Author: tallulahlucy

Should I self publish my book or go traditional?

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This is a question that gets asked a lot in The Dragon Writers, where we have a wide spread of both kinds of authors.

The short answer is: with self publishing, or “indie” you get a bigger slice of the pie but you have to work harder for it.

Choosing to self publish should never be about having a back up plan, it’s not something you should do just because you’re tired of rejection.

Self publishing is being CEO of your own business.

 

You are the manufacturer of the product (the book), you are the person responsible for finding a team to quality control the product (editors and proofreaders), you’re the person responsible for getting the product to market (uploading it on retailers, choosing which retailers are best, deciding whether to print local copies or use distributers to get it into book stores), you are the person responsible for marketing the product (ensuring the cover is not only professional, but that it communicates to the end user what to expect from the product). You will also have to be your own compliance officer, which is what many people don’t talk about. You need to worry about rights, and taxes and GDPR and all that jazz.

Like all businesses, making and selling books requires a capital outlay to start with.

You will probably need to pay your team. I say probably because if you’re fortunate you will be able to make arrangements with qualified friends and barter, but if you’re not in that position, you’re going to need to pay someone real money.

Even if you don’t end up paying for that, you’re going to have to pay for marketing. There was a time when Amazon first started their print on demand service when you could be discovered without spending money on marketing, there was a time when having an organic Facebook audience was enough for any business. This is no longer the case. People don’t stumble upon new authors accidentally.

You’re probably going to have to spend money on training. Sure, there are tons of free resources out there and you can probably learn a lot of what you need just by joining the right Facebook groups, but it’s likely that you will end up buying at least one book or course to train you in advertising or strategy.

The people who do well at self publishing are the people who thrive on the challenges of the business side.

They’ve got entrepreneurial hearts. They want to be involved in all this. They want to be in control. They love experimenting, and chatting to readers, and networking with other writers.

If you aren’t that yet, you can become that. No one starts off good at anything in life. You learn.

But if the very idea fills you with horror, then that’s where traditional might be right for you.

You see, in the traditional model a writer is just a writer.

 

You manufacture the product and that’s that. Well not quite. Like all manufacturers of any other product, you have to get someone to buy it to take it further. You have to pitch. You have to be rejected. You have to keep trying. You get better at pitches, you get better at creating products that fulfill a market need. Eventually someone buys your product and agrees to distribute it for you. You will probably have to make some adjustments, and you will get a very complex contract explaining what you each expect from one another.

Used to be that after that point it was out of your hands. Now the thing is if you want to sell another product to that buyer, you’ll want to do a bit of marketing yourself. But it’s not expected of you. Your book will end up in stores, you might get speaking opportunities and things like that, and you don’t have to worry about any of it.

If you only want to write and not worry about the business side of things, then traditional is probably for you. Yes, it’s a slow process, but it’s a process that frees you up to do what truly makes your soul happy. Don’t let people put you off if you know that this is what’s right for you. Just be patient and keep working at it. Your day will come.

The thing that makes traditional publishing so difficult is also its greatest benefit. Since there is such a huge barrier to entry, the assumption is that books put out by traditional publishers are top quality. Yes, there are many that aren’t. However, people who see the brand names of the big publishers on your book will assume that your book is up to scratch because it made it through that selection process. You don’t have that with indie. You have to create your own brand and it’s up to you to prove it’s quality even though it’s mixed in with a lot of books that are not quality at all.

The in between

Vanity presses (sometimes called hybrid publishers)

are like that greasy guy with the slicked-back hair twho show up at your door or networking event to tell you they’re onto the next big thing and if you just give them cash you can be in on it too. Sure, some of them are legit (I mean I’m sure there must be one somewhere out there that’s legit) but you have to be so careful.

