Procrastinating is a skill, like writing, that you can perfect with practice and that you’ll find advice about on the Internet. In fact, the two crafts mirror and complement each other. Here’s some advice about incorporating procrastination into your writing habits–based on much real life experience!
Set a goal
Your first step in a writing project is probably to establish the size and scope of your project and create a rough time goal. Unless you’re Jack Kerouac, a novel is probably a much larger time commitment than a flash piece. In the realm of procrastination, making a snack is a much smaller time filler than making a sweater. Try to make a realistic evaluation of the time you’ll need to complete your masterpiece. Will it push back the real work you need to do in a satisfying matter? Will it leave you clawing the boundaries of your deadlines with trembling fingers? Maybe making one snack-sized sandwich is too small a goal. Why not make all your lunches for the week?
Gather your tools
In your writing projects, you’ll invariably needs some tools before you can start building your word mansion. It’s important to gather your equipment, possibly even giving it a test-drive before you get started. You should make sure that the hard drives or flash drives you plan to use as an auxiliary backup are in good working order, and you should confirm that there’s space enough in your Dropbox for all your files. If you’re a pen-and-paper user, now’s the time to go to the office supply store and try out some new pens! In the world of procrastination, the masters recommend that you don’t shirk this stage of development. Take as long as you need to work through the tool-gathering phase–you don’t want to jump back into your real work a second too soon.
Do some research
As a writer, it’s important your readers can believe what you say. How confident are you in your worldbuilding abilities? If you’re writing a piece set in the real world, it’s critical you get your facts straight. And if you’re writing a piece set in a secondary world, it’s important that your world be believable. Maybe you should base that secondary world on real biological, geological, chemical, and literary facts! And of course, it’s important to double-check that none of the things you thought you “made up” were actually lifted by mistake from other texts. This is a great time to visit Wikipedia and re-read your favorite books in your favorite genres. All the great procrastinators know that Wikipedia–or better yet, Encyclopedia Brittanica–is good for endless time wasting.
Make an outline
If you’re writing a short project, you might not create a serious outline; you probably just make some notes and hope for the best. If you’re writing a novel, you’ll probably need to create a more concrete scaffolding to support your draft-making. If you’re not sure about how to start making an outline, I recommend doing some research and picking up a few helpful tools from the office supply store.
Before you’re ready to start laying down the words, you should check in with yourself. Is this project really the right project for you, right now? Will it advance your career? Will it help you grow as a writer? And if it’s a project for a market with a lot of exposure, perhaps you should consider if you’re really ready? This is a great time to make sure your webpage is updated and that all your contact information is right on all your social media sites. In fact, you might want to take this time to get new headshots.
This is where the work gets serious. The only way to get that project written is by some serious butt-in-chair time. In case you didn’t hear this yet, sitting down is extremely unhealthy. Before you ruin your metabolism and put yourself at risk for cancer and heart disease, perhaps you should install a standing desk. You should probably research that.
As we all know, a project isn’t ready to be revised until it’s had a chance to rest, untouched and away from your eyes. This is a great time to start a new project, like watching Lost from beginning to end–or better yet, The Simpsons. Remember, the longer you wait, the better your revision will turn out!
Revision sucks. You’ll need lots of moral support to get through it, so if you haven’t opened a Twitter account yet, you probably better get started. You can start by following me (the info’s on my “About” page), and I’ll send you lots of comforting tweets while I put off revising my own magnum opus. There are also a lot of really helpful blogs about revision online. You should probably do some research on the process before you begin.
Begin by researching the markets. If you were writing a short story for a particular call-for-submissions, you probably missed the deadline applying all your new skills in procrastination, so now you’ll need to find the perfect home for your mushroom-fighting-wereoctopus flash. Never fear, Duotrope will help you out–just don’t forget to make a donation while you’re there. And remember: the best part of the submissions process is that the editorial staff will take the procrastination out of your hands! Just don’t send your story someplace with a quick turnaround, like Clarkesworld or Lightspeed.
We all have free time in our lives. We can choose to spend that time working on our writing or we can choose to do other things. Sometimes, you really need to do something besides write. We really do need to chat with our friends, update our websites, and do research on important things, like which car to buy or what school to send the kid. Even a lot of the dumb stuff I mentioned above is actually a necessary part of the writing process (especially the part about watching The Simpsons). It’s when we let those activities crowd out our writing moments and suck dry our creativity that they begin to be a problem.
What we have to remember is to use our time wisely and to cut ourselves a little slack. Procrastination is supposed to be fun!
But so is writing!