I recently did a survey of writers, asking them what their biggest challenge was in relation to their writing.
A few answered that they were struggling with marketing, or with story quality or self doubt or even grammar. Each of these categories amounted to 5% or 10% of the total answers.
But by far the largest proportion of writers - over 60% - revealed that their main difficulty was related to two connected things: time and procrastination.
These writers told me that they were frustrated because they either didn’t have the time to write or, when they had it, found that it was swallowed up with distractions and interruptions, most often self-generated.
This is big.
In fact, this is far more revealing than I think many of the authors who said it probably realise.
Now, when it comes to dealing with time and procrastination, you’ll find a number of guides, articles, lists of things to do and so forth on the internet, all of them giving insights into the matter and suggesting ways forward. I have also put out a booklet with some ‘remedies’ for this - it’s available here, for free. But all of this kind of thing is like ‘first aid’ for writers - the suggestions might serve to patch them up and help them to get a bit more done, but they tend not to go to the heart of the problem. If that could be addressed - if the core of the issue could be handled in some way - there would be no need for temporary remedies and partial solutions. Procrastination and time-related factors when it came to writing would evaporate.
You would never waste time again.
You would get tons of writing done.
Is this possible? Surely, there isn’t anything to be done with regards to procrastination? Isn’t it simply human nature to be distracted and to put things off?
Let me begin leading you down the path to the solution through a comparison: if you went to see your GP (that’s ‘General Practitioner’ or local doctor, for those of you in the States or elsewhere) about a health issue, you wouldn’t expect them to not show up for your appointment on the grounds that ‘they had been distracted’, would you?
Even more extreme: if you called the Fire Brigade in an emergency, the last thing you would expect to hear would be a recorded message explaining that all the fire people were off doing something else for a bit, and could you call back?
In other words, in almost every other department of life, we expect that others will present themselves as available and functioning according to their jobs. If you describe yourself as something, then society demands that you turn up, ready to perform your duty, as a professional, whether you are part of fire services, a doctor, a data entry clerk, a shop assistant, a salesperson or whatever. If you don’t appear and perform, you lose your job. It might be truer to say that, if you don’t function as your job, you are undermining what you are in others’ eyes and you will eventually fade away.
So why do we not expect this from writers? (I could also add ‘or other artists’, as they also often struggle with this.)
The answer to that question isn’t what you might be expecting. It’s not quite ‘You’re not taking yourself seriously enough as a writer’, though that’s how it manifests itself. I realise that by far the majority of writers take themselves incredibly seriously when it comes to writing - so much so that the frustration of not being able to write can cause them pain ranking with physical distress. They are desperate to write; that they cannot seem to find the time, or get so distracted, is a real concern to them.
I feel their pain.
For most of my life I was in a similar position without realising it. I was working at various professional jobs and tasks and feeling deeply unhappy and unsatisfied because the worlds and words that were spinning around in my head were never able to escape onto a page or screen. And then, in those brief moments when I had a chance to write, my time was entirely consumed by self-generated disturbances, interruptions, intrusions, pastimes, activities, which befuddled and bewildered me until I had to return to whatever it was I was ‘supposed to be doing’.
What was at the heart of that?
And how did I deal with it so that, over the last three years I have published about 30 books, written about three million words, generated a daily blog with over 1,000 articles, and put together a writers’ group with almost 3,000 members?
How did I get to the point where my whole life is structured around my writing?
How did I reach the stage where, instead of ‘trying to find the time to write’ I now struggle to find the time to do anything else?
Stay tuned for tomorrow's solutions.