Rule of thumb is that if someone is asking for money to publish your book it’s one of these. And no matter what they tell you, all they will do is help with the manufacturing of the product. You’re still going to be CEO. You’re still going to have to sell it and market it and make a bunch of legal and regulatory decisions. However, they will (in theory) get the book edited, laid out and organise a nice cover for you, which takes a lot of the admin out of doing it yourself. Just be wary, look at other products they’ve produced before and ask around to see if they’re up to scratch. Since they’re getting their money from you, they have no incentive to make a book that will sell.

Authors’ co-op

This is what I do personally, so I may be a bit biased. You’re still CEO and everything that I said about self publishing still applies. However, you can exchange your own skills with other authors so that it keeps the costs down. Find some friends who are very good at what they do (look for talent, not just friendship. This is crucial). Someone can be in charge of covers, someone can be in charge of interior layout, someone can be in charge of editing, someone can be in charge of proof reading, someone can be in charge of marketing, etc. You don’t have to do everything yourself. You’re a team and you work together to produce the absolute best products you can, but you still have complete control over your own publishing journey.

 

Publishing is hard. There’s no way around it. If it wasn’t, then traditional publishers wouldn’t be a thing. But just bear in mind, you’ve got time to learn. No business expects you to know everything on day one. In the end, you have to decide what’s important to you and what you want to get out of publishing and that will inform which method you select. 

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Wedding, Inktober and Writing – oh my!

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The last half of 2018 has been a little crazy, here are a couple of highlights!

 
 

Wedding!

 
 
Wedding selfie!Graham and I got engaged in 2014, only six months after we started dating. At the time our parents were a little concerned. Little did they know we’d end up living together for almost four years before tying the knot because of the cost and logistics of organising a wedding. In the end, we decided that the most important thing was our commitment to each other and not the very expensive party, so we essentially eloped (and our moms tagged along as witnesses). 
 
I didn’t expect it to feel very special, since in South Africa you don’t go to court but to Home Affairs which is the same place where people queue to register babies, apply for ID cards, get passports etc. I felt a little weird showing up there in a nice dress with a bunch of flowers! And we had to wait in this dark corridor beside a bunch of disgruntled people who were still angry about being up early (I’m assuming). 
 
But the ceremony itself was lovely. We had this wonderful warm marriage officer who said she used to work in immigration, but she just got depressed turning people away and she was too soft-hearted for the role, so they transferred her and her soft heart to weddings. 
 
I can’t remember the actual vows, but I remember that that there was nothing sexist or homophobic at all and that made me extra happy. There were damp eyes and a great sense of FINALLY. 
 
Afterwards, we went to a really nice restaurant (Mexican, on a farm (?)) and that’s where we took pics. When we go on honeymoon, I’m going to book a professional photographer to take some nice wedding pics of us in a foreign land 🙂 
 
People keep asking how married life is, but it’s really not different at all from what we had before. I’m still getting used to using the word “husband”. 
 
I chose to change my name because I preferred the sound of the new one (complete vanity, sorry feminism!) And it’s a little weird, but not as weird as I thought it would be!
 
 
Saying vows
 
 

Finishing my Dragon Age fan trilogy

 
I’ve long held the belief that writing fanfic is the best way to practice storytelling. You have a willing audience, you have chapter-by-chapter statistics and, if you’re lucky, other fans are happy to help you out by editing for you. In February 2016 I hit on an idea based on the Dragon Age series of games. I initially wrote and posted one chapter, and when there was interest I started spinning that out into a tale about what happens to heroes after the world is saved.
 
Little did I know that it would result in a 332 547-word-long trilogy of novels about identity, self-determination and overcoming trauma.
 
Last week, I published the final chapter!
 
 
Decorative swishes say: True love is more than moonlight kisses and desperate vows. It might just be powerful enough to heal two broken people. Which is part of the fic blurb.
 
 
It’s been an amazing experience. Yolandie and Abigail were awesome and played the roles of editor and proofreader respectively, I met a bunch of really great people through the fan community and I feel like my writing really benefited. I’m kind of sad to see it go, but I’m also so happy that I finished and published something, even if it’s not under my own name!
 
