I haven’t done much writing this month.
But it’s not really my fault. You see, I have a bit of a problem with dragons.
Not so much the scaly animals with wings, but the metaphorical sort of dragons: the epic personal struggles we all undergo.
There are five procrastination dragons in my writing room, and it’s taking me a long time to train them.
While my computer is loading, the first dragon, Guilt, will creep out of its hiding place.
“Isn’t there something better you should be doing with your time?” it hisses.
And I’ll remember that I haven’t loaded the washing-machine, or done the shopping, or made that telephone call… and before I know it, my writing time is wasted in fiddling around with chores I could have dealt with later.
But Guilt isn’t really my enemy. In fact, sometimes it’s simply trying to help.
I’m not a person who can stick to a regular weekly routine, with set times for writing. But I work from home, and although I have decided on fixed work times, I must confess I don’t enjoy my job.
So if I sneak away to write during working hours, I need Guilt to remind me to get on with my job, to make it possible for me to do my writing by keeping the bills paid. All it really wants in exchange is a little respect and acknowledgment.
Once my work is done for the day, my Guilt creeps back into its hole, so I can enjoy some creative time without it.
But out comes my second dragon, Greed.
I’ve banned all food and drink from my writing room, but it doesn’t take long for Greed to squeeze its bulk out from under the desk.
“You’ve been writing for half an hour,” it says. “You’re hungry. How about getting a sandwich and a drink? You need a break, anyway.”
But once I’m back at my desk, it starts again:
“Those choc chip cookies were nice. You could just pop out and get a couple.”
And a couple of paragraphs later, as I’m brushing off the cookie crumbs:
“There’s some chocolate in your stash in the kitchen. Chocolate helps you think.”
I’ll resist for a few more sentences.
“And I think there were a few jelly babies left. It would only take a minute.”
And once again, I’m out of my chair and waddling off in search of a yummy treat.
I’m not sure I’ve really tamed Greed yet, but I can keep it under control by eating before I start. Since I find sugary foods the most tempting, I’ve restricted them to evenings only – after I’ve finished writing.
The third procrastination dragon is Writer’s Block.
“You can’t think what to write,” it moans. “There’s no point sitting here if you haven’t got any ideas.”
Writer’s Block was harder to train, but I’ve discovered some strategies which put it to sleep for a while. I found it helped to have several writing projects on the go at the same time, so I could pick the one I felt most ready to work on.
I’ve realized that if I don’t feel creative, I can use my writing time for planning: writing spider diagrams to see how the important points relate to each other, then setting up a list of subheadings and jotting notes under each. This breaks the writing task into manageable chunks, so when it comes to doing the actual writing, the job is half done already.
Another method I use is to write the piece sketchily, without caring if it’s good or bad. Once I have a first draft, however awful, I’ve got something to work on and revise.
I sometimes call in someone to help me tame the Writer’s Block dragon: not an armored knight, but a friend to brainstorm ideas with.
If she’s not available, I go driving alone for a while, talking to myself and thinking through my ideas aloud (and making other road users somewhat nervous with my occasional wild gestures and peculiar facial expressions).
The fourth dragon is the most powerful, and I can’t get it out of my writing room, no matter how I try: the Internet.
It’s lurking inside my laptop, and it knows exactly how to manipulate me.
“Struggling to think? I’ve got plenty of amazing ideas,” it wheedles. “Why not get a bit more research done before you write? Has that auction finished on Ebay yet? And don’t forget to check your emails. Ooh, look, three people have asked your opinion on Quora. You’d better answer them so you can add links to your blog and develop your reputation as an expert. Hey, have you seen this interesting article about Being More Productive? You need to read that – you never seem to get much work done.”
The trouble with the Internet is that it has so much to offer. Each window on my computer is the entrance to an astounding enchanted castle, crammed with intriguing treasures in every room. I could explore it all day long and never get bored.
And best of all, although I’m just playing around, it feels like I’m working.
To train the Internet, I just need to find the self-discipline to leave those windows closed and play with it later. If I feel impatient, I’ll set a timer before I’m allowed to use it. And keep reminding myself that I’m trying to be a writer, not a reader.
And there’s one last dragon. It’s small, but oh so venomous. It’s Self-Doubt.
It sits on my shoulder the whole time, whispering in my ear.
“Why don’t you admit it? You can’t write. Look at this stuff. What were you thinking? This is soooo clichéd. That phrasing feels clumsy. This part doesn’t even make sense. No one would want to read your opinion, anyway. You’ll never be a writer.”
There’s only one way to train Self-Doubt, I’ve found – just ignore it and keep writing.
Whatever your writing dragons are, they can be trained.
As JRR Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit, “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.”
But he couldn’t have written that if he’d been loading the washing machine, making a sandwich or checking his emails.
Don’t have to let your procrastination dragons gobble up all your writing time. You’re a creative person – so make time for your writing.