I have a problem.
I mentioned before the Summer and my mini-hiatus that I was going to self-publish next year, and I’d set out a fairly clear plan to get me there. Of course, there were some wrenches thrown into that plan. I was training for a new position at my job, and there was a lot of wedding prep going on and I just didn’t have the mental energy to spend on writing, or even blogging.
Once I was over that hump, it took me a few weeks to reconnect to my projects after spending some time away from them, and I had a long list of things to get done in September. But I was ready. Motivated. Excited to get back to work. This was going to be the month that I got shit done.
Here we are, at the end of September, and I haven’t made any progress at all. At best I’ve done some work on my outline for the book I’m releasing next year.
Of course, I was sick for two weeks of the month, which really did not help, but that’s just it – I’m tired of making excuses. Tired of procrastinating.
While I was sick I was listening to a lot of podcasts, and I’ve been binging The Bestseller Experiment by Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux. If you have any intention of publishing anything in your lifetime, I highly recommend a listen. Not only is the podcast full of useful information, but it is also a very genuine look at the process and the struggles, and the two Marks are hilarious to listen to. I can’t recommend it enough.
But it was while I was listening to episode 22: Ben Aaronovitch and the Great Bollocking (which despite the personal turmoil that then ensued, was actually a fantastic listen), there was something that struck me, and I was a bit taken aback.
For some context, at the time of recording the two Marks had been working, in their minds, diligently at their novel, but when they told Aaronovitch that their outline was over 50k, he told them that what they are doing isn’t outlining – it’s procrastinating. They just need to start writing the novel. You worry about what happens after the book is written. Don’t worry about it before the draft is even finished, and definitely not during the outlining phase. ‘Cause it just becomes an excuse to put off the writing.
I know the difference between mindful work and busywork. I know that some things can feel like work when all they really are are distractions. I thought that I was getting better at identifying those pitfalls, and to my credit, I think I am. I know when I’m avoiding work. I know when I’m procrastinating.
And yet I spent an entire month plugging away at an outline and brainstorming notes, never feeling ready to write.
I don’t have an outline that’s quite as long as 50k, but the point remains. I was worrying too much about what was going to happen, and I need to just write the book.
What’s more frustrating is this is something I already know. After finishing the first draft of my novel The Wolves of the Far North back in January, I made a post discussing the things I’d learned from the process. The fact is, you don’t really know the story until you write it properly. All the outlining in the world won’t tell you what happens. Only the writing will.
It dawned on me then – all this time I thought I was working, but I wasn’t. I was just using the outline as an excuse to avoid the hard part – writing the damn book. That’s always going to be the hardest part for me. I need to get better at recognizing when I’m avoiding the work. Hopefully, then it’ll be easier to catch myself when I procrastinate.
I was not expecting it, but this podcast episode called me out.
I’m on a deadline. We are three months until the end of this year, and I need to have a workable first draft going into 2020 if I hope to publish it on time.
Regardless of how detailed my current outline, until I actually sit down and write the thing, I’m not making any headway. Do I have enough to write it the way I want? Probably not. But I might not ever have enough to feel ready.
That’s the truth of it. You’ll never be ready, so you may as well start. Anything else is just procrastination. If I want to be a full-time author, I need to get used to that feeling and practice writing when I feel uninspired and ill-prepared. Those are the facts.
I know that I’m the type of writer that needs an outline. I go horribly off-plot if I don’t. But what I need is a general idea of where I’m going. The details I’ll sort out later.
Aaronovitch’s advice was to get the beats down on a piece of A4. So that’s just what I’m going to do. I’ve given myself a new, and very strict deadline. I have the rest of today to finish that beat sheet. Tomorrow I start chapter 1, whether I’m ready or not.
This story is important to me, and maybe that’s why I’m so easily distracted. It’s going to be my debut, and it involves characters and a world I have thought about for years! I want the story to be as good as it can be, and that’s why I’ve spent so long on the outline. I want to make sure I’m doing the characters justice. That the story I’m trying to write is the one I’ve envisioned.
But won’t that be easier once the first draft is actually done, and I have the base material to work with?
Right now everything is ephemeral. A bunch of question marks and what-ifs. And that’s not a story. It’s just an idea.
It’s time to get to work.
No more procrastinating.
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