08 May 2020
Crime writer Caro Ramsey helps you beat the procrastination blues
Many writers live in a constant state of procrastination. Finding a pile of ironing fascinating is a sign that the motivation may be ebbing a little.
I started writing while recovering from fracturing my spine. It was while bedbound in a surgical ward that I wrote the 250,000 words which later became my first two books. The creative process gave me an alternative to the tedium of hospital life. I looked forward to getting back to notebook. Once out of hospital, recovering but still unable to walk, my creative life really helped me cope. I became friends with my characters and they helped me through.
I believe that everything happens for a reason. I was very lucky that I learned to write when there were no distractions at all, and now thirteen books later, I have kept up my good habits.
All novels are a marathon, not a sprint. The author needs to keep focussed on this word, this sentence, this paragraph, this chapter. The rest of the book then writes itself. The big picture is daunting too look at. Write the novel the same way you would eat an elephant; a little bit at a time.
Even if a project is not subject to a deadline, it’s worth having a realistic daily target of time or word count, and never think that there’s always tomorrow to catch up…or the next day… or the next. That pile of ironing will still be there. Maybe even, stay a little ahead of the curve and get words ‘in the bank’ for the days when the gasman is very late coming. Use that time to plot the murder of the aforementioned gasman, (the joy of writing crime fiction). Nothing kills motivation like forcing the words on a bad day, and then stressing. Walk away, have a coffee.
When fiction writing is going well, the author hears the characters chat away. You can also encourage them to talk when the motivation is slacking, engage with them away from the keyboard. Ask your character what they drink in the pub, what toppings they like on their pizza. Don’t ask about the book. I have walked for miles talking to a killer, hearing them explain why they did what they did, why they may do it again. Write a short story introducing the character to yourself as if you are meeting them for the first time. More than a few novels have started that way.
My latest book, The Sideman, has two antagonists. One was easy to write, the other much more subtle, and problematic. He was a strong man yet easily led into a life of crime. We needed to talk it out. He told me how his childhood coloured his life.
So if a scene is not working, go back to nature; smell, the noise, the ground beneath the feet.
If possible, make your writing space comfortable. Psychologically, make it ‘yours’. If you write at the kitchen table put a ‘writing cloth‘ over it. This is your space, be selfish, you need to create. Find what works for you. A ticking clock drives me mad. Douglas Skelton writes listening to film music that suits the mood of what he’s writing. Yrsa Siguraddtittdor writes while watching horror films. Try to control interruptions, say that you will be back in an hour. Having two very different jobs, I have a routine to change from one mindset to the other. I change my clothes, play a game of scrabble or solitaire, then the writing starts.
At the end of the day, write. You need something to edit. Trust your creative subconscious, it knows what you are writing better than you do. Have you hit a brick wall? Look back to where it was easy. Is there another way? Or was it a great idea, but now it just doesn’t work?
I am wary of over plotting. It can create a cage too small to write into. Think of an old fashioned road map, the plot is where you want to go, but the route is yet to be revealed.
Don’t listen to other writers who find it easy, they have the same issues but keep quiet about them.
Research is a gift for procrastination. Keep the words going, type an asterix when you need to know something, then later, while waiting for the gasman, go through every asterix in the text.
And try to stay on track. Some can revise as they go but it’s better to get to the end, it feels good to type ‘the end’ even on the roughest if first drafts.
And most of all, enjoy it.
The Sideman by Caro Ramsey is published by Black Thorn Books (£8.99)
Have you considered how to prepare for the next stage of your writing life? Here are some thoughts to get you started.