Five Things that Feel Like Procrastination but Could Help Your Writing Project

Saturday 26 October 2013 by

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Writing, Coffee, NovemberTaking time away from a project feels like a waste, especially when you feel like you aren’t going anywhere fast. It feels like procrastination. Especially when that project is NaNoWriMo, and the daily 1667 words hangs over your head, shooting you accusatory glances for every second spent not trying to squeeze a few words out of your brain.

But sometimes, time is just what our subconscious minds need to filter through a problem. In this case, there are things you can do to help your brain process that may feel like procrastination, but could be really helpful for your project in the long run.

1.     Create a Project Playlist

I usually do this before I even start a project. Using Spotify, I’ll search for songs that have some relevance to characters, scenes and the overall tone of the book. If I know there will be a sad scene, I’ll find all the songs that make me cry. If I know there will be fighting, I find something more upbeat and feisty. It’s a great way of mapping the tone of the novel.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a Spotify subscription like me, you can access a massive library. If not, there are plenty of free alternatives, including scouring your own music library for appropriate tracks. Get suggestions from friends and listen to them on YouTube. If they really strike a chord, you can always buy a digital copy from iTunes or Amazon. When you’re not actively looking for songs, make sure you download the Shazam app ready to tag any tunes you hear out and about that would be a perfect fit.

Associating songs with a scene or character is a great way to stay connected to what you were thinking about them at the start of the project – something that can be easy to forget when you’re bogged down in the middle of the writing and nothing seems to be going the way you planned.

2.     Go for a Run

It’s easy to dismiss exercise when you’re trying to get something done. Not only is it time out of actually sitting down and getting on with a project, but you’ll also be tired at the end of it, which isn’t going to make you any more inclined to keep working.

Actually, doing exercise can benefit you in two ways. First, as long as you don’t push it too hard, it can energise and invigorate you. Exercise endorphins and adrenaline can provide an excellent boost for the flagging psyche. Also, if you do a menial, repetitive exercise, your brain is free to wander down story plot holes and try to figure out a way to climb out of them. Road running – or even better, treadmill running – is great because it requires so little concentration. It’s just one foot in front of the other. With the energy boost and the freedom to think, it’s amazing what your brain can figure out.

3.     Read a Relevant Book

Does your elevator pitch compare your project to another novel? The chances are it does. My current project could be described as, ‘Firestarter by Stephen King meets Burn Mark by Laura Powell.’ It features a girl who is pyrokinetic (à la Firestarter) who encounters all sorts of problems, including shady government agencies and falling in love with a boy on the opposite side (à la Burn Mark). If I was struggling with a romantic scene, I could revisit Burn Mark and look at how Laura Powell built this totally plausible love story between two characters, who by all rights should be enemies, without compromising her world or her characters.

Or in simpler terms, look to the books that inspired you to want to tell your own stories. Re-read sections. What is it about them that works so well for you? Can you use it in your own writing?

4.     Character Profiles

There is a plethora of resources for building characters out there on the internet – just Google ‘character questionnaires.’ Ninety percent of the time, I don’t bother with this sort of thing, but when I’m stuck in a pinch, not sure where to go next, looking to my characters can help me. Why are they reacting in this way? Is there something in their history that could make them react differently and take the story off on a new tangent?

5.     Resting

There are all sorts of statistics out there that show regular breaks boost concentration, increasing the amount of work done compared to the same period with no breaks. So, if you feel your concentration flagging, switch on a timer for ten minutes, and spend that time doing something completely unrelated to the project. Play a video game, check Facebook and Twitter. Do all the forbidden things that are off limits when working. When the timer goes, make sure you stick to it. Put the things you aren’t allowed to do back in their box and attack the project refreshed.

Setting up a schedule can help too, as you’ll feel a sense of reward. If I work for an hour, I can spend ten minutes watching YouTube videos. If I concentrate for 40 minutes after that, I get ten minutes checking Facebook. Obviously, if you’re going full steam, keep going! But if you know that come break time you’ll be working so slowly you’ll get as much done as if you weren’t working, then you may as well have a rest and recharge.

Good luck with your NaNo Projects!

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