Creative Procrastination


When it comes to writing, I’m usually the jump-in-with-both-feet type. But this time around, for some reason, I’ve been spending a lot of time dipping my toes in the water first. Maybe it’s because I’m working on something so different — my first middle-grade novel. Or maybe it’s just that I want to take more time getting to know who this character is a lot better first. I want to hear his voice before I start counting words on a page and setting deadlines.

Here are some of the things I’ve been doing while I sit with my toes dangling into the pool. (And yes, I’ve decided to call it creative procrastination, well, so I won’t feel so bad for not having that many pages written yet!)

Journaling: I love notebooks and fountain pens, so naturally I like keeping a journal. But when I’m trying to learn about new characters (the main and secondary characters), I try journaling from each of their points of view. I might have my characters write about a day in the story where I’m feeling a little stuck, as a way to figure out what’s going on in each character’s head that day. Or I’ll have them write more generic journal entries where they reveal their happiest day; an event that made them realize things would never be the same again; a day they wish they could have a do-over; a time when they felt left out, etc. Ask your characters what they would like you to know about them!

Researching: Procrastinating by researching is a great way to look like you’re working! I’ve been reading psychology and sociology books lately, just to give myself a frame of reference for some of the issues my character will be experiencing — you know, if I ever actually write the novel! Reading books, watching films, talking to people with first-hand knowledge of the topics you’re writing about, and traveling to settings in your novel are all great ways to understand your characters and the world they live in a little better.

Daydreaming: Sometimes it’s helpful to put the pen down or turn off the computer and just stare off into space and try to see your characters and hear how they sound. At times the clakity clak of the keyboard can be distracting. Don’t be afraid to do nothing in the name of creativity!

Acting: Go out in the world as your character! Notice what she would notice, do the things she would do, etc. I know, I know, this can be kind of strange, so you have to be careful, especially if your character is an animal or something! You don’t want the neighbors to talk about you after you crawl down the street on your hands and knees! The goal here is to try to experience the world as your character for short periods of time. Go to the mall and try to see it all from your character’s point of view. Follow where she’d want to go and look at the things she’d want to buy. When you come home ask yourself, “How would my character view my neighborhood? My home? What would she notice in my house? What would she want to do first? How would she feel here?”

Eavesdropping: If you’re feeling out of touch with your characters and his world, maybe you need to reacquaint yourself with kids who are the same age as your character. Find out where the kids hang out and watch and listen to them. Watch their gestures and how they say things. Record their dialogue. Yes, I realize this might appear kind of, um, creepy to other people. You don’t want to be arrested for being that weirdo adult who stares at kids! So be subtle about your eavesdropping. Do something else while you’re stalking, um, I mean, eavesdropping. Write in your notebook, or read, or act like you’re listening to your iPod. Pretend you’re an anthropologist studying kids in the wild!

These are just a few ways to feel like you’re writing while not actually getting anything accomplished. But seriously, I find this kind of pre-writing invaluable. And with enough of this kind of preparation, you’ll be in much better shape when you’re finally ready to dive in!

What other creative procrastination techniques do you have?




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5 responses to “Creative Procrastination

  1. Julie Larios

    Coe, I love that “Procrastination” graphic at the top of this post. Might just use if for a screen saver for awhile (Non-creative procrastination technique: Spend time looking for cool screen savers…..)

  2. Uma Krishnaswami

    I was afraid to read this post. LIterally. Fearful. Then I read it really-really-quickly and thought, Oh, I’ve been doing some of that all morning. I find I have to place a TIME LIMIT on this creative procrastination because otherwise it could easily become a way of life.

    And now if you will excuse me I have a scene to write. Not a novelist, me. Only a scenist.

  3. Louise Hawes

    Coe, I’m going to post a really incisive comment here….just as soon as I can!

  4. Sundee Frazier

    I’m in the same stage with my latest WIP. So glad to know I’m not alone!

  5. saraharonson

    Personally, I think boredom is underrated. When I am trying to get closer to my characters, I try to clear my head of all the other stuff that is getting in the way.

    I turn off the internet.

    Take the phone off the hook.

    Sit outside without a book.

    And I don’t even try to think. Doodling sometimes. (I have been known to draw two hundred swirlies), but nothing that takes thinking.

    When I let myself get a little bored, then whatever I do next usually offers me a gift. An image. Or a line. Or a new idea.

    My yoga teacher has been really helpful to me on this front. It’s amazing: when I give myself the ninety minutes without all the distractions, I’m usually given something to start on.

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