Monday, March 8, 2010


I'm running low on inspiration this week. It's been quite a crazy week, with two family birthdays and all the attendant hoopla that goes with such things. I've done no writing at all, in particular because I've been ripping my way through the second and third books in the Silent series by Deanna Raybourn (can't... put... down... Gah!).

So, sitting here on a Monday evening, trying in vain to come up with a blog post that makes a modicum of sense, I find myself doing what I usually do when it's time to write. I procrastinate.

I'm absolutely certain we all do it, but I guess we all have different ways and means. And although procrastination takes you away from your work and certainly doesn't facilitate any words on the page, and although it's the kind of thing every writer and his dog tells you to AVOID, AVOID, I would actually argue that you can procrastinate in ways that do you good in the long term.

Me? I'm a sucker for Facebook, first and foremost. I like to hang out and see what my friends are up to. On occasion, when I'm really struggling to push myself to be productive, I'll flick back and forth between my email inbox (empty, still empty, sadly still empty) and Facebook in the hope of catching an exciting new status update or comment. And with almost 300 internationally-located friends I've made through a huge range of means, I usually get what I'm looking for.

HOW, you ask, can this drone-like behaviour POSSIBLY be good for my writing?

Well, I see Facebook as kind of a microcosm of what I do when I people-watch out in the real world. I'm fascinated not necessarily by the things going on in people's lives, but by the things they *choose* to highlight to their friends and acquaintances. Like any good writer, I always find myself reading between the lines of comments to interpret moods, circumstances, backgrounds- and of course because I know the people involved, I have a much better idea of what's happening.

So, essentially people-watching on Facebook adds further grist to my mental mill of human behaviour. When I'm writing and I get to a point of conflict, I always have a little inner voice asking me, "Is this reaction reasonable/ logical/ believable?". And the answer to that question doesn't necessarily come from my own experience- a lot of the time it's informed by behaviour I've observed in others.

In the words of Our Jen, be careful, or you'll end up in my novel :)

Blogs. Blogs are my second-biggest weakness. I have a good two dozen on my Google Reader, and they're the second thing I check every morning. I'm partial to bloggers who speak their minds freely, clearly and entertainingly, and particularly those who make me laugh. I'm also a big fan of those who make me think, and those who capture aspects of everyday life in interesting ways.

I don't even need to tell you why this is good for me as a writer. Reading about other people's lives is great for all the reasons outlined above, but more than anything, reading good writing inspires me to do better myself, and some of the best writing out there is being done every day on blogs.

The Compuserve Books and Writers community. For the last three and a half years, it's been my home away from home. I lurk through there every day, sticking my nose in here and there to see what's happening, and offering help where I can. And of course I'm still running the Exercises section there, but at the moment life is so busy I'm mostly limited to posting the exercise, then keeping an eye out to answer questions and see that everyone is happily commenting on everyone else's work.

In the early days of my involvement at Compuserve, my husband used to roll his eyes and suggest that perhaps it was taking up more time than I had to give. But he's given up that argument now, and with it the ruthless death-stares he used to receive, because my argument is clear. If you want to improve your own writing, one of the best possible ways to do it is by reading and critiquing, constructively, the writing of others. I find that every minute of time I give at Compuserve, giving my opinion or my assistance to others, makes me think about my own writing and ways to improve.

Humourous sites like Regretsy, Cake Wrecks, Mommy Wants Vodka, Crissy's Page, Awkward Family Photos and Lamebook are extraordinary timewasters when I should be doing something else- but they also contribute to keeping my mood upbeat and happy.

Another thing that takes up a great deal of my time lately is blogging about my daughter, and corresponding and researching for the dozens of other families who have contacted me through her site as they struggle through a similar time of confusion and pain after the birth of a brain-injured baby. More than anything I write anywhere, Sophie's story is me pouring my heart onto the page, particularly when it comes to helping others. It teaches me to open up and write truly, and it reminds me all the time how very lucky I am, and how much I want to be the best I can be for my amazing child. And that includes finishing my damned novel.

I also find myself indulging my various other creative passions when I don't know what else to do. I trawl around on Etsy, I hunt for various interesting and different recipes, I check out cake decorating sites, and I track down ideas to decorate my daughter's room in ways that will stimulate and fascinate her. None of these things has anything to do with writing, and in fact the doing of any of them will take time away from my writing. But I need all those other things in my life to keep me thinking creatively and to keep me nice and relaxed.

So, those are the things I'm usually doing when I should be writing books or blog posts. How about you? How do you procrastinate? And do you think it ever helps you, or does it just stop you getting things done?


  1. Claire, you nailed most of my procrastination techniques right there.

    But there's one you didn't mention, and it's my dirty (literally) little secret; when I really want to procrastinate about my writing, I clean.

    With three kids, a cat and a husband, the filth in my house is not hard to find; there is ALWAYS something that needs cleaning or folding or vacuuming or washing or sorting or dusting or mopping or scrubbing or ... you get the picture. But you know, it's when I'm involved in these mindless tasks that I get the best flashes of inspiration for my book. So yes, I agree - procrastination can be of great benefit for one's writing; *and* helps keep the health department from fumigating my home. (g)

  2. You're right, Claire, Rachel - I do the same internet rounds - blogs, forum, email... then I pile up a whole whack of emails to self with blog ideas or things to look up or videos to watch, and somehow there's always a backlog. And then there's always something going on - a local pub quiz, family coming to visit, so of course there's lots of cleaning and cooking to do. Never mind all the knitting projects! At least I got through the scrapbook of our vacation and we don't have another big one planned yet.
    Here I managed to get up an hour early yesterday and today and what did I do? I spent time blogging, posting chapter discussions on the DG Yahoo group, photocopying research books that are due back at the library. But no actual words on paper yet this week.
    Procrastination is easier when there's no final deadline...

  3. I don't know what you're talking about, Claire. Just because I visited ALL those sites today when I was supposed to be writing is not procrastination, it's er, research. Yeah. Research. LOL. Maybe we should start up the procrastinator's club. But that would probably turn into something co-dependant, wouldn't it? (g)