Some highlights: 
 
  • The day I checked my stats on Fanfiction.net and saw that over 20 000 people had visited the story (now over 55 000).
  • The first time Nerine (my editor, who also introduced me to Dragon Age) said she’d read my fic and could see how much I’d improved through writing it, and that I’d found my voice. 
  • The time someone commented and said they’d printed out the story so they can read it again and asked if they could donate to my PayPal as a thank you.
 
I know there tends to be a stigma around writing fan fiction (thanks to the likes of Diana Gabaldon and Anne Rice), but it’s largely based on false ideas about what motivates someone to create. Fan works are about finding a way to delve deeper into something you love, and to connect with others who love the same thing. I know that the friendships I’ve made, and skills I’ve learned, through writing fic will last far beyond this particular story. 
 
 

Inktober

 
It’s not often that words literally fail me, but my fundraiser went so so much better than I ever could have expected. THANK YOU to everyone who contributed or spread the word. 
 
Art commissions are not usually my thing – I get far too stressed out about them – so I don’t know if I’ll do this again, but I’m really happy with how things went. The money is in a high-interest account with the rest of the honeymoon savings, and I will report back when we decide where we want to go and when! (Probably still Ireland next year).
 
 
An instagram snap of Keyflame (the first version!)
 
 
 

Keyflame

 
I’ve passed the half way point with rewrites of my first novel! I wrote Keyflame back in 2009 and pressed publish on Amazon in my excitement, and then had immediate regret and withdrew it. All of my stories since then are multiple-book series, so I decided to revisit this standalone so I’d have something to offer that didn’t require the same type of investment from readers. 
 
I’ve tried something different with this re-write – I’ve been sending it to beta readers as I write so I can adjust the story to fit with, or thwart, reader expectations. It’s stressful, I won’t lie. It kind of feels like I have an exam to prep for every single week (I send out new chapters on Fridays), but I’m probably going to do this every time I do revisions from now on. The major benefit is that it stops me second guessing myself about what readers will think, because I know what they think. Having a weekly deadline also pushes me to keep writing even when I’m in the doldrums. 
 
If you’re curious about the story, here’s the blurb!
 
 

When Lilah Durow starts university in the idyllic Grahamstown, she thinks her biggest problem will be fitting in. 
 
Little does she know, she stands at the centre of an ancient war.
 

When her father’s latest case lands him in prison, Lilah’s classmate Kalin steps in to help her. He’s argumentative, brooding and just mysterious enough to be attractive. But the closer she grows to him, the more strange things start to happen. Not the least of which are the vivid dreams of a fantasy world she thought she’d made up, and of a powerful battle between light and dark.

 
Something magical lurks in her blood, and there are those in Grahamstown who are willing to kill her for it. 
 
Who is Kalin really, and what will loving him cost her?
 
 
 
 
 
 
I’m going to try to keep this blog up to date with more regular (and shorter) progress reports and writing tips. Is there anything else you’d like to see here?
 
I’d also love to connect with you on Instagram if you’re on that platform. It’s my new favourite place. 

Categories: Blog

Pay what you like for some art!

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In June I married the man of my dreams in a tiny ceremony at Home Affairs. It wasn’t quite eloping (because our mothers were there), but it was very close. 

We really want to go on honeymoon next year to celebrate our wedding properly, and we have our eyes on an international getaway in Ireland for Worldcon. This, unfortunately, means Euros! So it’s a bit of a scramble to save up enough to go (1 Euro = 17 South African Rand). 

UPDATE: WorldCon ticket prices doubled over night due to them removing a tier for first time attendees, which means attending the con is no longer on the cards. However, we are still considering Ireland and I’m still raising funds for a honeymoon, if not the one we initially pictured.  – 5 October 2018

During Inktober, I love making art for people

Inktober is a challenge that I take part in every year. The goal is to make an artwork using ink as the medium every day of October. I’ve always given the challenge my own spin, and most years I end up at the post office mailing off my month’s endeavors. It’s kind of traditional now!

