Procrastination is the thief of time …but sometimes you’d rather do anything than get down to the actual task of writing. The computer itself provides endless ways of “researching” before starting and there are many examples of “distraction free” writing software to provide… well … a distraction. (“Now which writing environment should I work in today? Ermm, let me see: do I want to fire up Ommwriter and listen to new age music as I type on to a faded snow scene that obliterates everything else on the desktop, or do I need the full power of my megalithic word processor for all that fancy layout stuff that I could do?”)
It’s not that the work itself is particularly hard. There are hundreds of blogs extolling the idea that “the actual writing is the bit we love”. The same blogs usually endorse the premise that preliminary work such as outlining is a tedious but necessary chore before the creative urge is let rip and paragraph after paragraph emerges on the screen. But surely the opposite is the case? Any and all preliminaries stave off the evil moment when there really is nothing else to do but write the actual words that will (with luck) eventually be read by others (who might even be prepared to shell out good money for the privilege). Looked at from this viewpoint, the more complex the software is the better. There are always many, many settings that can be tweaked, manuals consulted, video “how tos” to watch. Whole mornings can be passed in looking up how others set up their writing space and software Preferences, and Amazon provides innumerable opportunities to “Look inside …” manuals on writing or e-books on using your software of choice.
This procrastination is not in any way to be confused with Writer’s Block. If it exists at all – which is hotly disputed – Writer’s Block is usually defined as not being able to come up with anything to write. The petrol tank is empty, as ’twere. Procrastinitis, to coin a term and to stretch the analogy, is having a full tank but declining to put the key in the ignition. There’s plenty of help out there for those who suffer from Block, but far less, if any, for Procrastinitis. The usual suggested remedy – which apparently works as an unBlocker, too, – is to sit down at the keyboard and simply type anything at all. It doesn’t have to be words, even, but it can be disconnected sentences or any gibberish that comes to mind. Once the writing part of the brain is engaged, so goes the thinking, the problem is solved.
Well, it never worked for me. But there is one writing tip that works flawlessly and it’s so simple that it seems impossible to credit, but for some reason it works every time.
It goes like this: you know that you have to do the writing and you really shouldn’t put it off any longer. Get ready to start (bloated word processor or minimalist environment, it doesn’t matter: this just works). Force yourself to begin the first sentence but don’t look at the screen. Look only at your keyboard and keep typing. You’ll probably make lots of typos, but that’s not a problem. The sense of what you want to write will still be there, no matter how many spelling mistakes you make. Carry on until you’ve written at least two paragraphs before you even think of looking up – and you’re away. Honest. Works every time.
Why does it work? It could be something to do with the fact that as soon as you look at a piece of writing on screen you start to engage another part of the brain – the part that does the editing. You start to think about expression, effect, word choice, adjective and adverb placement – all those things that are rather less fun than the writing itself and stop you from making progress. Be happy in the knowledge that all of that stuff can come later. If you don’t look at the screen you’re effectively firing up the ignition – and there’ll be a satisfying roar as the engine catches and you smoothly start out on the day’s word count.
Try it. And feel free to leave a comment to let us all know that it worked.