I’m between projects at the moment. My novel is still lurking and stuck in the difficult middle, so of course the natural response is to avoid it. But rather than avoid it by not writing at all, I have a new
strategy, to beat procrastination.
At the start of 2015, I decided to diversify. The theory is, that any writing is better than no writing. Prior to my ‘diversify’ method, I would focus on my novel and nothing else. Then, when I got stuck, it would be that head against brick wall moment, which meant I stopped writing and then getting back to it became this massive hurdle of doom. And then I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than look at my book, because it was all awful and dark and abandon all hope, ye that enter. Then, six months later, I’d come to my senses, surrounded by the stench of my own self-doubt and someone would throw the curtains open and tell me to get back to it, before I have to scratch out the ‘publish book before 40th birthday’ resolution and replace it with ’41st’.
The diversify method exploits the need to procrastinate. Back in December, I decided to write a medieval ballad (when I diversify, I don’t muck about), which was a fun diversion from my book and reminded me that writing can be fun (sometimes). This year, I’ve written a radio drama, based on an idea I’ve had kicking about for years. This is an ongoing project, as I’m trying to get it recorded, allowing me to either submit to radio stations or just podcast it. The most important thing is, I’m writing.
I may not be actively writing my novel, but I know it’s percolating. It’s in my mind, working away in the background, as I focus on other stuff. Equally, that other stuff is serving an important role too. I decided to write a poem, because I wanted a challenge. I haven’t written a poem since I was at school. It was an opportunity to flex my writing muscles and play around with rhyme and rhythm and meter and a strict structure – things I don’t have to worry about with prose. Then I turned to script writing because it’s a discipline I haven’t tried before and I went on a workshop, which inspired me to give it a go. Plus writing for radio has its own, special challenges and opportunities.
Diversifying, doesn’t mean, starting a new novel or story, when you get stuck. It means having some side projects to work on that enhance your writing skills. These projects could be, entering writing competitions or writing non-fiction articles to sell in to magazines. They should be smaller, bite-size projects that hone different skills or challenge you in different ways, to give that novel-writing bit of your brain a break, allowing the subconscious to get to work on getting past any writing block.
I went on an Arvon course last year and the one thing I noticed, when the tutors and guest speaker spoke about their writing careers, was how many different types of writing they’d done. They all had a range of experience, including, TV, theatre, radio, magazines, games (it was a writing for games course), short stories, fiction and copywriting. So I came away thinking, I need to diversify. It’ll make me a better writer and it will create more opportunities. I may get a radio play produced and aired or I may win a writing competition. Either way, it’s all a step in the right direction and when I finish my novel and submit it to agents, I can add strength to my potential as a writer by pointing to earlier successes.
If you’re stuck, try diversifying. Try something new. You might like it. You’ll definitely learn something and you’ll return to your work in progress with a fresh pair of eyes.