Procrastination is an essential part of the process of writing a novel. Most writers will admit that they spend nearly as much time looking for ways to avoid writing as they do actually writing.
There are some obvious techniques which can be practised without leaving the computer:
Look at Facebook or Twitter
Check the BBC News website
Check your sales on Amazon
Do a bit more research for the work in progress
Play a game of Mah Jong
Read a blog
Re-organise all your computer files.
Without leaving home:
Tackle that mountain of ironing
Clean the bathroom
Hoover the whole house
Weed the garden
Turn out old clothes, books etcetera for the charity shop.
No writing achieved, but you’ll have a clean and tidy house.
If you feel like a bit of fresh air:
Take back the overdue library books
Take donations to charity shop
Have a cup of tea in the garden of the local historic house. If you have a notebook and pen with you, it counts as writing, and historic houses and gardens are inspirational, aren’t they?
Read the new library books. It’s important for writers to read.
Write letters to friends or relatives who don’t have e-mail. Letter writing is said to be a dying literary form, so it’s obviously a good thing for a writer to do.
Catch up with some of the back numbers of the magazine you subscribe to but never get around to reading. It’s about writing, so it’s almost as good as actually doing some writing, isn’t it?
If all else fails, update your blog.
There are more ‘How To’ books and blogs on writing than anyone could possibly read and assimilate – and still have time for writing. Much of the advice is not helpful. Not because it is bad advice in itself, but because it often conflicts wit other, equally valid, advice. It may not be suited to a particular writer’s natural way of working, and in that case is a hindrance rather than a help.
Guides to writing a novel often talk about completing the first draft and then sitting down to rewrite. This is not something I do, and for quite a long time I thought I must therefore be Doing It Wrong. But when I tried it once, I found I was doing no more than endlessly tinkering, often putting things back the way they had been, and never getting beyond Chapter Three in my rewrite.
As I wrote more novels, and learned more about my own methods of working, I realised that the reason I don’t need to do a major rewrite after finishing the first draft is that I do it as I go along.
I always do my first (very rough) draft on paper. Even before I type up those pages, there will be crossing out, rewriting, arrows showing where the order of paragraphs needs to be changed, asterisks to indicate that a section on a different page needs to be inserted.
As I type, I’ll make more changes.
I might write a big scene two or three times, once to establish the sequence of events, again to focus on character development and interaction, and once more to increase drama and tension.
My current work in progress is a mix of contemporary action, scenes set in the past, and (invented) historical documents. I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with the order of these various elements, looking to see what works best for plot development and pacing. I expect I’ll switch things around again before I’ve finished.
I will have done all this before I can say I’ve actually finished a first draft, because my last chapters are not yet completely written. (Although, barring last minute surprises, I do know what is going to happen.)
When I have finished the first draft, I usually do a read through for typos and punctuation, because it’s distracting to keep getting pulled up by missing quotation marks when trying to read for writing and plot and character development.
My editing process will then mostly consist of tweaks to make the writing flow better, remove repetition, clarify where a character’s thought processes might seem unclear, maybe remove excess introspection and add a bit more drama if appropriate.
This is the method that I’ve learned is what works for me. It may not work for anyone else. Every writer has to discover what suits him or her best. The moral is that one should not worry too much about following the advice in the ‘How To’ books, but just get on with writing the novel.