This year I’m going to be auctioning off the days for money to put towards the honeymoon. How it works is very simple: you can pay whatever you like for a picture – there is no minimum amount! And you can even suggest the content of the picture. 

Pictures can be delivered by mail or as digital scans, and this is absolutely open internationally. I love sending mail overseas! (I only ask that your sponsorship cover the cost of the postage in this case ;)) 

There are only 31 days available

Unfortunately once the days are booked, they’re booked! 

The rules of Inktober are such: you do one picture a day, and you use ink to do it.  My interpretation of ink has always been broad. I’m happy to use copics, ballpoint, fineliners or actual acrylic inks. And you can state which you prefer for your picture.

Since I work during the week, please bear in mind that the artwork I create will be done in 1 – 2 hours, aside from weekends. Those giving the largest donations will be awarded weekend spots where I will spend more time on the artworks (it’s only fair). 

Here are some pieces I’ve done for previous Inktobers

If you’re keen to sponsor a day, please fill in this Google Form. 

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The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater

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It is the first day of November and so today, someone will die…

How’s that for an opening line? It’s one of my absolute favourites. 

The Scorpio Races takes place on a small island where rabid horses rise out of the sea every autumn. The population of the island trains them and races them, and this story is about two racers. One is a boy who is an excellent trainer and one is a girl who’s only ever ridden a normal pony, but who needs the money from the races to save her family. 

It’s seldom I read a standalone so satisfying. Stiefvater creates a whole world in such a short space of time with this book. She manages to capture the life and beauty of this strange island in a way that makes it feel so very familiar. I was so sad to say goodbye to these characters that I immediately started the book again as soon as I ended it.

I aspire to write environment and character as well as she does. 

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Dawn’s Bright Talons – Nerine Dorman

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I don’t usually go for vampire stories, but when my friend, Nerine’s, novel became available on Audible, I had to give it a try. There’s a reason why this lady is my writing mentor. Her descriptive writing is beautiful and she creates an incredibly evocative vibe that is both haunting and lush.

Dawn’s Bright Talons is the story of Isabeau, a beautiful dancer, whose true nature is revealed after she gets bitten by a vampire. She’s a weapon against the night, and now all the night’s creatures want her dead. All except for the vampire Michel, who becomes her unlikely ally.

I’d highly recommend this story to fans of Anne Rice and eagerly await the sequel.

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Girl of Fire and Thorns – Rae Carson

On her 16th birthday, Elisa is married off to a king. She is the chosen one of her people, bearing a sacred stone in her navel, but she is barely an adult and has no concept of the dangerous machinations around her that may very well get her killed. She has to find her power, and the inner strength to use it, before it’s too late to save those she cares about most. 

After I read this book, I saw there was a lot of controversy around it, which made me sad. I initially bought it after waiting ages to find it locally (and it’s since been region locked on Audible so I can no longer purchase it in South Africa! Thank goodness I found it when I did.)

These are the things I loved about the book:

  • It’s beautifully written. The descriptions are rich and I found it easy to get into the main character’s head
  • The main character is overweight (the controversy stemmed from her losing some of the weight during the course of the story)
  • We often expect our YA heroines to be kickass or nothing at all. She doesn’t start off kickass, but she is always kind and that makes me route for her.
  • The main character is not without flaws and weaknesses, she isn’t perfect and accomplished from the get go 
  • The book is not Eurocentric, and offers a fresh fantasy experience
  • The cast of characters is memorable

Some people didn’t enjoy that the main character was religious, which is not something that I found off-putting myself. I see it as part of her character, and her discoveries about flaws in her religion are part of her character development.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well-written YA. 

