A tragic tale of procrastination, shiny-objects, and low-productivity
I’m a natural procrastinator. I like a good, shiny object more than anyone. You put something interesting before me and I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to go chase after the new thing.
I was a shiny-object chaser with my writing, until recently.
I used advice I gathered from plenty of other authors — if you get stuck on a scene, drop it and work ahead on something easier. This way you use your writing time productively, versus drooling on your shoes for an hour.
This skip-around advice sounds great on paper. And it worked in practice… until I discovered the huge benefits of powering-through a tough scene. One day I was stuck as hell. I wanted to show an internal struggle with my protagonist and all I could write came across as too obvious.
On a typical writing day I’d skip the hard part and keep typing — maintain the momentum in the time I had. But not this day. I sat until the idea came to me. It felt painful and non-productive. I walked through scenarios in my head until I came up with something that worked.
Then everything clicked — more than ever.
Something magic happens to your subconscious when you force yourself to work through a difficult scene.
Write like your story depends on it
I sweat, swore, rocked, and wondered. My pen tapped the table. My fingers typed, deleted, and re-typed. But I came up with a scene that worked. I didn’t skip ahead, but carried-on.
In the past I’d come back to the tough scene repeatedly, train myself to get stuck again, through repeated surrender, and move on to easier scenes. In one last Hail Mary, I’d return to the scene and finish it with a lower quality than I’d like.
But this time it was different.
I worked the through this bastard of a scene and created something that really worked. And the creation of that scene wasn’t even the benefit of what happened next.
The work that followed came easier than before.
Like doing your chores before you have fun, writing the hard parts first releases your subconscious to present fantastic story ideas. I have no idea if this was why it happened, but the why isn’t important — it’s the how.
My subconscious delivered this huge basket of gifts once I conquered this difficult scene. Like my conscious mind choked-off all the good ideas with armed guards, until I proved myself worthy by finishing the tough bits. The scenes which followed came naturally. They were easy and good. The good bits came so quick I couldn’t type fast enough to record them — the muse in action.
If you want to learn how to prime your subconscious for good ideas, here’s a story I wrote previously:
How You Can Engage Your Subconscious Mind to Solve Your Toughest Problems
An old strategy used by the some of the smartest people in history
This isn’t some magic bullet. Writing is still hard as hell for me. But I prefer to buck the easy-train in exchange for the gift I’ll get on the other end of the hard work.
There’s a secondary bonus to working through the hard parts.
I found I procrastinate less once I’ve worked through the hard parts. I look forward to the work, because I know the writing ahead of me won’t be as hard as the bits I just finished.
After this writing episode I will never skip ahead again (short of writing the end first, but that’s another strategy I use):
Why I Write the End of My Novels First and You Should Too
If you don’t know where you’re going you’ll never get there
Next time you’re stuck, try to work through the hard parts before you skip ahead. I doubt this is something unique to me. Don’t train yourself to give up when the writing gets hard. Persevere and enjoy the bounty on the other side. You’ll thank me later.