Procrastination. Most of us do it sometimes. I have a sneaky suspicion that people who never procrastinate are actually robots.
Sometimes you put things off because you don’t have enough information to move forward, and a bit of work or time will do the trick. Sometimes though the problem is internal, it’s about how we feel about our work and the stories we’re telling ourselves about how rubbish we are and how we’ll never do xyz.
I’ve got a new game to help with this, and it’s called What Would Neil Gaiman Do?*
You can probably guess how it goes.
When you’re curled up in a ball in the corner of your bedroom rocking and wailing that you caaaaaaaant write! (this counts if you’re doing it mentally too), stop for a moment and just notice what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Take a breath.
Then ask, what would Neil Gaiman do? My imaginary Neil Gaiman does sometimes wail and clutch at his hair in a comedy manner. Sometimes he even sulks and watches bad films for the rest of the day.
Mostly though, he has a quiet word with himself, along the lines of, ‘This is silly, Neil. You know you can do this. Look, here’s a biscuit. Eat it at the desk. Sit down. Good boy.’ Or he goes for a long walk and mulls over the tricky plot point and comes back ready to go. Or he wonders what might make this more fun and adds a dinosaur scientist to the story. Rooooaaaaaaaar!
He knows that it’s just his head getting temporarily in the way, that none of those unhelpful thoughts and feelings are true and that it will all feel better as soon as he starts writing again. And that’s what he does.
It doesn’t have to be Neil Gaiman, I like using him because he’s a prolific writer (though you’ll be glad to hear he does still procrastinate) and because he’s such an inspiring speaker for writers. You can use anybody though. A writer you admire is good. If you know one of those super-practical robot-people, even better. Be that person for an hour.
A variation on this game is Alter Egos, something we tried with great success in Devon last month (hi, Queenie!).
Have you ever considered using a pen-name? Why did you choose that one? What’s that writer like? Chances are they’re someone who confidently sits down and just gets on with it, that they write all the things you’re nervous about saying, that they feel on top of the world about their work.
So why not try being your alter-ego for a day? If you don’t have one then make up your ideal writer. Dress like them, sit like them, think like them, work like them. It might make you feel silly at first, but have fun with it. What have you got to lose?
Absolutely nothing, and you might find that there’s some truth to the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ school of confidence.
*Clearly I have no idea what Neil Gaiman would actually do. It’s a game, and a very silly one at that. But imaginary Neil is fun. I’d quite like a pocket-sized version.