Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of procrastination, is brought to you by speculative fiction author, poet and script writer Danika Dinsmore.
Wading into the Flow [Getting to the Page]
I was recently watching an interview with Lou Reed on Spectacle – the Elvis Costello show (a brilliant tv show, btw, if you’ve never seen it).
Lou Reed told Elvis that he’s not a prolific writer. That he doesn’t have a novel in him. That he writes when he’s in the grip of “it” but that it comes and goes. He has had long periods of not writing. Lou Reed.
When asked if during those dry times he ever thought he’d never get “it” back, he said as he’s gotten older, he’s learned that it always eventually comes back. So he doesn’t torture himself about it. Although, he said, he used to ask the universe (my interpretation, he looked up at “the above” when he said this), “So, is that it?”
I don’t get writer’s block, but I do get writer’s procrastination. It has nothing to do with a lapse in ideas and everything to do with a lapse in confidence. But, like Lou Reed, I know that with time and focus I will get back into the flow again. Mostly because not-writing becomes more painful than getting to the writing. And when I start writing, I remember that I can do this.
What I’ve learned for myself, when I’ve left the flow for an extended period of time, is that I’ve just got to ride the “non-flow” for a little while. It’s like watching a stream go by with precious treasures floating in it and being OKAY that the treasures are floating by. Being OKAY with just sitting, because the treasure stream is always there. It truly is.
At some point in a day where I feel slightly more capable, I reach out after “it.” Even if it’s a weak grasping after, it’s a trigger, and sometimes it’s all the trigger I need.
One little trick I recommend is to do something creative that is out of your current element. Perhaps something you’ve always wanted to try, or something you used to do fondly. I find I have less attachment to these things. There is less pressure around them.
Sometimes I’ll turn away from a novel I’m working on and write in another form for a while. A creative essay, poem, song, short story. Write for the sheer joy and pleasure of writing, with no strings attached, which is where we want to be anyway, right?
I call these my “secret” projects. Projects that no one knows I’m working on but me. They remind me I’m still creative and that I did not forget how to write overnight.
Another trick I use is to set my fabulous Pillsbury Doughboy timer. (Any timer will do, really, I’ve just had this little guy for 20 years.) I say something like, “I’m going to be on the page writing in 5 minutes,” and then… “I’m going to write for 30 minutes and take a break.” Oftentimes, the timer goes off and I’m already in the flow, so I keep going.
I might start off my writing day with a 10 minute spontaneous write, or see how many first lines as I can come up with in 15 minutes. Sometimes when I’m stuck I just pull out my notebook, set my timer, and write spontaneously by hand, no editing, no crossing out. Eventually, I step back into the flow.
Writing Groups – There are plenty of writing critique groups where the members submit pages, read each other’s work, critique, etc. But there are fewer writing groups where you actually get together and write. I belong to one and it’s fantastic. We get together once per week, write for 20 minutes, share, write for another 20 minutes more, share, and then socialize if time. The point is to get to the page, start writing, and don’t stop until the timer goes off. You can simply start with the line, “Today I am writing about…”
And when we share, we just read. No preambles, no apologies, no explanations (unless some context or clarity is absolutely necessary, but we resist this temptation). There is no critique. Commentary is welcome if something moves one of us. The point it simply to write and sometimes doing so together helps us get to the page. There are times when members of the group aren’t writing at any other time except those 40 minutes, so it keeps them connected.
One thing I’ve learned is not to beat myself up, because that just adds salt to the wounds. I’m already not writing, so why would I want to make myself feel bad on top of that? Now I’m unproductive AND depressed!
The longer you do this, the more you will discover your own personal creative rhythms. No writer that I know of is continuously enthusiastic, inspired, and productive. Human stuff gets in the way. Notice and learn and adopt some simple tools that you can turn to again and again.
That was great. Thank you, Danika. I have five writing groups and run 15-minute writing exercises every weekday on four of them. Having any kind of deadline does focus the mind.
Danika Dinsmore “plerks” in speculative fiction with an emphasis on juvenile and young adult literature.
With a background in performing arts and education, she often takes her show on the road, entertaining children at school assemblies and teaching world building to both kids and adults.
She is author of children’s fantasy novels Brigitta of the White Forest, The Ruins of Noe, and Ondelle of Grioth (forthcoming Nov 2013).
Her short story “String Theory” will appear in Futuredaze: an anthology of YA literature (Underwords, 2013) and her essay “Put it in Space” will be included in the Now Write! speculative fiction edition (Tarcher/Penguin, 2013).
She lives in Vancouver, BC with her husband and big-boned feline Freddy.
You can find her at www.danikadinsmore.com.
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