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The Water Crisis Diaries: Hope

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Two pieces of good news today have me breathing a little easier.

  1. Even though the porta potties are still lurking in the work parking lot, the toilets are working again!
  2. Day Zero – the day when the taps get switched off – has moved back to May.  A whole month later than it was predicted to be last time I updated this blog.

A little hope is a powerful thing. While we’re still going to need to measure every drop we use (because we need to push it all the way back to August in order for it to disappear completely), it feels like a literal physical weight has been lifted off my shoulders. For the first time in a long while I feel like I may not have to shit in a bucket. So that’s good.

Of course, that would mean that it has to rain at some stage. It still hasn’t.

On Friday our building manager came around and installed water saving taps and shower heads. Our old bits and pieces went into a little ziplock plastic bag with the flat number on it in permanent marker, to be put in storage until the crisis is over. She explained that if we fail to drastically reduce our usage in the flats, the government will start applying limits based on an estimate of one person per bedroom in the block. Which is less than half of the number of people who actually live here. Meaning we’ll use our water quota by midday.

Our neighbours are pretty selfish. Aside from the constant noise pollution, they’ve been doing laundry almost every day.

Hopefully the notices that have been put up in the stairwells about the new consequences for not saving water will change a few habits.

Categories: Blog

How to write a novel in Microsoft Word

My trilogy is currently sitting at 316,078 words, which amounts to 732 Microsoft Word pages. It’s all in a single doc.

I’m not saying that to impress anyone (it still needs to be edited down!). Only because a few people I’ve chatted to seem to think that you need some fancy writing software to write anything of that length. I actually find Word really easy to use, and it’s all because a few years ago I figured out how to structure a document for a novel.

Here’s what I do, and hopefully it can help you too.

1. Navigation Pane

Under “View” on the main menu, check “Navigation Pane”. This is the key to the entire thing. The Navigation Pane allows you to view the document by headings, pages or by search results. The headings is the important thing, as you will be able to navigate directly to each heading by clicking on it.

2. Scrap yard and Marker

The first thing I type is Scrap Yard, the second is Marker. Both of these should be on their own lines and set to Heading 1. You will find Heading 1 under Styles on the Home tab of the main menu. Then they show up in the Navigation Pane. You want to start typing your novel above this.

3. Using headings to structure the novel

Something that I know I vastly underestimated when I started writing was how much time I’d spend skipping back to check stuff. Whether it’s a character name, a piece of dialogue or what the hell happened in That One Scene, I do it at least three times in every writing session.

Now for each section of a story that I write, I will use headings so that I can easily find that part again.

How you do this all depends on how you want to break down your novel. For the 316k monster I mentioned above, I have Heading 1 for the book titles, Heading 2 for settings, Heading 3 for key scenes in that setting.

I’ve also been writing a fanfic in Google Docs, which also has this navigation system (called Outline). In that one I use Heading 1 for chapter numbers, Heading 2 for the point of view character and Heading 3 for the scenes within a chapter. You can see how nicely they nest under each other.

  

With this system, it’s easy to find That One Scene because of my descriptive Heading 3 that lets me find it easily. 

4. What was that about a Marker? 

So, remember that Marker Heading 1? That’s basically a bookmark. Because it’s the biggest heading, it will never be nested under anything and you can use it to always find your place.

If you write your novel from start to end, then it’s no problem finding where you left off. But if you’re like me,  you’ll constantly bounce back to fix stuff or make adjustments, and this is where this fellow is really handy. Just make sure you keep the Marker at the bottom of what you’re currently writing and you will never ever lose your place, even if you have to navigate away to check something quickly and accidentally only return to your document in six months. 

5. … And the Scrap yard? 

The Scrap yard is where all the murdered darlings go.

