'Prepare to be immersed in the heat and vibrancy of Florida's natural world, full of such sensual detail that to read it is to breathe it in.' -Jo Shapcott [review of Greyhound Night Service]

To write or not to write? (there is no question)

Two streams of thought have come together for this post: the first, a conversation I had with fellow writers at my writing group yesterday and second, an article I read this morning in issue 65 of Mslexia titled, 'Get the Habit' by Bec Evans.

Having been a writer in some form or another since the age of nine, and a serious writer for the past twenty years, I am overly familiar with the ways we writers writhe and knuckle, struggle and knot ourselves up about whether or not we are writing or not writing: about how much time we spend writing and when and where.  Although I feel that there can be benefit in not writing, and by this I mean the occasional gestational period where ideas and themes are growing and forming, I believe that to be a writer, you must write! You must prioritise writing in your life and get down to the business of word craft.

Evans' article was a great refresher in the various ways one can begin or re-establish a writing habit and it got me thinking about my own. At the group yesterday, I brought a new draft of a piece as well as a discussion topic: procrastination (or in other words, all the things I do to sabotage my own writing practice). This is an issue I've been staring in the face particularly since March when I returned from my writing retreat in Wales. It was curious to see the heading, 'Beware of bingeing' also in the Mslexia article and I immediately identified this as a counter productive approach that I use: writewritewrite for a solid week and then collapse.  The collapse, unfortunately, takes longer for me to recover from than the time I've made up by binge writing.  Though I know that long writing spurts do work for some people, I think I need more of a balance for everyday writing.

There is one technique I have started to use in the past few months and I am finding it really helpful in undermining my procrastination demons: when I encounter the side of myself I recognise as toddler throwing a strop, I ease off and change direction. In practical terms this plays out as follows:

Let's say I have a chunk of time I've ritually set aside for writing. For me this means I have also identified WHAT I want to write / get on with in this time (such is the life of a PhD poet). When the time approaches to sit down and DO the writing, the toddler starts throwing lots of toys around and the toddler wants to only do other things, LOTS of things to keep her busy including but not limited to--

laundry, weeding the garden, unloading the dishwasher (funny how the adult me hates doing it...), food shopping (ditto previous task), endless Pinterest surfing, weather checking for various interesting locations around the world, reading the teeny tiny local news articles for foreign countries, reading trashy fiction--

So when the toddler begins the strop, instead of giving in to it or getting cross at myself or really really struggling to just get on with the set task, LATELY I've tried taking a deep breath and asking myself, Well, if you don't want to write this, then what do you want to write?  A choice. Toddlers love choices and feel more in control if they have some (even if they are really false ones).  And my brain goes, AHHHH, oooh, I get to do something else!  And I happily choose an alternative writing task (ergh, today's blog post *may* be one of these activities) but this means I'm still writing...writing...writing... and as I write I relax and I begin to see how the other task, the one set for now, isn't so bad at all...it's simple really...it's just like this...it's just more writing and I love writing!

Voila!  It's been working for me and maybe it can work for you? Especially if you've tried other things or just want a new idea to combat procrastination.  At the end of each day, I've felt more calm and much clearer and I've been getting far more work done, more words on the page.

Please get in touch, I'd love to hear how others get on with their procrastination / self-sabotage bashing techniques...

Now here's a toddler who gets down to his creative job right away, no procrastination in sight and really, isn't writing just as much fun as this?


  1. I do find it frustrating if I have 'set aside' time to write (especially poetry) and then find I'm side tracked by all sorts of other stuff, but when I think about it, the side tracking stuff often takes me off into writing, just of a different sort (blogging, commenting, tweeting...). I also have this thing about sitting down to write a poem when I have an idea. But as a poet friend once said to me, "If I waited for an idea I'd never write anything!" I go for ages without writing poetry, then I have a fertile period. I think that's OK and normal. I do think blogging and tweeting (not to mention the commercial stuff that actually, er, pays) has improved my writing range and fluency. The social stuff also brings with it connections to a much wider network of writers, thinkers and interesting people I otherwise wouldn't have met, and work I wouldn't have encountered. So fuel the writing with writing, no matter what kind, and everything flows, I think. Thanks for this post.

    1. Hi Robin, thanks for your thoughts. Yes, I agree with the writing fuelling more writing and I too visualise a flow or a huge circuitry of writing. On the aspect of sitting down to write a poem: do you mean that when you have an idea for one you sit down then and there to write it, or do you mean that you must give yourself the space to sit down and focus for the writing of poetry?


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