Over on my author blog, I’ve been writing about the Seven Myths of Novel Writing. I’ve made a list of all of them here. I’ve popped over here to talk about one word that kept coming up as I was thinking about those (sometimes pernicious) novel writing myths: procrastination. Procrastination isn’t necessarily a bad thing, funnily enough, sometimes it’s a good idea to put stuff off until tomorrow. In fact, time management writer Mark Forster even called one of his books ‘Do It Tomorrow’.
Procrastination = a sign that there’s a block somewhere
Procrastination isn’t often about laziness either. It’s usually a sign that there is some block in the way, something stopping us. This could be cognitive thing: a subconscious fear, doubt in my ability, unwillingness to commit. Or it could be lack of information, knowledge or learning: something I must know or understand before I can do whatever it is. Or it could be about communication: I need to write to this person, or speak to that person, or I think I do. Or it could be about lack of time and space – often these things go together. The action needs longer than I’m allowing or I need to go somewhere different to do it.
Name your subconscious fear
For example, if I put off making an online video because I’m frightened people won’t like it, the block is cognitive. But if it’s because I don’t know how to use my video editing software, it’s about lack of knowledge. If I need to collaborate with someone on the video, but haven’t been able to pin them down, it’s about communication, or if I need to find somewhere fairly sound-proof to make the video in the first place, it’s about time and space. I’ve used the phrase once already but I think it probably applies more generally to procrastination and that’s subconscious fear (or worry or self-doubt). Often the reason why we procrastinate is buried. The first step to overcoming it is naming it and even writing it down. “I am worried that…” (and fill in the blanks).
What have myth-busting and procrastination-beating got in common?
But I started by saying that this came up when I was writing about the Seven Myths of Novel Writing. So what have myth-busting and procrastination-beating got in common? As it turns out, quite a lot, and I think this is to do with our subconscious beliefs about ourselves again. Sometimes we believe ‘convenient’ myths, to keep ourselves ‘safe’ – and in specific cases, these myths make us procrastinate or indefinitely defer the thing we want to do. Perhaps it’s an example of cognitive bias too – we have a view of ourselves, and we notice things (including myths) that shore up this view.
Myths that hold us back
For example, one of the Seven Myths of Novel Writing is believing that there’s only one way to write a novel. That’s a myth that’s going to hold you back if you either 1) feel like you haven’t discovered the ‘real’ way to write a novel yet 2) feel like you’ve planned your novel the ‘wrong’. Another example: if I believe I’ll never find the time to write, then I might never look at my day to see if I could fit in half an hour of writing. If I believe that writing a novel is a ‘dream’ rather than a process of turning up over and over again, then I won’t break it down into small steps. If I tell myself that nobody will want to read what I’ve written, then it’s possible nobody ever will. By the way, I’ve written about another of the novel writing myths over on Jane Friedman’s website.