Writing a novel or a short story is challenging at the best of times. There’s plot holes to consider, bathrooms to be cleaned, food to be eaten and, sometimes, motivation to be found.
I’ve been writing novels for the past seven years and yet I still suffer from chronic procrastination. When my Deadline disappears I turn into a Twitter dwelling, PS2-gaming, clean freak – anything but writing. This is stupid, because I don’t just love writing, I adore it.
So, over the past seven years I’ve taught myself to avoid writing by writing or crafting other things. Like right now (I should be planning another essay). In this lens I’ll share with you 5 ways to procrastinate and still make progress on developing your novel, short story or writing skills. No magic needed.
1. Mood Boards
staring at your wall can now be productive
This is perhaps the most enjoyable way to procrastinate. Images are a fantastic source of inspiration. When you plan a novel or begin writing, do you collect images? Have you seen echoes of your characters or creations on deviantART or Etsy? Then it’s time to do something useful with those pictures, or, start collecting them.
Begin with magazines – beg, borrow and steal them from your friends. This is a good place to start image gathering as it is forces you to look beyond the specificity of internet search engines. It can make you think beyond whatever genre you are writing for. So, find your magazines, browse through them and tear out pictures that make you think of your novel. Don’t ponder over an image or consider ‘why’ you like it, just rip it out and put it to one side.
There is also no quota of images you should get from this. I usually have a limited supply of magazines (I always nick them from friends and family), so I tend to find no more than 3-to-5 images. This is OK. It’s about quality, or, ‘instinctive inspiration’, not quantity.
Now that we’re done with magazines: onto the internet! You can simply type key words into Google Images and hope for the best, but this can be dull and unfruitful. I would suggest going straight to deviantART, Etsy or even Tumblr.
When you’ve collected your images, arrange them onto a giant piece of paper (when in doubt, sticky-tape or glue the edges of A4 pieces together instead). Again, don’t think too hard about how you arrange these pictures. Place them as feels natural.
Now, find a friend to look at your mood-board and ask them, ‘what is my novel about?’ They will probably read your mind, or, point out things you hadn’t considered just by looking at the arrangement. Over time, as you spend hours looking at your mood-board instead of writing, each picture will have meaning and probably answer a few missing links within your story.
In the three collage photos here, you can see two of my mood-boards for two separate novels. Almost all of the images were found on deviantART. In the third image, you’ll notice a line of white paper and post-it-notes – these are images I have drawn myself. It always takes months for each picture to have a solid meaning but they develop a meaning nonetheless, and I never stop gathering images. This is, for me, the most useful procrastination technique.
My Favourite deviantART Artists
- yuumei creates flash comics, political and fantastical art concerning the enviroment, and switched-on, sarcastic journals.
- mibou has a flat, colourful and distinctive style that I love. He likes creating emotive pieces that have something to say – often through neo-symbolism.
- Sylphie has a smooth, ethereal style that always interests me. Her subjects are often set in China with hints of magic and origami fish.
- thienbao has a unique style that often experiments with setting and mood. Ranging from terrifying to magical to surreal, thienbao will probably have something for you.
- sandara is all about magical creatures in fantastic settings. Dragons, giant fish, griffins, phoenix’s, gods – the action is all here.
- Cristina Otero is my favourite photographer on DA. Her work ranges from scary, emotive, moody, wacky and often has a theme to pique your imagination. Beautiful stuff.
- Elena Kalis is an underwater photographer. Her photos primarily feature young girls in costume, holding a magnificent pose whilst in the sea or a pool. Her most regailed project is her Alice in Waterland exploration.
something every writer needs
Most authors will tell you that a Writing Bible is essential to your story and, for the most part, I agree. This isn’t an instantly gratifying way to procrastinate but it will become your most guarded treasure.
What is a Writing Bible?
A Writing Bible is an explosion of organised notes about character details, key moments in your chapters, plot points, things to remember, timelines etc. It contains your ideas and secrets in as little or as much detail as you want. It’s the padding of your universe without actually writing a story. No one will ever see it. This is your super-awesome-journal that helps keep your story consistent (did Joe Bloggs have brown eyes or blue?) and it’s a safe place to throw around ideas (what if Voldemort was Harry Potter’s father?! Okay, so that’s an awful example, but you get the idea).
Starting Your Writing Bible
Make a contents of all your characters’ names – the easiest place to begin. Then, pick your favourite character and answer all of the questions that Manon Eileen has written for interrogating your character. [CLICK HERE] The Survey is nicely presented and, at the end, leaves you with a chunky PDF all about Your Character. It’s a great way to spend hours not-actually-writing but developing lifelike people.
Extra Awesome Stuff
For more details on what to put in your Writing Bible check out Pip Hunn’s fantastic, in-depth article [HERE]. It explains how to make a contents list, how to index and, most importantly, what to explore within your super-awesome-bible-of-procrastination.
My First Writing Bible
Click [HERE] to see my first Writing Bible made out of ripped in half sheets of A4 paper and bound together with a pipe-cleaner!
3. Get Out the House
I know, scary stuff. No pyjamas here…
…unless you’re like me, and don’t mind walking through the countryside in pyjamas and with a mug of tea.
As writers, we tend not to get out the house often enough, but walking is actually a really great way to mull over our ideas and release stress. It gets blood flowing and oxygen to the brain.
