I was going to write this post last week, but I kept putting it off.
Now, as I force myself to face the deadline, these are some of the things going through my brain: Wow, my puppy is soft; it’s a perfect day to sit in the sun; I need to get my car inspected soon; I wonder if Martha Stewart has found her soul mate on Match.com. I want to write, and I actually love to write. It’s just that I sometimes get in my own way. And since I would bet that much of the YARN community (hell, any reading/writing community) is made up of grade-A stallers like me, I thought I’d share a few things that help me fight the procrastination blues.
- Unplug. In this day and age it sounds archaic, but I’ve learned to turn off both my phone (or at least put it on silent) and my Internet in order to write. Apparently, this is not an original idea because there are apps designed to lock you off the Internet. I took a fiction writing class this past semester where the professor had us leave our phones in our bags, on silent, even when we had a long break in the middle of the class. She said that once you’re in your writing brain, it’s very easy to get thrown off track by the jangle of technology. It might seem hard at first, but once you’re over the fact that the picture posted on your wall will still be there in an hour, the writing seems to just flow.
- Write old-school. Sure, plenty of writers praise the wonders of word processing, but writing with a pen and paper is a much different experience. You can take a notebook just about anywhere, and it physically feels good to scrawl down what you’re thinking. This might not work for everyone, but for me, it opens up a different part of my brain—think about all of the great writers who wrote entire novels with a pen and paper (hello, Jane Austen). A variation of this is to clackety-clack on an old typewriter, which you can find at flea markets for less than twenty bucks. A typewriter seems less judgmental than a laptop. It doesn’t highlight misspelled words or grammar mistakes like Monsieur Microsoft. That lack of judgment can open you up to good stuff swarming around your brain, somewhere just below the surface.
- Leave your desk. I’ve cranked out some of my best work sitting on a grassy hill in the sun. There’s something about getting out of the classroom or your bedroom that charges your creative juices. A change of pace, whether it’s camping out at your local Panera or sitting in the tree house in your parents’ backyard (which I’d be very jealous of, by the way) can let your mind wander into productive places. A corollary thought to this is that by getting outside, you somehow get outside yourself. Being out in the world, and maybe eavesdropping on the awkward-first-date-couple or watching how the squirrel hurls himself up the tree, can be inspiring. You can start by just writing down what you think about the couple or the squirrel.
- Use someone else’s work (no, not like that!) I’m not talking about borrowing someone else’s writing to use as your own. That is unethical and fifty shades of wrong. No, I’m talking about using a creative device such as a cento or erasure (in poetry) to inspire your own writing. With a cento, you take specific lines of your choosing from multiple poems and, without changing the structure of the line, create an original piece. With an erasure, you take a piece of writing (whether a scene from a novel or a mind-numbing article on the sequester) and erase as many words as you like to create a totally new piece. Both of these tools can help get your writerly juices flowing without the pressure of having to get the words on the page. Playing around with someone else’s words can help you find your own.
- Set a timer. If you’re still stuck, set a timer for seven minutes (five is too few, ten too many). Often times you’ll find that after seven minutes, you’ll be in a real groove and on your way to writing a sucky first draft (the writer Anne Lamott really champions what she calls the “shitty first draft”). After all, you can do anything for seven minutes. That’s how I wrote this blog post. I tricked myself into writing for seven minutes and, an hour later, I’m happy, relieved, energized, and all those other emotions that come from facing down a demon.