Every now and then, young writers contact me for advice on writing and publishing and/or to interview me for a school assignment. In these cases, I try very hard not to terrify them. Recently, one of these young writers asked me a question that resulted in me ranting a bit. I hope I didn't terrify her, but it was an important rant on a subject I myself often need to be reminded of. So I'm going to repeat my rant (in expanded form) here.
She asked me of procrastination and how it would effect her goals. And I said:
Well, yes. Procrastination is bad. But you already know that! I'll put it plain and simple: Procrastination means you don't get things done. If you don't get things done, then things don't get done. That sounds stupid but it's true. Here's the thing about writing that a lot of aspiring writers weirdly don't seem to understand. They seem to think that all they have to do is THINK about writing. No, seriously. You wouldn't believe how many people never get beyond this point. But if you want to have written, you first have to WRITE. It doesn't work any other way. Little elves do not come into your room at night and write your book for you. Believe me, I've left out cookies for them and they never show up. Unless you are a famous celebrity and can afford to hire ghost writers, the only person that is going to write your book is you.
So. To overcome procrastination, you must decide what it is you want the most: Do you want to write a book, finish it, get it published, have people read it and e-mail you and tell you how much they adore you and your work and also get a check from a publisher that you can cash and use to buy yourself things like food and other lovely stuff? Or do you want to play Farmville?
For a writer, this is entirely up to you. You do not have any boss but yourself. Nobody is going to stand over you with a stick and force you to write. The world is not waiting for you to write your Great American Novel. The world doesn't particularly care if you do or not. There are plenty of other writers out there who are writing and getting things done. So if you want to be one of those people, you must do this on your own. There is simply no way around this.
Here is the expanded part: I actually had a revelation about this years ago. Is it ridiculous that I would need to have a revelation that in order to write, you have to actually...er..write? Well, I did.
The revelation came during a particularly brutal revision on my first published novel, Raising the Griffin. I was so horribly stuck on a particular problem my editor had raised and that I could not find a solution for. I remember actually, literally banging my head on my desk because I couldn't figure it out. I was working late into the night, bruised forehead and all, writing and rewriting the same scene from one dead end into another. The rest of the family had long gone to bed and the house was quiet and I was pretty sure I would never be able to do what needed to be done. I was done. I was quitting. I even said it out loud.
"I can't do this!"
And this is where I begin to sound delusional, but remember, it was quite late at night and I had recently suffered a self-inflicted head injury. But I swear I heard a voice quite distinctly say:
"If you don't do it, it won't get done."
There it was. The plain, simple fact. No one was going to do it for me. And nobody but me was really going to care if I didn't do it. And why should I care? Because I'm not afraid to admit that I'm one of those writers who loves having written. I love having written because I love to be read. To be read, you must be published. And 99.99% of the time, unfinished books don't get published. And so it must be done. And so I must do it. And so must this young writer. So far, nobody has figured out how to get around this. Except rich celebrities, that is.