You know the phrase “kill your darlings”? It typically means that sometimes you need to cut out bits of your novel that you really love, but that just don’t fit where they currently are. My junk yard (or “Spares” as I call it in the trilogy) is a maze of descriptive Heading 3s. Sometimes I manage to use those darlings elsewhere in the novel, and then I just change the Heading 3 to reflect this. But even if I never use that bit of writing, it at least makes me feel like no effort is ever wasted. 

And that’s how I use Microsoft Word for writing really long documents easily. 

Do you have any of your own tips that I should try? Add them in the comments 🙂 

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Life update: Having my cake and eating avo toast

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Sunday afternoon saw us driving frantically across Cape Town trying to hit as many Checkers stores as we could before closing time.

 

Why? Because I want to have a cake this year for my birthday and I don’t want to have to bake it myself. 

 

It’s interesting how times have changed. A few years back I was determined to make “trying a fantastic new cake recipe” a birthday tradition. But that was before eating flour was a no-no. 

 

The first birthday that I spent gluten intolerant, I baked a cake that tasted like cardboard and that no one in the office was brave enough to try (I literally ate the whole thing minus I think three pieces accepted by people too polite to decline). The next year, I drove around with my mom on the day itself trying to seek out somewhere – anywhere – that could offer me a slice of gluten-free cake while we had tea and exchanged gossip. Alas, we were unsuccessful in our quest and I eventually ended up with a puddle of what was deemed “cheesecake” but was actually an overpriced sour lump of white mush. The only thing we ended up trading over our tea were tears of frustration. 

 

(There’s a lesson here about prioritising treats over experiences… but I clearly haven’t learned it yet. )

 

Last year I just gave up and got a muffin. 

 

Cardboard cake
The mighty Cardboard Cake (Astros for decoration only – not gluten free).

 

This year, being a big birthday, I wanted to plan ahead. There is exactly one brand that does pre-made, vacuum-sealed sponge cakes. (Doesn’t that just sound tasty?) I’ve tried them and am pleased to report that they do, in fact, taste better than the Cardboard Cake of 2014. A lovely friend of mine who bakes and decorates cakes professionally even offered to stack a few of them together and ice them for me. If you’d seen her cakes you’d understand just how excited I was about this plan. 

 

Then we couldn’t track the damned things down. It turns out that this weekend was the one that every curious Banter chose to try the cakes.

 

We drove from Kenilworth to Blue Route, to Canal Walk and back to no avail. Poor Graham played chauffeur fortified only with a meagre McDonald’s burger (because we may have both forgotten to eat – this is why we likely should never be parents). He was endlessly patient with my panic and despair… and went to check the healthy food market near his work during lunch break on Monday. There they were! Perhaps that should have been our Plan A to begin with. There’s a lesson here about over-complicating things that I probably also will never learn. 

 

Talking of learning things, I mentioned just now how it’s a big birthday. Well, it’s my 30th. When I think of turning 30, I think of Ally McBeal. There was a whole episode about her turning 30 (literally, it was called Turning Thirty

 

And then I get scared because I know the episode opened with her freaking out about turning “the big 3 – 0”, and that makes me think that I should be freaking out. And then I get even more scared because that episode aired in 2000 and that was seventeen years ago. What??

 

Okay, but in all honesty, I’m not that scared. I’ve never really been one for measuring myself against societal norms (probably because back when I did that I used to fall inexorably short, so I decided to rather become “interesting” and “eccentric” and the kind of person who uses “inexorably” in a sentence). I remember when I turned 16, I felt terribly unqualified to be that old. The same with being 18 – I’d never even had a boyfriend! When I turned 21 I was surrounded by other crazy 21-year-olds so I felt a bit better, and the feelings that weren’t better got drowned in alcohol. Now at 30, I feel like I overshot the mark and have fallen somewhere on the other side of 80. I have back problems, dietary issues and spend my evenings knitting or writing with my spectacles perched askew upon the tip of my nose (yea, I just got new glasses so I’m still working on focusing properly). 

