Monday, April 19

Just Do It - the Art of Un-Procrastination

Nike gets to the heart of the matter in how to get things done.

Just do it.

But sometimes, you sit down at the computer and the white page just stares back at you. Motivation is lacking. The clock is ticking. Nothing's flowing. Often, even when the deadline is looming it's hard to kick the brain into gear.

How do you get your fingers moving when all you feel like doing is surfing the web or playing another game of solitaire? Here are a few things I do to oil the mechanics in my brain:

(Tried and True Methods for any Project:)

Make a to do list. Break down larger projects into smaller ones. Don't write 'finish novel' on the to do list and expect to get it done. It's also not a good idea to try 'finish chapter 30'. These large chunks of prose are too much to conceive of when the words won't come. Instead, plan to accomplish smaller, more manageable tasks: write the opening paragraph for chapter one/write the ending scene for your short story/write scene one of chapter 30.

Set a timer. This is similar to a deadline only in that there is a time limit. This can work if you acknowledge that when the allotted time is over, you're done for the day - as long as you've written during the entire time period. Allow yourself to write crap, purple prose, adverb-laden tripe, whatever, in order to get the job done. I turn off my internal editor (hard to do!) when I use this method. I'm sometimes surprised by how usable the prose is that I come up with.

Bribe yourself. Set yourself a reasonable goal. Once you finish, reward yourself with something you desire. (I like to treat myself to a new book or a trip to "the office superstore" for more writing implements.)

Writer Specific Methods

Try "Write or Die" by Dr. Wicked. This handy web application forces you to write by negative reinforcement. Depending on which mode you choose to type in, you will be reminded to continue writing via a pop-up box, punished with 'an evil sound' or worst case, your writing will start to un-write itself on the screen.

Try writing dialogue only. Forget descriptive passages and scene setting. Don't worry about your character's word choice, voice or POV. In fact, shake it up and make your characters say unexpected things. For me, this accomplishes two things: 1) I sometimes learn something about my characters I didn't already know, and 2) dialogue fills a page faster than prose: the white space disappears faster. Mentally, I get the kick-start I need to keep going.

Forget your work in progress for a short time and try a story prompt to get warmed up. Sometimes, just the act of moving fingers across the keyboard (or pen across the paper) will get the creative juices flowing. I'm currently toying with the Writers Unblock Tool by Mode Room Press. It's a gadget for your iGoogle page which offers a new prompt each time the page is reloaded.

Change your writing habit (at least temporarily). H.G. Wells said, "If you are having difficulties with the book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it."

Set a firm deadline to be finished. This is a tricky method, I admit. When I was a newspaper reporter, I had set deadlines for each story I was assigned. I never failed to meet a deadline. But I was writing non-fiction: knew all the facts, asked all the questions and interviewed all the parties necessary. I knew what I needed to say: beginning, middle and end before I sat down to write. Fiction is not so easy to force into the same mold, but it's possible.

For me, a single method doesn't do the trick. Today a story prompt may help, tomorrow I may have to rely on the dialogue trick. It all depends on my mood. (Which is key to understanding the nature of the block, I think. But that's a subject for another day...) Some days, it takes me more than one method to break through a block.

What do you do when the words won't flow?

Our guest author today is Kelly Harmon. Formerly a newspaper reporter, she writes fantasy and dark fantasy with the occasional science fiction piece. Her short story Lies short-listed for the 2008 Aeon Award and her novella Blood Soup won the Fantasy Gazetteers Novella Contest prior to being published by Eternal Press. You can purchase her short story The Dragon's Clause at or find her at


  1. Hi Christi! Thanks for having me today. I look forward to the conversation.

  2. Hi, Kelly.
    Welcome to WW.
    I'm so stuck on a ms that just won't move forward. The problem is, I've written it the way I want it, and everyone is telling me it won't go, so I'm trying to rewrite it and the words just won't come.
    Problem is, my new stuff isn't going either cause I want to finish ms #1.
    But I open it and stare at it for hours.
    I have to get out of this funk!

  3. Hi D'Ann

    I'm having a similar problem with a manuscript of mine...

    Have you tried moving backward? One of my crit partners taught me this trick:

    If you know where the story (or chapter, or scene) ends, consider all the possibilities of what could have happened to get the story to that point. Write them all down. Pick the one you like the best.

    Then, consider that event...what are all the possibilities that could have happened to reach this juncture: Pick the one you like the best...

    Keep working backward until you've reached the sticking point. (This looks really kewl on paper if you map it out while you're thinking...)

  4. Hi Kelly! Usually when I'm stuck it's because I wrote myself into a locked up, no key corner. So I go back and start over. Sometimes that works, sometimes I have to throw out the old words and just start over.

  5. Thanks, Kelly.
    That's a great idea! I have to leave to go to work, but first thing tomorrow, I'll give that a go!

  6. Hi Kristi - I know what you mean!

    In one of the WIP I'm trying to edit, I've killed off one of the two main characters. Definitely a sore spot for my crit group...yet, I don't see a way around it.

    On the other hand...I know it's a show stopper for the book. If nothing shakes loose in the next few weeks, I'm going to trunk about 60K words.

  7. Oh, I know those corners! I think every time I've "quit" writing, it's because that's where I found myself.

    I had a scene in a story once where the heroine mopped herself into a corner of her kitchen. The hero walked in and the scene became a pivitol point. All because I didn't know where in the hell to go!

    Nice post, Kelly!

  8. Hi Liz

    Thank you for the kind words about the post.

    The scene you describe sounds like it could be very explosive. (Tension, as they can't meet across the damp floor, she insists he doesn't track his muddy boots across the floor to rescue her, he calls her foolish for not accepting his help...) (!)

    How did you resolve the story?? I'm dying to know...