Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Delia Latham: A Dozen Ways to Avoid Writing Your Novel

Writing Tip: It does not matter whether or not you assign yourself writing time each day.

Ouch! I already feel the outrage of veteran writers who adhere to rigid rules of time apportionment. I’ve heard it too: “You must allow yourself a certain number of hours to write — every day.”

The thing is, I agree. As a writer, you must carve out a set amount of time every day for writing. It’s also good to have a realistic word count goal, and not stop until you’ve reached it.

So now I’ve executed a complete 180, haven’t I?

No, I have not. I stick with my initial statement: It does not matter that you assign yourself writing time each day, unless you write during that time.

It’s easy to allot a slice of hours and minutes for any given action. It’s harder to use that chunk of time for the purpose designated. If I give myself four hours to write every Monday through Friday, but spend three hours and ten minutes of the alloted time doing something else – even something “writing related” – I haven’t accomplished what I set out to do.

I’ve come up with a list of ways to sabotage writing time. If they’re not familiar, you’re probably one of the few authors who have learned to avoid procrastination. Good for you! I’m impressed. But I’m not quite there yet, and I have a feeling I’m not alone. Thus this list. Hope it helps someone avoid the detours.

Novel Detours

1. Check e-mail. It must be done, but not during writing time. Checking leads to answering. Answering leads to chatting. Chatting lead to lots and lots of lost time.

2. Visit a Social Networking Site. Facebook, Shoutlife, Twitter…to mention just a few. Networking is important, even crucial to building a platform. But writing time is exactly that: time for writing. Networking is not writing, and is incredibly time consuming. Find another time slot for it.

3. Research. It’s unavoidable if you want to make a novel accurate and true-to-life. But it is not writing. It’s easy to feel self-righteous about two hours spent finding out whether plastic tea pitchers existed in 1936. Trouble is, research gets out of hand so easily. While digging into information regarding an intended subject, tidbits of data about a gazillion other topics show up – and before you know it, you’re looking at those as well. I’ve found, through uncomfortable experience, that it’s good to specify a limited amount of time for research. “Writing Time, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., to include no more than one hour of research.” (Better yet, save yourself a headache and just make the pitcher a pitcher – must it be plastic?)

4. Write other things. Like I’m doing right now. Instead of plowing ahead on my current WIP – an inspirational novel – I’m procrastinating by writing about procrastination. Between projects, this article would be an excellent way to fill my fiercely guarded writing time. But until that novel is finished, I’ll simply find myself another hour or so closer to my deadline, while my characters remain frozen in time, right where I left them yesterday. Articles, short stories, fillers, greeting card verse…they’re all commendable projects. But none get a novel written. Unless and until the author develops an iron will and rigid self-discipline, it’s a good idea to work on the novel to the exclusion of everything else. Once you’ve mastered the ability to park yourself in your writing spot at the same time every day, for the same length of time, who knows? You may be fine with adding other writing projects to the mix.
Or maybe not.

5. Edit what you’ve already written. I wish I could reclaim all the time I spent editing Goldeneyes. To avoid dealing with a rock wall of writer’s block, I edited the first four existing chapters over and over – and over – for nearly a year. When I finally forbade myself the right to change a single word until the book was finished, I broke through that stubborn wall and started writing. It wasn’t necessarily good writing at first. But I was putting words together and making sentences about the characters and situations in that novel. I had plenty of opportunity to cull out the awful stuff later…when the story was told.

6. Critique a friend’s work. I love working with critique partners. I’ve learned as much about my craft by critiquing and being critiqued as I have by reading books and attending classes. But critiquing is not writing. Enjoy someone else’s work on your own time. (Writing hours belong to your novel, not you.)

7. Blog. This particular form of online presence has become almost a frenzy. And there’s no doubt that it provides a good medium for staying in touch with readers…friends…family…or simply as a personal journal. (Though I have to admit, the idea of journaling in such a public forum makes me break out in hives.) But posting to a blog, whatever your reason for having one, doesn’t add a thing to your work-in-progress. Blog if you must – just keep it to its own time slot.

