice under). Here are some of the things I do, one of which led to to an idea… which led to a ‘what if’… which led to my whodunit, Treasure This.
Needlepoint: I love working with canvas and wool and learning different stitches. Some have been used for hundreds of years, crossing continents and cultures. They’re all beautiful in their simplicity or intricacy. Sometimes I design my own images, sometimes I use other people’s (mainly my teacher’s: Caroline Dunoon Duncan who ran three-day courses in London and I loved every one of them). This was one of Caroline’s designs, which I added to. You can tell where I took over the design, because her corners are perfect, whereas mine… oops.
I designed the Treasure This garden tapestry (you can just make out the title at the bottom right) and while working on it had the idea for my whodunit novel, so I’m delighted to have completed both of them. But you’ll have to read the book to see how they tie in to each other 🙂
Star square: my first attempt at canvas work, under Caroline’s tutelage. She designed this for her first-year course. As you can see, corners were a challenge for me! Ha! Still are.
Kay’s Star (part Caroline’s design, part mine): I had planned to use this to cover a foot stool and then realised I’d probably kneecap anyone who put their dirty feet near it so I rolled it up in acid-free tissue paper and put it away with all the others in a big wooden chest. Who knows, one day I might actually use it.
Elephant: Caroline’s design — my 2nd year course. I had such fun doing this I might do another one day. Playing with colours and different stitches gives me months of pleasure. Caroline adapted this design, squared it off and used it as a sampler for students to try different stitches in the squares. Great idea. Which goes to show, inspiration can come from anywhere. I turned this one into a cushion.
Spirit of the Woods/Lady of the Forest: the centre of this was a copyright-free design I found in a Dover Press book. I also found a lovely spiral stitch in one of my many stich books and used that for the white circle (click on picture to enlarge). I loved doing that, it was different and I thought it went well with the rest of the design. Still trying to decide on the title!
And my Procrastination Work in Progress…
Lady Elizabeth Bellingham. Adapted from a (much smaller) brass rubbing at St Martin in the Field Crypt and Brass Rubbing Centre, in London. I haven’t finished this one yet, and it stands more than a metre high, so it’ll take a while yet.
Some of these tapestries take years to complete. I’ve calculated I could have written at least one book for each of the large pieces, considering the time it took me to finish them. Awful! So, instead of Treasure This, sitting alone between the bookends, I could have had an entire shelf of independently published treasures. But then, I wouldn’t have all these woollen works of art, would I? 🙂
Procrastinating with cardboard and another kind of canvas
I also indulge in a bit of artsy fartsy crafting, with inks and masks and dies and stamps and paste and paint. I work on card, canvas and sometimes cotton (with waterproof inks). Here are a few things that stopped me working on my latest Work in Progress.
Can I confess the one thing I don’t do? I don’t clean the house, worry about the state of the cooker or run about steam cleaning the floors. And yes, you could probably write War and Peace in the dust on the furniture. Sorry… Life. Is. Too. Short. For. Dusting.
I won’t bore you with pictures of the jewellery or the crocheted flowers or the baby hats that stopped me writing. But here’s a wedding cushion I made for my lovely niece when she got married a few years ago. On and on it goes. Whenever I get a bit blocked, I turn to other creative pursuits, but I have to admit, my mind keeps wandering back to my work in progress, and I feel ill at ease if I stay away from it for too long.
Oh… and as a last resort, to stop me sitting down and writing the next chapter, I dabble in photography. Here are some pictures of beautiful dogs (and a couple of fab cats) I couldn’t resit. Of course they’re not all mine. Dyce was. And he remains the love of my life, though he’s been gone for a few years now. A rescue dog, he came to us with a few serious issues, but with some solid training and a lot of love (the easy part) he turned into the best dog anyone could hope for. We miss him every day.
Okay, don’t you think you’ve wasted enough time looking at nice pictures when you could have been pruning your plot, creating characters or honing dialogue?