 

But if I’m a 30-year-old 80-year-old, I’m a happy one. I have grandpa “get-off-my-lawn” Graham at my side, a large circle of supportive friends across the world, and a job I don’t hate. 

 

Which is I guess all that one can ask for at 30 if one still wishes to enjoy the odd avo toast

 

Despite this, I do get that unsettling sense of life slipping away which I guess is why I’ve decided to start blogging again. I hope to keep my rambles interesting, angst-free  (unlike my old livejournal) and semi-frequent. Other than that, if there’s something specific you want me to cover please leave a comment or hit me up on social media (I just used “hit me up”, see, I’m down with the kids!). 

 

These are some sections I’ll be introducing with the next update. Is there anything you think I should add? 

 

 

I’m writing:

 

In this section, I’ll be keeping track of my writing progress and posting extracts. 

 

I’m making art: 

 

In this section, I’ll be keeping track of my art progress and posting some pics.

 

I’m eating:

 

In this section, I’ll make note of any nice gluten-free food or recipes I find or other food anecdotes. Sometimes I’ll be linking to posts on Graham’s website, Next Window Plz

 

I’m listening to: 

 

In this section, I’ll give music recommendations. 

 

I’m reading: 

 

In this section, I’ll give book recommendations or, more likely, link to interesting articles.

 

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How I beat procrastination

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When I say “beat”, I mean “beat” in the present tense, of course. Because beating procrastination is an ongoing battle. For someone prone to procrastination, there’s no such thing as winning. You’re pretty much working against your own brain constantly in order to get important things done.

 

Alledria Hurt started a discussion in my writing group earlier about self-motivation. Some people are encouraged by positive rewards at the end of achieving their goal (get 1,000 words down, have a chocolate). Some people are encouraged by negative consequences (if I don’t get these words down, I can’t watch TV today).

For me, neither of these things seem to work. Negative consequences make me panic and procrastinate more. And positive consequences make me sad that I can’t have the positive things now and grumpy about doing the task at hand. Not ideal. 

Winning the Procrastination Battle for me is all about trying to outwit my brain, and these are some strategies that I’ve found do work.

 

Understanding the enemy

 
Everybody’s brain is different, so tricking yourself might be different from how I trick myself. As with any war, the first step is knowing the enemy. That means understanding exactly what thoughts lead to procrastination. For me it’s usually one of three things:

 

1. This is a large task

This is a big undertaking, I should probably get the little things done first so I can undertake it in one chunk and really focus.

If I start that task now, I won’t get a chance to do the other things I want to do today/tonight. I should probably do those first. 

If I start now, I’ll probably be interrupted by a meeting/visit/obligation. I should wait until that’s done before starting. 

I don’t know where to start.

This task probably isn’t for me. I’m going to mess it up because it’s too large and important. 

 

2. This is not the right time to do it

I’m not feeling very focused now. I’m too hungry/sad/tired. I should rather do something else now and tackle that task when I’m better equipped.

I’m not inspired now. If I wait a while, inspiration will hit. 

It’s too late at night/early in the morning/close to meal time. I’ll do it later. 

 

3. I’d rather do something fun

I have to do this task, so it’s automatically the devil and not fun. 

This fun thing will only take a moment and then I’ll feel better about life in general and do better work. 

 

The art of war

 
Once I catch myself having these thoughts, I know that I am faced with my enemy, Procrastination. This is the battle plan I use.