When you’re feeling down; struggling with writer’s block, passionate but frustrated with your work, it’s time to put on your shoes. It doesn’t matter where you live, in the city or suburbs, leaving the house will make you feel better.
I find that the most creative walks are when I only take my keys and my iPod. If I have a playlist that I listen to when I’m writing, then I listen to it when I walk. New ideas come to me and I feel happier about returning to my manuscript.
Vary the hours you go out, even the types of weather you brave. This will change the setting of your regular walks. As I live in the city, I often go walking at night amid the lights and dinner-couples, although I only recommend doing this in safe districts.
It’s not about being inspired by what you see – although this is great and can happen – it’s about daydreaming. That sounds awesome, right? And it is. Let your feet carry you on a long walk and your mind fly through another universe. Watch out for cars, though.
4. Put Together A Playlist
you’re lying if you say songs don’t inspire you
There is a plethora of musical genres and languages to be discovered from all across the globe. Aside from finding songs that make my imagination explode, I’ve learnt and discovered a lot just by looking for music. I’m now a fan of Faroese folksongs, Korean rap, Scandinavian darkwave and my iTunes is one giant album of game and film music! So how do you find these songs that get you in the mood for writing?
Things to Consider
Where is your story set? Norway? Atlantis? Galafrey? YouTube is fed every day by people from around the world. Unless you’re searching for music sung by dodo birds, you should be able to find something that is linked to your setting. This is what I search for first as it is the most thematically relevant.
What’s your favourite film or videogame? Both of these mediums produce gorgeous soundtracks that cater to a range of moods. The galaxy, horror, chase-scenes, piano music that makes you cry – there’s a wealth of soundtracks you probably never noticed are amazing.
Have you considered production music? Trailer music is epic and usually what I listen to on my walks. There are roughly five groups who produce all the trailer music you know of. It’s crazy, I know. These groups are Brand X, Two Steps From Hell, Epic Score, X-Ray Dog and Future World Music. Most of their music isn’t available for the general public to buy but it is available on YouTube.
TIP: It’s best to listen to music without lyrics, or, in a language you don’t understand.
This is perhaps my favourite piece of trailer music
5. Write Fan Fiction
there’s a fanfic hidden inside all of us
Fan fiction is a wonderful form of literature (yes, literature), and if you think otherwise, let me share with you a quote from onlyalittlelion:
“Most of the history of Western literature (and probably much of non-Western literature, but I can’t speak to that) is adapted or appropriated from something else. Homer wrote historyfic and Virgil wrote Homerfic and Dante wrote Virgilfic (where he makes himself a character and writes himself hanging out with Homer and Virgil and they’re like “OMG Dante you’re so cool.” He was the original Gary Stu).
“Milton wrote Bible fanfic, and everyone and their mom spent the Middle Ages writing King Arthur fanfic. In the sixteenth century you and another dude could translate the same Petrarchan sonnet and somehow have it count as two separate poems, and no one gave a fuck. Shakespeare doesn’t have a single original plot-although much of it would be more rightly termed RPF-and then John Fletcher and Mary Cowden Clarke and Gloria Naylor and Jane Smiley and Stephen Sondheim wrote Shakespeare fanfic. Guys like Pope and Dryden took old narratives and rewrote them to make fun of people they didn’t like, because the eighteenth century was basically high school. And Spenser! Don’t even get me started on Spenser.”
Alright, so it’s a long quote, but it’s a good quote. The beauty of fan fiction is that half the work is already done for us. The world is there, the characters are there and so is the lore. Writing fan fiction is a creative process that squeezes out new content. We have to look at what we want from the original story and reconstruct it into something new.
It can be great practice for character studies, rewriting timelines, experimenting with setting, and of course, using language in general. The nice part is, as people read your work, you’ll have prompting and encouragement from readers. Some may even give constructive feedback. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
What book, game, film, TV series do you love?
I would like to conclude this little module with another quote from onlyalittlelion:
“Here’s what fanfic authors/fans need to remember when anyone gives them shit: the idea that originality is somehow a good thing, an innately preferable thing, is a completely modern notion. Until about three hundred years ago, a good writer, by and large, was someone who could take a tried-and-true story and make it even more awesome. (If you want to sound fancy, the technical term is imitatio.) People were like, why would I wanna read something about some dude I’ve never heard of? There’s a new Sir Gawain story out, man! (As to when and how that changed, I tend to blame Daniel Defoe, or the Modernists, or reality television, depending on my mood.)”
6. Write A Blog Post
Writing a blog post might not be writing a novel but it is some form of writing. Write, write, write. It’s the only way to improve.
Don’t know what to write about? Nonsense, of course you do. You’re a creative individual with hundreds of ideas to share. How do you build fictional worlds? Where do you find writing prompts?
By writing this post I’ve hopefully helped you and I’ve experimented with how to write a casual article. Progress, right? I’ve also learnt how to deal with despair when I accidentally delete a whole module of text that I didn’t back up. Make sure you back up words to a harddrive before hitting ‘save’ or you may suffer unadulterated misery at having to start again. I could have wept because it’s bad enough that I’m procrastinating, remember? Yeah.
Now go get busy effectively procrastinating yourself!