The Things You Do When You Know You Really Should Be Writing

30 Oct

I’ve been meaning to write a post about procrastination for some time, but I keep putting it off. Obviously that’s just a bad joke, but there is a serious point behind it. Procrastination has been the death of many a writing project.  You know you really should be doing your five thousand words for the day, or five hundred, or five, but you suddenly find you have a burning desire to do something more important instead.  Something like checking your emails for the third time in ten minutes, or looking to see whether any of your friends have changed their status on Facebook since this morning, or reading that new blog article that’s just been posted, anything other than actually sitting down and writing.

Unfortunately, modern technology means there’s a plethora of temptations just a click away, and it can take all your will power to keep your hands on the keyboard and off the nearest mouse button. But you can’t blame it all on the internet. One of my friends told me her house has never since been as clean and tidy as when she was meant to be writing her Ph.D. thesis. She even found washing the dishes started having a certain fascination she’d never noticed before. In a similar vein, at one point while working in the middle of nowhere with no TV, phone, internet or any of the usual distractions of modern life, I managed to waste a week when I should have been writing, messing around on a beach stacking stones on top of each other into towers that were about eight foot tall, something inspired by the work of the artist Andrew Goldsworthy. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – it’s amazingly addictive as you try to make each one taller than the last (you can find some pictures of what the beach looked like at the end of the week here).

So is procrastination your enemy?  Surprisingly, the answer is no, not necessarily. The key here is to accept that procrastination is a normal part of the writing process for almost everyone. Once you have accepted this, you will stop feeling quite so guilty about it, and there is nothing that breeds more procrastination than the guilt you feel about procrastinating. Next, you need to find a way to make your procrastination work for you and not against you. This usually involves having little side projects that you can do when, for whatever reason, you don’t feel up to working on your main piece. Basically, these side projects can be anything that will leave you feeling that you have accomplished something with your day. This is so that you will feel positive, rather than negative, about having done things other than the writing you were meant to be doing.

I tend to keep a range of possible procrastination projects close at hand that I can dip into when I feel the need to avoid working on a specific piece for a few hours (or days, or even weeks in a few extreme cases). By having them in place and ready to go in advance, I can make the most of it when the urge to procrastinate that strikes. When working on academic projects, this usually means having at least two on the go at once so that I can switch back and forth whenever working on one of them gets too much. For fiction writing, this might be having a list of non-urgent things I need to research (a nice way of being able to pass surfing the web off as an achievement for the day), writing background notes on a character, or sketching out a set piece that will be used later in a book. It can even be making some initial notes for the next piece or the next book. This means that even when I spend a day avoiding writing, I still feel I’ve done something constructive with my time. If not, the weight of negative procrastination (you know that feeling when you’re lying awake at two in the morning thinking, ‘Oh God, I just spent the whole day playing Angry Birds. Again!’) will lead to a nasty cycle of ever-increasing pressure to get something done followed by ever-more inventive and pointless procrastination that I know can lead to me abandoning a project because I feel I’ve got too far behind with it. I don’t know if this would work for everyone, but it certainly works for me.

Now I’ve got this off my chest, it’s time to go back to the book I’m meant to be working on. Oh, hang on, I’ve just noticed the dog isn’t wearing any nail polish and I’m sure her nails would look so nice if they were painted with that new stuff my girlfriend just paid a fortune for…*


*Please note, this was added for comic effect, no dogs were made to wear make-up in the course of writing (or rather not writing) this post. The guinea-pigs on the other hand…

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit to find out more.


4 Responses to “The Things You Do When You Know You Really Should Be Writing”

  1. RStorey 25/07/2013 at 19:04 #

    Reblogged this on Storey on a Story Blog and commented:
    This brought a smile to my face. We have all had projects and deadlines that we just can’t make ourselves focus on. I have done many a time, staring at the computer screen getting more and more fristreated at the assignment, and myself.

    What if I actually allow myself to be distracted, do something else that I have been wanting to do. Then I can sit back down, not feeling that I have waisted time, but that I have used it elsewhere.

  2. jkholmes92 27/07/2013 at 19:28 #

    Wow, your descriptions are really exciting. I’ve just bought the kindle version of your book and reading this has made me even more enthusiastic to get reading.

    • cmdrysdale 27/07/2013 at 23:46 #

      Good to know you purchased my book. Hopefully you will enjoy it. Even if you don’t, let me know what you think of it.

      All the best,



  1. The Things You Do When You Really Should Be Writing – Part II | Colin M. Drysdale - 25/07/2013

    […] I wrote in the first part of this post, procrastination can be the writer’s worst enemy. Yet, it’s easy to become side-tracked […]

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