Motivation and procrastination: the swings and roundabouts of being a writer

They say there’s no rest for the wicked. I don’t really know what that means, but if I were to interpret it literally, I might wish I were wicked. Maybe then, I wouldn’t be battling procrastination for the second time this year.

When motivation is the dominant paradigm with which I work, I write anywhere between one and three thousand words a day. Every day. But when the drive wanes and the procrastination demon appears on my shoulder and starts whispering in my ear about being tired, or cleaning the house, washing the car, making that phone call, or Twitter and Facebook, or any of the myriad of other misnomers it uses to tempt me away from writing, I can do nought but despair.

I need to start THAT manuscript, you know the one—it’d been incubating right the way through writing the last one. I’d kept it on the back-burner lest it detract from the one I’d actually been writing. But now that that one is finished, a terrible thing has happened. Even though I’ve written the synopsis, developed the plot, created and matured both the protagonist and the antagonist, I haven’t written a word. Not a single word.

I’m familiar enough with my own writing habits to realise that, for whatever reason, procrastination usually occurs for me as I’m nearing the end of a manuscript, and if not addressed judiciously it can develop and harden into a full-on writers’ block. And that, my friends, is a whole other ball game.

But this time, I’m at the beginning of a manuscript that has been incubating one way or another for a very long time. I’m ready. Ben and Olivia (my main characters) are ready.

Everything is in place. I’m keen and enthusiastic, even excited about it. So what’s the problem?

Perhaps it’s that the next project has begun the process of inception before I’ve penned the beginnings of this one. It’s a dilemma. Both are the beginnings of series, both are YA and both have the potential to be ongoing projects.

I write because I love writing. I love creating worlds, and scenarios, and people who then dominate my life for the year or so that each novel takes to complete. It’s a joy. There is a saying along the lines of ‘if you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life,’ and it’s true. I can (and do) spend every waking hour writing—when I’m in the zone.  Or maybe it’s just that the one I’m ‘supposed’ to be starting is the artefact for my PhD, alongside which I need to write a symbiotic exegesis. Maybe it adds a layer of pressure that is preventing me from even commencing the project. Fear of failure? Perhaps. Though I would’ve thought that might apply regardless—writers, by the very nature of what they do put themselves up for public scrutiny anyway.

But there is a flip side. And when the procrastination demon hits, or the writers’ block appears, it all comes crashing down and my bliss morphs into headache-inducing, teeth-grinding, wits-ending hard work. I can better understand (intellectually and emotionally) the procrastination that occurs nearing the end of a novel, it’s part of getting ready to farewell a project. But it’s the procrastination at the beginning of the project that has me perplexed. Words of wisdom....anyone?

Think carefully, do you really want your book reviewed?

I’m reviewing books at the moment. It’s a challenge. Not because I don’t know how write a review, but because before I even sit down to read the book, I have to figure out whether I am the best person to write the review for it.

Those who know me personally will know that I am a fairly straightforward person. I say what I think. In fact, sometimes I only become aware of what I think when I hear the words coming out of my mouth. Writing at least provides me with a slight buffer between the thought occurring and me presenting it. I can consider the reviews I’ve written (at least I can now that I’ve learned not to review straight into the online forum, but rather write it out in Word, let it sit, then come back to it and post sometime over the following few days), before anyone else reads it.

When I first agreed to take on reviewing books, it did not occur to me that I would be required to engage in a degree of ‘reading between the lines’, or have to navigate the myriad of motivations behind the author's request.

I thought, as some might, that having a book reviewed meant receiving honest (albeit subjective) feedback on technical aspects of the writing, as well as character development, plot, narrative flow, and if necessary, grammar and structure.

Reviews serve a dual purpose. They can offer constructive criticisms that give the author an opportunity to develop the work and build on their writing skills, particularly early in their writing career; and they provide prospective readers with an orientation to the work. No matter the experience level of the writer, reviews give an invaluable opportunity to continue to develop as a writer.

Reviewing, as with reading, is a very subjective thing. What one reviewer likes, another may hate. But one would assume that a reasonable reviewer is able to recognise a strong narrative and/or a quality piece of writing, even if the story line is not their cup of tea. One would also assume that authors seeking reviews do so with the expectation that the reviewer will be honest and give constructive (if not always diplomatic) feedback that the author may not necessarily like.

I guess it depends where you are on your writing journey as to what your understanding of the reviewing process is. Now I know I'm making a huge generalisation here, but my recent reviewing experience suggests that perhaps there exists a code of which I am not familiar.

When a writer says: “I’d love you to review my book ______. Could you publish your review on XXXX site when you can?”
They really mean: “I want you to hit 5 stars and write a few bland sentences saying what a fantastic book it is. Oh and you don’t have to spend time reading it. I just need the review.”

When they say: “I don’t need to study writing, I’m just a natural writer.”
They really mean: “Ignore the fact that the manuscript is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors and that the plot is unidentifiable or missing, I don’t care about that. My arrogance will carry the book and make me a motza.”

When they say: “Be as honest as you can.”
They really mean: “As long as you don’t say a critical word about it or it will crush my spirit and stop me from ever writing another word.”

But when they say: “What gives you the right to say my main character has no depth or substance? Who are you to tell me anything about my story? You don’t know anything about the character or story, you’re just the reader.”

… Um... okay… ? I'm just the reader? Well yes I am...

* Oh and if you want me to review your book, don't ask me to do it if you are not prepared to receive honest constructive feedback. It's a waste of the many hours I put into reading and considering all aspects of the book. And I'm getting cranky. The crankier I get the less diplomatic I tend to become. Be warned.