Construction of a Novel: The Tricky Wiles of Procrastination

Procrastination is always easier than writing. Always. Mastering the skill of overcoming all the distractions and ridiculous ways your brain tries to divert your attention is essential. But brains are sneaky buggers. They figure out ways to subvert the very best of intentions without you even realising they’re doing it.

I am finding this out lately.

Work on my novel-in-progress has been slow. It’s coming along, but at a snail’s pace. I had great intentions of making massive headway with it this year, and while it’s definitely looming large in my mind, it’s looming rather smaller on the page. I’m 12,000 words in, which might sound like a lot, but is probably only about 12% of the finished book. (Not that I really have any idea how long it’s going to end up until I actually get there… but that’s a rough guess.)

But it’s not as though I’ve been unproductive in my writing. I’ve completed, polished, and submitted six short stories this year. One of them has already sold. One is currently on a pro magazine’s shortlist. Another is on the shortlist for an anthology. I’ve scribbled down a shedload of other story ideas which are all simmering on my mental back burner while my subconscious figures out if they’re actually workable. And whenever I finish a short story, I find I’m itching to start work on another.

All of this is really great… but it’s not progress on my novel. Sometimes I’ll sit down with the sole intention of getting another chapter finished, and then find myself with a brand new, blank Word document open instead, a whole new story on the tip of my mind. And then I end up writing it, and find halfway through that it needs a bunch of research. So I do the research, and I’m engrossed in the story, and it’s all flowing beautifully, and suddenly – ta da! – another story draft is complete. I’m happy. I’m pleased with myself. I send it out for some critiques, collate the feedback, and work on revisions. When I feel it’s ready, I start submitting it and add it to my list of irons in the fire.

And still the novel isn’t getting written.

It dawned on me recently that this wondrous, spontaneous creativity is just an ultra-devious form of procrastination. It can’t be procrastination if I’m actually getting stuff done, right? If I’m actually writing, and submitting, and inching my way up the publishing ladder – that’s the goal, isn’t it? Go on… write another story, my brain whispers. Where’s the harm in that? And I guess there isn’t any harm in it, because I’ve produced six stories I’m really pleased with instead of making serious inroads into just one. But I really want to write that one.

Short stories are trickier than novels in many ways, but they’re certainly faster to write. There’s a sense of instant gratification if I can get a whole story drafted in a day or two. One novel chapter doesn’t have the same sense of accomplishment. But even writing can be a form of procrastination from writing. It’s taken me a while to realise it, but no matter how many great stories I write this year, if I’m not writing the novel, I’m still procrastinating.