“The greatest thief this world ever produced is procrastination, and he is still at large.” - Josh Billings. Henry Wheeler Shaw, also known as Josh Billings, was a nineteenth century humorist and writer who was overshadowed by his rival, Mark Twain.
As writers, we often let the thief called procrastination steal from us. There are times when anything is more important, even washing the car or, God forbid, housework, than sitting down in front of our computer and writing. There are a thousand and one things we can think of that need doing rather than writing. By the end of the day, though, we realize that the thief has not only stolen our time, but our words and voice as well.
Keeping the Thief at Bay
How do we keep the thief at bay? The honest answer is that we don’t. There will always be days when everything - indeed, anything - seems more important than writing. Sometimes that’s even true. We may need a break every once in a while to renew our creativity, to solve a plotting dilemma, or simply do a bit of retail therapy. Taking a break is only a problem if we do it too often for too long.
Since writing is a solitary activity, it can sometimes be highly frustrating, too. If you can’t figure out what to do in your day job, you can ask a co-worker. If you get stuck while you’re writing, you have no one to rely on but yourself particularly if it’s one a.m. on a week night.
Reading to Thwart the Thief
There are ways, though, to get through some of these tough periods. Reading is a good one. Nearly everyone who considers themselves an “expert” on the writing life will tell us to read as much and as diversely as possible. Read not only in your own genre but in genres you’ve never considered before. I, for instance, am reading a steampunk novel and am enjoying it tremendously. But for writing, I don’t think I’d ever have picked up a book in this genre.
Writers’ Groups Stave off the Thief
Another way to deal with the wily thief is to join a writers’ group. There’s bound to be one near you. It could be a writers’ guild or think about the local chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Yes, romance writers. You may never have read a romance novel in your life and may never ever read one, but the women, and yes, men, who write romance are dedicated writers who produce worthy products. And, in case you haven’t heard, romance books are keeping the publishing world afloat in these tough economic times. Don’t rule them out as a source of inspiration, help, and understanding.
If you live where there are no writing groups, join an online group. Nearly as effective as a “live” group, a quick Google or Bing search for your genre will net you groups from which to choose. Join one. Get involved. Learn. Laugh. Know that you are not alone.
Creatively Overcome the Intrepid Thief
Finally, use some of that creativity that brought you to the blank page in the first place to figure out how to overcome the thief. Perhaps taking a ten minute mini-break to fix a cup of tea will work for you. Other ways to break the procrastination cycle might be
- Stand in your back yard and see what’s new. If you don’t have a back yard, stand on your front stoop and look around your block, what do you see?
- Take a walk. If you’ve got a dog, he/she will love you for it.
- Go to a park, large or small, it doesn’t matter. Soak up some of the peace to be found there, listen to the sounds all around, from the birds in the trees to the creatures in the undergrowth.
- Visit a garden and smell the flowers.
- Go to an art museum, a library, or science museum.
These are the kinds of activities that will free your mind and you may even find the solution to your plotting problems without even thinking about it.