 

For “it’s too large” thoughts:

    • Strategy 1: It’s really not that big If you can, you need to convince yourself that the huge task that seems huge is not really that big. It helps to compare it to other tasks you’ve done that are similar and you’ve done successfully. For me this is my monthly reports for work. They seem HUGE but I have to remind myself, I somehow manage to do them every month. It will nearly always feel larger in your  mind than it really is.
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    • Strategy 2: break it down into parts. It’s the old “eat an elephant” thing. If you can break it down into smaller, less-scary, tasks then it’s easier to tackle. I like to make a list of all of the parts/steps that need to happen. If you’re having a crisis of confidence in your ability to do the task, choose a single step that you feel comfortable with and start there.
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    • Strategy 3: “just a tiny piece” If the list is still overwhelming, choose one of the easiest places to start and tell yourself you only have to do that little bit. This is a great strategy for novel writing, I find. Cat Hellisen does #Gimme100 on Twitter, which is a challenge to write only 100 words a day (and often turns into writing many more words). My version is “open the laptop”. The battle is practically already won if I can sit down and open up the doc with my novel in it and read a few lines. I tell myself “you don’t need to solve the problem with Chapter 20 today, you can just read the intro line and see if you have anything to add.” And usually, once I get stuck in, I’m hooked and end up solving the problem with Chapter 20 anyway.

     

 

For “this is not the right time” thoughts:

It is the right time. That’s the trick. It is always the right time. Inspiration doesn’t matter (you had it with you all along, like Dorothy’s ability to click her heals and return home). If you’re avoiding doing a task, you’ll never be in the perfect mood for it.

Also, it helps to accept that interruptions don’t matter that much either. In fact it can be good to take a break, even in the middle of something big that needs a lot of focus.

Trying to find a large chunk of time when you feel inspired and in a good mood is like trying to find the holy grail: a terribly costly endeavor that is likely to be fruitless. Start now, because there’s probably not going to be a better time.

 

For “I’d rather do something fun” thoughts”

You have to give it to these guys for at least being honest. Most of the time your brain will use excuses like “it’s too big” or “now’s not the right time” when it really means that it wants to do something more enjoyable.

The secret to this one is that you need to drill down into exactly why you think this thing you need to do is not enjoyable. Sometimes my own tricksy brain tries to tell me I don’t enjoy writing. Like what? Seriously?

Writing is my dream. I love it more than anything.

But once it’s something you have to do, it feels like work. It feels like it’s much easier to just pick up a videogame and space out. But, you know, if you set a deadline on playing that video game you’ll procrastinate about doing that too. I know all about that, I’m marrying a game reviewer.

No matter how much you love something, if you make it something you have to do, you’re going to resent having to do it. That’s just how we are.

So how do you get around that? Well, this is where some people find bribery works. You lead your brain into the task with the promise of something fun later and then, when you end up actually enjoying the task, it’s a wonderful surprise. But for me, that just makes me more resentful about not being able to do the fun thing. I need to find the fun thing in the task itself.

With writing it comes down to remembering the good parts of the story, the reason why I decided to write it. I read through my favourite scenes (or go through them in my head if not yet written) to “find my passion” for the story and convince me that I really want to write it after all.

With other aspects of life I also try to drill down into the task to find a small fun aspect. Even if it’s only very very small. Colour-coding notes worked for me when I was studying, or illustrating them with funny pictures. When it comes to social media reports, I like finding out which posts do the best and trying to figure out why.

And if all else fails, and “finding the fun” is impossible, you need to look at the reason why doing the task is important. Zoom out and look at the bigger picture. This is slightly different from “fear of negative consequences” (I’ll get in trouble if I don’t do this report! I’ll punish myself if I don’t write!). It’s more about seeing how this thing you need to do will improve your overall wellbeing and happiness or even alter the world for the better.  (“If I pass my exam, I’ll have a qualification and be able to get a better job”, “If I discover which Facebook ads work best, I’ll be able to offer businesses advice that makes a real positive difference to their lives”, “If I finish this novel, other people will be able to enjoy the story I’ve been telling myself for years”).

 

One final trick

This is the one that I call “bait and switch”. If you’re very sneaky, you can get your brain to do something that it would rather avoid by making it think it’s avoiding something else.

So for example if I’m procrastinating about writing, I give my brain a choice: do writing or clean the house.

Which do you think it’s more likely to choose?

The house, of course. But there are worse things than having a clean house.

^_^
 

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