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This Writing Life: Just Get On With It!

10 March, 2011

In my writing life, there are some things I prefer to work on over others. Here’s a very simple example: I come up with a short story idea. Flush with excitement, I write it and thoroughly enjoy the process. When the first draft is done, I put it aside. And then… Well, here’s where things go wrong. I always intend to edit my stories, get them critiqued and then start submitting. I usually do make a start on editing, but because I don’t enjoy it as much as writing, somehow I just never seem to finish. I have half a dozen half-edited stories languishing on my computer and another sitting on my desk, waiting to be looked at.

This, as you can see, is a problem in itself. If I’m not finishing and submitting, I’m never going to get published and no-one’s ever going to read my work. Always going on to something new and shiny before finishing the last thing is not the way to have a successful writing career. And it’s not just editing that I put off like this. Sometimes it’s blogging, or catching up on forum posting, or critiquing other people’s work, or researching. There’s always something that I don’t feel like doing, always something that I end up putting off. And putting off. And putting off again.

This is where the cycle becomes destructive. Endlessly avoiding a piece of work starts to make it loom large in my mind. Suddenly, that little thing – like editing a story – becomes huge and terrifying. And the more I put it off, the bigger and scarier it gets, to the point where I start to worry about it even when I’m doing other things. That little piece of work gets built up and up, until it becomes a mountain I don’t feel I can ever climb. And because I can’t climb it, I keep worrying, more and more, until I can think about nothing else. But the more I think about it, the less I feel capable of doing it, and the less I feel able to concentrate on anything else either…

Ok, you get the idea. I can put off work for weeks or even months this way, until the sheer stress of having it hanging over me forces me to complete it. When I finally get down to work – usually with a large mug of coffee and loud, shouty music for moral support – I realise how little this thing was. It’s just a read-through of a short story, or an hour of browsing Wikipedia for research, or half an hour to update the blog. Small, inconsequential really, and not difficult at all. Why, I think to myself, did I get so worked up about this? Why did I keep putting it off?

I never really have a good answer to that, other than that it seemed hard at the time, or I just didn’t feel like it. I have decided, though, that I need to make a new resolution. Whenever it comes time to tackle a tricky piece of work, or something that I could avoid, I will repeat this mantra: JUST GET ON WITH IT. Stop being an idiot, stop worrying and just do it. You’ll feel much better when it’s out of the way.

This piece of ‘tough love’, as it were, probably won’t work for everyone. I know many writers prefer to bribe themselves instead (e.g. ‘I can have a piece of cake/buy a new book/watch a film, if I just finish this thing first’). Personally, that doesn’t work for me. Telling myself to just sit down, shut up and do the work, though? That does.

So, last post I gave people permission to take time off rather than work themselves into the ground. This time though, think about any pieces of work that are hanging over you like the Sword of Damocles… And just get on with it!

  1. 11 March, 2011 12:47 am

    I am definitely guilty of avoiding what needs to be done on various projects. I’m really trying to overcome that though. Really.

    • 11 March, 2011 9:51 am

      I think all writers do it to some extent, Sonia. Or maybe it’s the really successful ones who don’t? Hmm, even more reason to work harder!

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