So, on to the second part …
How to Stop the Block
When your day job is writing or editing, you don’t have time to procrastinate and wait until you ‘feel like’ writing. Professional journalists (I was one before I got into publishing) go to work every single day and write to deadlines. So don’t kid yourself that you’re waiting on some kind of ‘muse’.
First, sit your bottom down on the seat in front of the computer or the notebook. Give yourself a realistic deadline: two hours, 100 words. Or even two hours, 1000 words. If you want to BE a professional, you have to act like one. Write.
Here are some other things I do:
I edit and proofread other writers (klediting.co.uk). Everyone needs a good editor who can cut through the crap and tell you where your story loses momentum, is too wordy or where the plot makes a colander look watertight. Find yourself an editor who is kind but brutally honest as well as thorough. Publishers won’t mollycoddle you. And if you’re independently publishing, it’s vital you have a good editor covering your back and spotting your typos.
I workshop regularly with writer buddies. And not just reading each other’s work, but encouraging each other when we have those bleak times — as we all do — when we think we’re rubbish, and who are we kidding, we can’t write anyway, there’s no point… only other writers understand the insecurities that are part of the creative process. Remember, it’s always a good idea to:
But don’t make the mistake of searching for other writers to be friends with or workshop with if you’re more comfortable working alone. Do what’s best for you.
Another thing I make sure I do: when I’m not working to pay the bills, and I have a project to finish, I set aside a time to write EVERY DAY.
Seriously blocked and just can’t face the page? Well then, daydream. Don’t beat yourself up, be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to do other things. Relax and don’t think about your writing at all. Gradually, start to hink about the plot. The characters. Their names. Maybe jot down some notes about all the things that could go wrong for your character. Make it really bad! Have fun — none of it needs to make it into the finished book. Just play. Google whatever research you need. Make notes. Doodle…
But don’t let this go on for too long. It’s all too easy to hide behind the planning and pretend you’re progressing when you’re still procrastinating. Be kind to yourself, but, again, give yourself a realistic deadline and then toughen up. I’d say a month is more than enough. After that, away and have a wee word wi’ yerself (as they say where I come from) 🙂 Dry your eyes and sit down and write.
I set my (phone) alarm, so if I’m pottering about in the garden on a day or an afternoon off, or if I’m messing about making things, when the alarm goes off I tidy up and stop what I’m doing, open up the manuscript document on the computer and I write until I’ve completed AT LEAST one thousand words. I find that gets me going. Just setting that alarm is like a commitment. So, if I know I’ve got an afternoon off, then the alarm goes at 3pm or 4pm.
Owl or Lark?
I’m an owl writer, when I have a choice. But when I was re-writing, line editing and finishing Treasure This, there was no procrastination. There was no waiting for the muse — as if! — or the alarm. I sat down at my desk most mornings by 8 and I went right through inputting corrections from my editors at Electrik Inc, rewriting, honing, checking, re-reading, re-writing again… and on it went, every day, every afternoon, and pretty much every evening until I had a product I was proud of.
Then it went back to my editors for proofreading, and I read it and re-read it until my eyes felt as if they were bleeding. And yes, there are bound to be little nit-picks we missed, things I might have worded slightly differently, but we’re only human so I forgive myself for those things.
Everyone at Electrik Inc worked hard with me to make Treasure This the best it could be, just as we did for Kim Donovan’s St Viper’s School for Super Villains (I and II), and our latest independently published treasure: Walking on Gold by Janine Amos. Just as our newest Electrik Inc colleague Julia Donaldson worked hard to ensure her novel The Paupers of Langden was as professional as it could be.
Whether I was re-writing, line editing, proof reading or formatting, there was no procrastination, believe me. I guess when you’re in the throes of professional independent publishing, there’s no time for tapestry or paint pots.
Here’s another link you could try when fighting those time-wasting demons. This fun writing game by Viola Spolin actually works, though it’s probably best with a few people.
What do you do to sabotage yourself?
Do you have any tips on what you do to beat the block and stop procrastinating? I’ll add to this page if I find any other strategies that work but if you know any that you’d like to share, please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. Sharing experiences helps us all.