A couple weeks ago, Lisa, our intrepid editorial manager, wrote about writer’s block and some effective ways to dispel it, and I agree with everything she said. Although writer’s block is a thing—the proverbial well of inspiration gone dry—it’s often far too convenient of a fallback, an excuse to never doing anything, so don’t assume anything I write here is a method for getting out of writing.
The concept of procrastination is studded with idleness—mindless clicking through Twitter and Facebook, searching for videos you have next to no interest in—but there is a right way to procrastinate.
Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” I believe every good writer started as an avid reader. If you have even the slightest interest in writing, you should read voraciously. You soak in new ideas, find out what works for you, what doesn’t work for you or the writer, what doesn’t work for you but does work for the writer. You take in new vocabulary and style choices. You develop your own voice without even realizing it.
Where to begin? Really, anywhere. Find your favorite writers and read their entire oeuvres. Read the greats, read the not-so-greats, read the trash. Stray from traditional novels every so often. Read short stories. Read poetry. Read personal and academic essays. The Rumpus is a great place to find beautiful, haunting, honest, heartbreaking, funny personal essays, among interviews and comics and other bits of reading. If you have the time to do nothing on Twitter or watch several more cat videos, you have time to read an essay or two or seven. Read, read, read.
I tend to have myself constantly plugged into music. When I’m at home or at work, I have my headphones on. When I’m in my car, my stereo is going. A good chunk of that is idle listening. Background noise. Words and melodies that float and subside.
When I’m feeling creatively challenged, I take the time to listen, really listen. I take out the lyrics and listen for the melodies and each instrument on its own. I hear the lyrics, dissect them down to the bone: What is the story being told? What are the words the vocalist chose? How do the words fit together? I try to understand what is being done with the rhythm and rhyme. I listen for the little things: the breaths taken between words, the sound of fingers sliding over frets. There are deep complexities in music that can spark the mind and the emotions. All you have to do is listen.
If you’re not in the mood for music, listen to a good podcast. I hold This American Life above all others. It’s enriching and weaves that line between fiction, personal storytelling, and investigative journalism.
One of the few things that precedes writing in priority is good personal health. You can’t write if you can’t take care of yourself. A good workout also manages to stimulate the brain through various hormones and bodily chemicals that have long names that also rid your mind of stress and anxieties that come with hitting that wall. A good run refreshes your spirits and clears the mind.
I find that jogging while listening to Other People gives me the writerly boost I need.
Regardless of whether you’re procrastinating the right way or not, as a writer, you shouldn’t need convincing, from yourself or others, to write. Go read a chapter, listen to an album, and go for a walk, but always come back to the page.