From the Mailbag: Martha writes, I found your blog after reading Dogs of Dreamtime (loved Loved LOVED it!) and have been a reader ever since (thought not a very good commenter, sorry). I’m taking a writing course now and realize how hard it is to sit down and write everyday. How do you make yourself do it? I have a great idea for a book with lots of ideas percolating, but I’m having a hard time getting myself going and seem to find every distraction to delay me. Any tips on how to buckle down?

Martha, thanks for the plug. And you’re in good company; many writers find it a challenge to get jump-started.  Sounds as if the steam’s building, but the train isn’t quite ready to pull out of the station. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found a way to hurry that stage along. Seems things need to percolate however long they need to percolate.

I find that as long as we keep ourselves open by creating the space and time to be present to what’s percolating, we’ll eventually be able to get it down on paper. To help get ideas organized, consider carrying around a little notebook, so you can jot down ideas as they come to you. I also find that working from a loose outline helps. Often, just doing those two things is enough to get me over the initial hump of getting started.

procrastinateBUT, avoidance/procrastination is a horse of a different color. If procrastination is part of your difficulty, are you creating the space (however small) and giving yourself the time (however short) to be with your thoughts and writing each and every day?  H. Jackson Brown sums it up perfectly for me: “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backward, or sideways.”

I think of sitting down to write the same way I think about sitting down to meditate. For as many years as I’ve been meditating, I still have to force myself to make a time because it seems like an interruption to my day. And after I sit down, I have to fight to get myself settled down, because I really don’t want to bother shifting gears. And then I have to switch from feeling that I’ve put  myself in a time-out to allowing myself to plug into meditation’s creative/healing flow. When I’m finally able to get past all that and get to the actual meditating, it’s then that I remember why I like to meditate so much. Writing often feels like the same process.

Even when I’m “too busy,” even when it feels more like a punishment rather than a reward to make myself sit at the computer, I do it. Because, plain and simple, that’s how you create the habit. And eventually the habit creates the groove that becomes the expressway to your creativity, and the ideas and words will start flowing. It also helps that I allow myself the flexibility to work on several projects at once, so if I’m stuck on one, I can usually find the energy or interest to work on one of the others.

In a nutshell, to overcome procrastination and develop the writing habit:

  • Start with an inviting work space, free of clutter and distractions. (No music, TV, or social networking for example. )
  • Pick a time that you will commit to writing every day. (First thing in the morning works best for me.) And then sit down at that time every day, even if you only stare out the window to start.
  • Keep a notebook handy for new ideas, and learn how to create working outlines for works-in-progress.
  • No matter what, spend a minimum of one hour a day writing. (Doesn’t matter what you write, or how many words you write–even if you have no ideas and wind up retyping another author’s writing whom you’d like to emulate.)
  • If you don’t have the juice to write new pages, use that hour to edit and improve old pages.
  • Consider joining a writing group for support and useful feedback.

Perhaps Nike said it best: Just do it!

Good luck, and let me know how your project goes.

Anyone else out there have any tips or suggestions to share on how to avoid procrastination?