Note: The above applies to newsletters, as well. Whether you’re creating, writing, or posting news items, don’t steal from your writing time. If you really want to pursue these activities, schedule a time slot just for them. You might think about writing four days a week and working on your blog and/or newsletter on the fifth day. The point is, keep your writing time pure. Mixing it with other “writing-related” pursuits will eventually whittle it down to far less than you started out with.

8. Write a review. It consists of more than putting words on paper…first you have to read the book. And writers should read. But believe me when I say reviewing can quickly get out of hand. Be careful how many you agree to do. It involves reading, writing, and usually posting to several different online venues. I also like to take time to e-mail the contact with a copy of the review and information on where I’ve posted or plan to post–and this costs another minute or two. Last but not least, writing a review is “writing-related.” At the risk of nagging, I’ll say it again: It adds not one jot or tittle to your novel. Consider including review activities on your to-do list for “the fifth day,” right along with maintaining your blog and/or newsletter.

9. Surf the Web. I’m beyond glad to be rid of my old typewriter with its correction tape and smeary ink cartridge. But that trusty machine had one massive benefit: All it was capable of doing was getting my words onto paper. When I sat down to write, I wrote. Now, my writing instrument has become a time bandit, robbing me of precious seconds, minutes and hours. Writers, beware the virtual time warp! You sit down to write, fire up the Web, and ten minutes later your clock has moved forward three hours! Amazing, isn’t it?

10. Play Online Games. I used to visit games.com on a regular basis. After all, even writers deserve a break now and then! I can’t even venture a guess as to how many times I entered a Boggle game room for “one or two rounds” and came out only when the phone rang, my honey hollered “hungry,” or I realized I needed to visit the restroom–badly–two hours later. Games are enjoyable pastimes, but even word fun like Boggle and Scrabble doesn’t qualify as writing. Play when you’re not supposed to be creating a novel.

11. Make a phone call. About the time you start to really get into the next chapter, a mental alarm goes off. You intended to call someone today–a friend or family member, a business associate, a bill collector, the winner of your latest blog contest…someone. Immediate instinct is to reach for the telephone, but don’t. Keep a notepad beside your computer. When you remember something you need to do, jot it down. Now you’ve lost ten seconds, rather than the five minutes to half an hour you’d forfeit if you made that call. It’s also helpful to keep a to-do list. Lay it out the
night before. Include those calls you need to make, and slide them into their proper time slot – which is not in the middle of your writing time.

12. Take a phone call. Here’s the deal: Ignore the telephone during writing hours. Let your answering machine do what it’s there for. Return calls after you’ve written those 1,500 words or when the clock strikes whatever time you’ve set as “quitting time.” If you’re a worry wart who will be absolutely certain that last call was the local hospital with news that your 25-year-old baby finally crashed his souped-up Mustang, then do yourself a favor and put the answering machine within hearing distance. You’ll actually hear that overgrown infant asking to borrow another hundred bucks, and you can ignore him and go back to work. Most calls can wait—let them.

That’s it—my one dozen little bites of writing sustenance. I hope it’s been beneficial. But why, oh why, are you reading this rather lengthy example of procrastination instead of starting that next chapter?

It’s only a matter of time….

Delia Latham
(c) 2009


  1. Life tosses us a variety of unavoidable distractions, but the ten you've listed are within our complete control, Delia. Who among us isn't guilty of "hijacking" writing time, at our own keyboards? Thanks again for another excellent post!

    1. Hi, Julia! It's always such a pleasure to have you drop in. Yes, all 12 of the above distractions are avoidable - that's why they're listed here. Avoidance. Sometimes the reason we allow these things to distract us is because we're "avoiding" writing that novel. :) Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I'm guilty of all of these! So sad!

    1. Ummm...let he/she that is without sin cast the first stone. lol We're all guilty of at least a few, if not all of these. I'd say, despite the undeniable pull of these distractions, you're doing something right, my friend. :) Thanks for stopping by!