by | Mar 25, 2020 | The Writer's Life, On writing | 4 comments

by Jamie Freveletti 

What came first: the procrastination or the emotion?

Our pet tortoise “Will”

Sometimes my writing progress goes as slowly as my tortoise, Will. Or perhaps even slower, because when Will sees me coming with the lettuce he moves fairly fast. Last month I wrote a post about the science behind making a New Year’s Resolution stick. Those tips were great, but I still found myself procrastinating over a chapter in my latest work-in-progress. Something was bugging me about the structure and reveals. I kept writing scenes, and each was good enough for a first draft, but the story felt as though it didn’t unwind in the right sequence. Before I knew it, I began procrastinating on writing the next scene.

My usual way to work through a scene problem is to either watch a favorite film or read a favorite novel. I have some films that have incredible action sequences that I return to over and over: The Bourne Ultimatum‘s scene in the Victoria train station is one. As Jason Bourne talks the journalist through the station the script and images just flow. This scene always reminds me about how to intercut images. Another is Loretta Chase’s Silk is for Seduction, which provides a master class on creating conflict between characters that’s believable and fascinating.

But this latest delay seemed different to me. Almost as if I was afraid to make a mistake in the manuscript. Admittedly, I’m attempting a multimedia project that’s outside my usual work, but negative internal talk is not like me. I’ve long ago learned to turn off the “you’re not good enough for this” thought while I’m writing.

Or have I? Was my procrastination a symptom rather than a cause?

For an answer I started looking into the science of procrastination, and, sure enough. there’s some solid research in the area. In fact, some of use have brains that are wired to procrastinate. Or at least that’s the conclusion in this recent study on the subject. Turns out that our amygdala and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex work together and in some people the connection is weaker than others. Apparently emotion is what makes us procrastinate. Namely, negative emotion. The “this is too hard” or “I don’t know what’s wrong or how to fix it” emotion. So when you’re sitting at that computer screen and thinking that you’re not good enough, that negative emotion ties to our brain and makes us avoid the situation.

And the fix? The article lists a group of them–all from productivity expert Moyra Scott. Many are tried and true: like breaking down a task into smaller bits (others have called this the “swiss cheese method) and using a timer.

For me, though, just realizing that my procrastination was a way to avoid an emotion was enough to break it. I told myself:  Enough worrying and just keep going. Sure enough, when I had four more chapters done I realized that adding a subplot and moving the scenes around would solve some issues. I dropped in the hints, moved a scene, cut a revealing conversation–(well I never cut, I just moved the block to the end of the document to insert at a later time) and kept going. And it worked-for now. If the procrastination looms again I’ll now know where it’s coming from and hopefully banish it again.In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.

And if you have any tips about how you banish procrastination please put them in the comments below. I’d love to hear about what has worked for you!

All the best,
Jamie Freveletti

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  1. Karna Bodman

    Oh yes, I have certainly hit the "pause" button when I've run out of ideas for a particular scene in a new book. One thing I often do is seek "outside" inspiration — talk to a fellow author, call an expert in the field my hero or heroine works in, email a family member who reads a lot of thrillers and compare notes. Then there's always researching online discovering better locations, even photos for inspiration. And I remember learning a few more writing techniques at Thrillerfest workshops and panels where they advise us to suddenly insert an action in a scene: open a door, ask a question, pull a gun, introduce a new threat, get a surprise phone call – then just sit down at the computer and start typing.

  2. Jamie Freveletti

    Research does seem to open up ideas, doesn't it?

  3. Lisa Black

    I’m a plotter, I have the plot figured out in advance…and that’s something I can procrastinate on finishing, or even starting (like right now!—I tell myself I’m in the researching phase but since I’m having some hiccups finding sources on this topic, I’ve been progressing at a snail’s pace! But once I have the book planned, then I just require myself to reach a certain word count every day until I’m done. Wanting to get it done and be ‘free’ for the rest of the day is great motivation!

  4. Jamie Freveletti

    I also try for a daily word count (1000) but lately it's been tough getting anything done. Lots of distractions. I just may try plotting in advance for the first time to see if that helps. Will keep you posted!