Creative Procrastination

Forgot to post when this article went up on the Writers Rumpus blog – hope you enjoy!

When faced with a new project that I’m not sure how to approach, often my first instinct is total avoidance. All of a sudden, the household tasks that I’ve been successfully ignoring – sink full of dishes, laundry waiting to be folded – begin to take on an air of new importance, as if they really need to get done right this very minute. Spoiler alert: they don’t.

day21

Wait long enough and the dishes will do themselves!

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The laundry doesn’t even want to get folded.

I’ve found that when this happens, I need to find a way to trick myself into working. Over the years (and with the help from many SCBWI workshops) I’ve developed some go-to activities/exercises to get past the fear of starting and to get myself into a better mindset.

Here are some things I’ve done recently when trying to get my brain to settle down:

List-making:

Sometimes the best cure for the fear of the blank page is to fill that page up as quickly as possible. Making lots of lists can keep me from editing before my pencil hits the paper. I’ll tell myself “This stuff doesn’t matter – it’s just warm-up stuff. You can toss if it you want!” But often, new ideas will emerge from this process that I couldn’t have gotten to any other way.

You could try making lists about:

  • unique locations for your story
  • what is inside your character’s purse or in their medicine cabinet
  • problems that a character could have
  • solutions to that problem
  • potential names for your character’s new rock band
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Some lists of things to look up for a new project!

The key is to get it down as fast as you can, no editing your thoughts. If you get a list of 20 things, there may only be one or two that appeal to you – but that’s better than nothing! After all, you can’t edit a blank page.

Looking for more ideas? Check out this book by Jaime Zollars:  IlLISTration: Improvisational Lists and Drawing Assists to Spark Creativity.

Sketching lots of variations the same thing:

Drawing lots of variations of the same thing one way I can get myself to stop thinking and to just get my pencil moving. This can also be sort of a visual version of listmaking.

I’ll pick a simple topic, maybe chickens, doors or coat racks, quickly find a bunch of reference material, and draw as many as I can, one right after another. Some resources for reference material include:

  • Pinterest or google image search (just don’t fall down an internet rabbit hole!)
  • furniture catalogues or magazines
  • Books like 642 Things to Draw or 642 Things to Write About can help take away some of that initial “what do I draw?!” decision-making when you first sit down.
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Coat racks from THIS OLD HOUSE magazine! Which one would your character pick? What would they hang on it?

Filling the well:

I first learned about this concept from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. If I spend too much time with my butt in a chair, I start to feel a bit depleted. I’ve found that I need to find ways of going out into the world, allowing myself to be curious – and only then do I have the mental energy to focus once I’m back at my desk. Here are some things I’ve tried:

  • Reading more books in and out of my target market (I create picture books, but recently I’ve read middle grade, adult fiction & nonfiction… as well as lots of picture books, of course). Having trouble finding new books to read? Try looking through Goodreads lists, talking to your local librarians and putting out a request on Facebook to ask your friends about recent books they’ve enjoyed. (For even more ideas, check out this excellent post Don’t Forget to Read! Writer’s Rumpus post by Laura Fineberg Cooper!)
  • Getting outside: taking a walk, planning a visit to a museum, show, farm, nature preserve, botanical garden or some other interesting place!
  • Flipping through a magazine I’ve never read before. Your local library might have a surprising selection – I know mine did!
  • Making plans to spend time with friends, both in & out of the kidlit world. Socializing with family & friends can help you get out of your own head, especially when you’re treading water on a new project.

Do you find you need to trick yourself into getting your pen to hit the paper? What kinds of creative procrastination have you tried?

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