Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tips for writers: Do you schedule the work?(or, how not to procrastinate)

Between finishing my book and writing my dissertation, I have come to look for ways to fight my worst enemy: time.

In other words, I try to manage time as effectively as possible.

So how about this: if we come to consider time as the occurrence of events in a sequence (as Einstein defined it) making effective use of time means managing those sequenced events effectively i.e. in a way that will give us the desirable results; for instance, a whole chapter, the completion of a scene, or finishing the whole story. And this would constitute our goal: what we want to accomplish and when.

Now, if you too are generally in bad terms with time you may have come to wonder whether it would help if you scheduled your work. Spend a moment asking yourselves: why the timelines, the special software?
Could it be another form of “covert” avoidance? Don’t expect me to deny this! Why else would I be so interested in ways to commit myself on my writing tasks?

If we believe what experts have said, planning is supposed to help you avoid future problems; the most common being (based on my experience) frustration.

Scheduling may have a liberating effect. However, it’s not an easy procedure.

According to my precious handbook (Dissertations and Theses From Start to Finish: Psychology and Related Fields,, Cone & Foster, 1993) on which the suggestions in this article are based, the following steps might be of use:

• It helps if you enter the steps you need to make in your calendar and then proceed in the same way you would eat an elephant: one bite at a time. In other words, make a plan and stick to it.

  • If you find yourself procrastinating, try to identify the reasons. For instance,
 do you feel overwhelmed? Then take a step back and try to break that project of yours in small, accomplishable parts.

 Do you try to convince yourself you need large chunks of time? Do you expect summer holidays to work harder? According to the same handbook, this is a very creative excuse for doing little work until maybe, next summer?

 The secret here is to set a realistic timetable, even if it means that you can dedicate such short periods of time as three hours per week. It can be sufficient, provided you handle it as sacred time in the meaning that it cannot be cancelled. This is what happens with my teaching time at school, for instance. It has to be “sacred”. No matter the excuse I find to stay in the library with my notebook and a cup of coffee, I cannot do it because I have to go back to the classroom.

 Start with one page at a time. Soon you will be amazed by how much writing you’ve done during your “sacred” writing time.

 Do you feel that your project is not ready, that you don’t have the whole story yet? Nothing but starting to write it down will help you more to figure out how it evolves. It’s amazing how the characters speak for themselves!

 Do you need deadlines to settle down to serious writing? It is only my opinion but writing under duress will not bring out the best of you. The process of writing, revising, editing is a long-term one and involves many steps so if you need to have deadlines, set your own meaningful deadlines imposed upon you by yourself. For example, use your calendar or that special software to decide when the draft for the next chapter should be finished, or when to finish revising/editing it…

 My handbook suggests reducing procrastination by breaking the deadline habit altogether if you pursue a professional career.
How? Use a reward system for each time you accomplish a goal: e.g. finish that chapter and then do something you really want (I sometimes eat a bowl of chocholate-chip ice-cream!) This “work first, play second” rule should become part of your life-style and will take you more painlessly to the end of tour project.

If you can involve others in this rewarding system of yours they will probably keep supporting you, why not your family? (Chocolate-chip ice-cream for everyone!)

Try to be involved with people who share the same problem. For instance, why not make a group of “authors with a tendency to procrastinate” where we let others know about our progress so that they encourage us to keep on? It can also work the other way: express our frustration when we’re stuck so that other members offer support and encouragement. If you like the idea, we can start by using the space for comments for this post or start a page on Facebook!

So, what do you say to that?

Any chance you don’t follow what the following image shows?

I look forward to your comments.


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