Strike Back Against Procrastination With A Mental Mongoose

By Andrew Toynbee

Procrastination comes in many forms. At its heart, fear coils like a striking snake:

  • It can be the Fear of the Beginning.
  • It can be the Fear of that Main Task.
  • It can be the Fear of Completion.

Fear of the Beginning has struck when you stare in panic at that blank piece of paper, pen slouching limply in your writing hand.  The inspiration that struck you moments ago has just evaporated.

The blank screen, complete with taunting cursor, dares you to mark its pristine whiteness with text that will surely be just nonsense, right?  Just words without meaningful content; words to satisfy a count.

Fear of that Main Task will affect you after the writing is underway. You’ve had that initial burn, the story is well on its way.

But there’s so far to go, so much to do!  How will you ever finish it?  One-tenth of the way?  But that means nine-tenths still to go!

Fear of Completion can strike as you hit the home straight, just when you thought you were home free.  The story is nearly done.  The job’s almost over.  But what comes next?

Once you’ve written it, you’ll have to go right back to the beginning, like a Ludo counter down a snake to start the thankless task of editing.  Slow down…or even stop altogether.  That way you’ll never have to face that problem.

There are numerous suggested remedies for these afflictions, many of which Procrastinating Writers has covered in other posts.  But the first task for the writer in a fog is to recognize the nature of the problem, then overcome it with your Mental Mongoose.

I know, it sounds like a character from Nickelodeon, but bear with me.

Afraid of Beginning?
This can be at the very formation of your proto-novel, before you’ve ever written a single word.  Or it can strike between chapters, when you’ve reached one of those safe points that allow you to relax for a time.  At this point, have you ever asked yourself:

  • Who would want to read this thing anyway?
  • Why did I start this if I don’t think I’ll have time to finish?
  • What chance do I have against all those ‘Real Authors’ out there?

The Snake of Fear has wound itself around your brain, choking off the inspiration and enthusiasm that fired you off to the desk or computer screen in the first place.  This is where you open the cage (visualize it if need be) and release your Mental Mongoose.

Snap at the Snake of Fear, dislodge it, drive it back down into the cold, dark depths and before it has time to recover, start getting those words out.  Whether it’s basic descriptive prose or notes or a time plan of a character’s next move, get writing!

The flow of words goes a long, long way toward keeping the Snake of Fear at bay.

(Quite by chance, that last sentence rhymed, making it usable as a mantra if need be.)

Afraid of that Main Task?
I know that this has struck me recently. As a confirmed seat-of-the-pants writer I’ve struggled to complete my last two stories satisfactorily.

With my project for 2010, however, I’ve taken advice, planned it thoroughly, to the extent that although I’m only a third of the way through the first draft, I already feel that I’ve finished the story.  The Snake of Fear quickly arose, winding sinuously into my future and reminding me of how far I still have to go.

It seems I’d done all the fun parts, inventing characters and their foibles, plotting the first and second plot points and dreaming up a spectacular ending.  Now all I had left was to sit down and add details, filling in all the bits between the notes.

Dull work, the Snake of Fear remarked.

That’s not how you write.

You’ll lose interest.

So I brought out the Mental Mongoose.  It bit hard at the snake’s tail and sent it off into the middle of next week (where I may or may not catch up with it).

Then I released my tight grip on my planned story and allowed my ‘Seat-of-the-Pants’ writer back into the Captain’s chair.  Previously, he’d had strict instructions that he was to behave like an airline pilot, flying on a pre-determined course with no deviation allowed.

But now he was granted the freedom of a bush pilot, still with a strict final destination, but relatively free to make small detours and go sightseeing as long as he got there on time.

‘Planner’ meets ‘Pantser’.

Project on the move once again.

Afraid of finishing?
Are you concerned about what’s next?

Don’t be.

It’s all part of the adventure of writing.  If you’re close enough to the end to be worried about it, then you’ve stuck with it this far.

And well done to you.

But consider this: If you were baking a kid’s birthday cake, you wouldn’t stop just as you’ve pulled the cake from the oven, would you?  No, you’d continue on and add icing, then piping, then decorations.  A completed cake brings joy to others.

That’s what editing is—adding the fine finish that makes your work sparkle.

Maybe you think it’s a bit dull, re-reading what you’ve seen a hundred times before, but that’s the reason for not over-editing the first draft.

If you’ve ploughed on and written it without stopping to fiddle about with punctuation and syntax (guilty—but do as I say, not as I do!) then it’ll be as fresh as a book you last read a year ago.

The Snake of Fear will writhe before you, gleefully pointing out the hurdles, perils and pitfalls that (may) lie ahead.

Pay attention to him and you will experience only dismay.

Instead, release the Mental Mongoose and send him, not only to the dark depths or into next week, but banish him forever by completing that project and editing it until it sparkles.

Then swallow your fear (it tastes like chicken, by the way) and send your finished novel into the big wide world.

You don’t want to be one of those people who says: “I nearly wrote a novel once,” do you?’

Write On.

And show no fear!

About the Author: Andrew Toynbee is a writer who wants to be an author. He blogs about his struggle on his very own blog.

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