Friday, February 26, 2010

Avoiding "Writing Avoidance" Activities

Anyone who's ever been assigned an essay for class will tell you the best thing about writing is not writing. I've found when I'm on a deadline, the temptation is there to do anything but put down words. Personally, my favorite "avoid writing" activity is redecorating, because a blank page doesn't look nearly so bad when you've filled a whole wall with rose-colored paint! Plus, I have it on good authority (meaning I made it up in my own head) that electricity was discovered, television was invented, and the theory of relativity proved simply because those guys didn't want to face their English 101 term papers. 
 ~ Jen Lancaster, in Bright Lights, Big Ass

When I was in college, my apartment would be its cleanest when I had a big paper due. I felt I couldn't possibly write or think though dust. I couldn't turn my back on unwashed laundry. Or on clean, but unfolded, laundry. And, while I'm up, I should go ahead and grab the vacuum. You get the picture.

Writers are creatures of habit, and I'm no exception. When I've been home all day, closed away in my office, I am overcome with joy to see a sink full of dirty dishes. It means I had found that "writer's high"-- the zone where my most common avoidance activity didn't stand in my way. Ah, inspiration! Let Them Soak, I say!

Don't worry. No need to send the Clean House crew just yet. I fall into this old writing avoidance activity enough to help maintain my household. Besides, I'm acquainted with some other Avoidance Activities as well. Do these sound familiar?

Just a Little Snack
Does staring at an empty screen convince you that your stomach is empty too? Do you find your fingers too busy in the chip bowl to type your next sentences?
Excuse Editor Tip: Get hungry for your completed work. The best writing is made from scratch, and the recipe includes time and patience. Feed yourself and your work with that energy instead of automatically rejecting your workspace for the refrigerator. If mindless eating is interfering with your writing, become mindful of it. Make a writing goal for yourself that takes you to your next reasonable snack or meal time. When you've reached that goal (time, scenes or word count, for example), take a lunch break-- away from your writing space. Your writing and your waistline will thank you.
I have Real Work to do...
Do you take your home with you? Well, then, it's only fair that you should start taking your writing to work. I'm sure your boss will understand that your TPS reports are being set aside for now because you spent the night before perfecting their new cover sheets and now you really need to get the next chapter in your novel written. Right?
Excuse Editor Tip: Take an assessment of a typical week. How many hours do you spend "on the job"? How about on your writing? If you are concerned that taking time for writing is cutting into your earning potential, find ways to work your writing into your budget:
  1. Research ways you can get paid for doing the type of writing you like to do (sign up for my newsletter/The Scoop, look through the latest Writer's Market ). Reframe writing in your mind as "paid" work, even if you don't have a buyer just yet. The more writing you do, the better chance you will have to sell something.
  2. "Work smarter, not harder." Overused, yes, but there's some truth to it. At work, avoid multi-tasking if possible. Instead, keep your focus on each job through to completion, take a breather, and move on. By eliminating as many distractions as possible, you will train yourself to get more work done in a shorter amount of time. Use the time you gain for your love of writing. Allow your new-found discipline into your writing time as well. You'll be awarded with a priceless sense of achievement.
  3. Your dreams are important. Strive for balance in your work and writing life. Once you find it, you may find that it improves the quality of both. You can create enough success to touch all parts of your life.

The pic on this post is from the 2004 movie,The Stepford Wives . Bette Midler's character is a writer, so wildly creative she can't be bothered to clean up her kitchen. In the movie you know that her and her writing are suffering as spotless shiny appliances glare at her suddenly put together hair and makeup, not a notebook in sight.

Do you know when you are avoiding your writing? What do you do?


  1. All great tips! Thanks! I try to really structure my day otherwise I fritter it away and it's then 5pm and nothing has been achieved. I invented the 20, 30, 40, 60 schedule and it really works. I assume the position at the keyboard set my timer (download from Cooltimer) for 20 minutes and I start writing. If I have nothing I just free write and keep the flow going with blah, blah, blah until another idea comes along ( it always does). I keep going until the 20 minutes is up. I break for 5 but stay at my desk and set the timer so that I'm back on time. Then I do 30, then 40 then 15 minute break - where I grab a drink. Then I do the full hour. I then break for 30 and start all over again. This schedule works really well if I have done a bit of Pre-writing work and I have a goal. The first 20 minutes is the hardest and after that my work becomes interesting.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Heather! Your 20,30,40,60 schedule is a great idea. It reminds me of dipping your toes into the chilly water-- increasing increments until..ahhh.. you find yourself comfortable and going with the flow!
    I feel so lucky when people comment here and I get a chance to see their lives and work. Your thesis sounds facinating (neuropsychology). Emotion IS important to the human experience, that is why writing/sharing stories will never go away.


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