Procrastination: Friend or Foe?

I’m a pro at procrastinating (a pro-crastinator, if you will). If there’s a way to put off doing something I will absolutely find it and take the longest route possible to get there. I have tried numerous ways to sort my life out, to-do lists, internet blockers, putting my phone in a different room, but all to no avail. I’m still number one at doing everything except the thing that needs to be done

This is especially true when it comes to time I should be spending writing. If I’m stuck on something, or I can’t come up with something to write about, I will put off looking at that blank page for as long as I can. Of course I just end up feeling guilty that I’m not writing, which leads to me feeling more stressed and worried about it, which of course leads to more procrastination. It’s a never-ending cycle.

So I’ve decided I need to stop getting stressed about the days I don’t get any writing done, and learn to embrace my inner procrastinator. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right? Here are my tips for learning to live (and work) with procrastination.

1. Social Media is an Ideas-Goldmine

I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter. When I wake up in the morning they’re the first things I check, I look at them pretty consistently throughout the day. And before I go to sleep, I do one last sweep-through to make sure I’ve seen everything.

I used to think of these as a pretty wasteful few hours during the day, until I realised one thing I would do as I scrolled though my newsfeed; I’d save some links for stories that caught my eye. Things that might be worth putting into a story. Mostly from news sites, like the story of a woman, missing for more than twenty years, who had been found, but didn’t want her family to know where she was (apparently a more common ending to a missing persons story than you would think).

There was also the story of a man who pushed his second wife off a cliff a few years after getting away with the murder of his first wife. And another story about a family being convinced that a pair of runners contained the soul of their son, who had died as a child years before.

Okay, so these aren’t exactly uplifting real life stories, but they make great starting points for a story. They raise so many questions that would make interesting plots. What happened to that woman that made her want to leave and never see her family again? Why did her family keep looking for her for so long? What will the family do now they know she’s alive but still don’t know where she is? Why did that guy murder two of his wives? What drove him to it? Why in the name of God do people think their son’s soul lives in a pair of old runners?

Social media feeds are full of stories that are perfect to get your mind working on your own story. Facebook and Twitter are never a waste of time if you use them properly.

2. People-Watching is fascinating

Have you ever caught a snippet of someone else’s conversation and thought ‘I really want to know what the context for that was.’ So you try to come up with the context yourself and have so much fun trying to figure out what the hell that conversation was about. I’ve spent hours doing this.

When I lived in Wales I lived right beside the seafront, and the promenade was the perfect place to overhear random bits of conversation. I’d go for a walk after work every day (or else my FitBit would get mad at me) and it was always fun hearing random conversations as I walked past people.

Cafés are great for this too. Sitting have a coffee and overhearing the conversation from the table next to you can be fascinating. Not necessarily because the conversation is particularly interesting, but because it’s interesting to see things from other people’s perspectives.

It’s also great to see how people act around different people. You can try to guess who each person is to the other by how they act, are they friends? Family? In a relationship? Work colleagues? On a first date?

It’s a great way to get insight into how other people think and act in situations, which might in turn help you come up with a way for your character to act in their situations.

So getting up from the computer and going for a walk, or even going out for a coffee are great ways to get the character juices flowing.

3. Read

Probably, pretty obvious, but when I find that I’m not in the mood to sit looking at my laptop, I’m normally always in the mood to sit reading a book. There’s nothing better than snuggling up on the couch with a hot drink and just getting lost in a fictional world.

And the big plus is that reading is as good for your own writing as it is for avoiding your writing. Seeing how someone else’s characters get out of a situation might help steer your mind to getting your own characters out of their predicament. Or you might find a word or phrase that you really like the sound of, and that you can use in your own work.

Even just the whole experience of sitting down and relaxing and not worrying about anything else for a while might help your story. While you’re unwinding, your emptying your brain of the worry and stress that staring at a screen can cause. And by the time you get back to your laptop, your mind will have emptied of all the problems you had before and will be clear to focus on the writing that needs to be done.

4. Just Do Nothing

Sometimes just sitting and staring into space is more appealing than writing, especially when you’re stuck on a particular part of a story. But there’s no reason to feel guilty for this, it might even be the best possible thing you could do (okay maybe not the best possible thing, but it has to be up there).

Like reading, daydreaming is a great way to just relax and get your mind away from any stress or worry about writer’s block. You don’t have to focus on anything at all, just let your mind wander and see what happens. You might end up thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner that night, or about what’s going on in your favourite TV show (American Horror Story, I’m looking at you). You might even just end up falling asleep, which is always good in my book, I can always use a nap.

If you’re really lucky you might end up daydreaming your way out of whatever problem you’ve got in your story. But even if not, you’ve managed to relax and clear your head, and you can go back to your writing, more focused and less stressed.

Procrastination doesn’t have to be the enemy. You don’t have to fear it, you just have to learn to use it to your advantage. You don’t necessarily have to be sitting down at your laptop with a Word document open in front of you to be writing. And don’t get stressed or guilty if the writing isn’t happening. A little bit of procrastination is all you need to sort it all out.

 

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