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Every now and then, young writers contact me for advice on writing and publishing and/or to interview me for a school assignment. In these cases, I try very hard not to terrify them. Recently, one of these young writers asked me a question that resulted in me ranting a bit. I hope I didn't terrify her, but it was an important rant on a subject I myself often need to be reminded of. So I'm going to repeat my rant (in expanded form) here.

She asked me of procrastination and how it would effect her goals. And I said:

Well, yes. Procrastination is bad. But you already know that! I'll put it plain and simple: Procrastination means you don't get things done. If you don't get things done, then things don't get done. That sounds stupid but it's true. Here's the thing about writing that a lot of aspiring writers weirdly don't seem to understand. They seem to think that all they have to do is THINK about writing. No, seriously. You wouldn't believe how many people never get beyond this point. But if you want to have written, you first have to WRITE. It doesn't work any other way. Little elves do not come into your room at night and write your book for you. Believe me, I've left out cookies for them and they never show up. Unless you are a famous celebrity and can afford to hire ghost writers, the only person that is going to write your book is you.

So. To overcome procrastination, you must decide what it is you want the most: Do you want to write a book, finish it, get it published, have people read it and e-mail you and tell you how much they adore you and your work and also get a check from a publisher that you can cash and use to buy yourself things like food and other lovely stuff? Or do you want to play Farmville?

For a writer, this is entirely up to you. You do not have any boss but yourself. Nobody is going to stand over you with a stick and force you to write. The world is not waiting for you to write your Great American Novel. The world doesn't particularly care if you do or not. There are plenty of other writers out there who are writing and getting things done. So if you want to be one of those people, you must do this on your own. There is simply no way around this.

Here is the expanded part: I actually had a revelation about this years ago. Is it ridiculous that I would need to have a revelation that in order to write, you have to actually...er..write? Well, I did.

The revelation came during a particularly brutal revision on my first published novel, Raising the Griffin. I was so horribly stuck on a difficult problem my editor had raised and that I could not find a solution for. I remember actually, literally banging my head on my desk because I couldn't figure it out. I was working late into the night, bruised forehead and all, writing and rewriting the same scene from one dead end into another. The rest of the family had long gone to bed and the house was quiet and I was pretty sure I would never be able to do what needed to be done. I was done. I was quitting. I even said it out loud.

"I can't do this!"

And this is where I begin to sound delusional, but remember, it was quite late at night and I had recently suffered a self-inflicted head injury. But I swear I heard a voice quite distinctly say:

"If you don't do it, it won't get done."

There it was. The plain, simple fact. No one was going to do it for me. And nobody but me was really going to care if I didn't do it. And why should I care? Because I'm not afraid to admit that I'm one of those writers who loves having written. I love having written because I love to be read. To be read, you must be published. And 99.99% of the time, unfinished books don't get published. And so it must be done. And so I must do it. And so must this young writer. So far, nobody has figured out how to get around this. Except rich celebrities, that is.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 12th, 2012 04:51 am (UTC)
I think I need to pin this to my forehead...or my behind. Rave on, Melissa!
Apr. 12th, 2012 12:05 pm (UTC)
That is dangerous encouragement! When I get ranty, scary things can happen!
Apr. 12th, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
Nobody rants it better, Melissa! Now, I really must get off FB and WRITE! From Clara Gillow Clark who doesn't have live journal figured out.
Apr. 12th, 2012 12:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Clara! (Come on in! LJ isn't too tricky to figure out. You just have to set comments for members otherwise, you get swamped with spam. What I like about LJ is there's a really warm, wonderful kidlit community here.)
Apr. 12th, 2012 12:09 pm (UTC)
I love this.
Apr. 12th, 2012 12:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Cindy!
Apr. 12th, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC)
I *love* this. I love you, Melissa. Nobody says it better. We ALL have a little bit of "we love having writtEN* in us. Because it is SO DANG HARD!!!!!!!! Okay, I admit it, sometimes it's fun, but the STARTING every day is brutal. Brutal! Even if I'm in the middle of a lovely first draft, getting over the daily inertia is the worst part for me. I procrastinate it every single day. You'd think I'd learn after all these years, but nooooooooooo . . . my psyche is just mean that way.
Apr. 12th, 2012 04:05 pm (UTC)
I was just talking to a friend at work who is embarking on writing her first book and we talked about how often the hardest thing is simply opening the file. There are so many days where if you can just get that file open, that's the biggest hurdle.

I also fall into the trap of thinking I need to be inspired to write and if I don't feel inspired, well, why bother? So I often have to talk myself out of that, too. You can make yourself feel inspired. And even if you can't, you can still write anyway.
Jan. 18th, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC)
Opening the file. That's the ticket (and the thing I also struggle with). It's so easy to think of a thousand other things to do rather than open that dang file, up to and including reading that immense backlog of blog posts I've fallen behind in reading. :-)
Jan. 19th, 2013 12:09 am (UTC)
It's amazing how hard that one little click can be. Because you are shifting a load of doubt and fear and all kinds of other wonderful psychological stuff. (She says when she hasn't been able to shift anything in months.)
Apr. 13th, 2012 01:44 pm (UTC)
Cynsational News & Giveaways
User cynleitichsmith referenced to your post from Cynsational News & Giveaways saying: [...] o; as military and political leaders." Procrastination Means You Won't Get Things Done [...]
May. 19th, 2012 07:35 am (UTC)
Oh, this is me! I was recently sitting there staring at a revision, in just so much pain -- I'd tried and tried, and I hit the point of "I can't". And then this response just hit me -- if you don't do it, it won't be done. My brain shifted ever so slightly, and the next 'I can't' was met with 'but if I was going to, what would I do?'. Which sounds like a ridiculous question to ask yourself, but it turns your mind from impossibility to possibility, and voila! I did!
May. 19th, 2012 01:42 pm (UTC)
"But if I was going to, what would I do?"
That's actually a really great question and I'm going to write it down to remember it! It's all about finding those first baby steps, anything to lift you out of the inertia of not doing anything. Once you can get going, get a few words down, the odds are that you will pick up steam. Sometimes you have to keep pushing for awhile even if every word smells like cow manure.

Another thing I have to keep reminding myself--when it's one of those cow manure days--is that nobody else is seeing this--or smelling it! I have to let go of the "this must be perfect or it's not worth doing" thing and just get something--ANYTHING--down on the page. Anything really is better than nothing. Even if I end up cutting everything I wrote that day, I always learn something. At the very least, I learned what not to write!
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )