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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

How to Rescue Your Lost Writing From Postponement Loops


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For several years, I’ve had what I think is an excellent theory about why we shouldn’t call our early drafts shitty and what we should call them instead. Every time one of my students mentioned Anne Lamont’s “shitty first drafts,” I’d explain my theory and remember I want to write a blog post about it.

Then I’d think it’s such a great idea, maybe it could get wider readership as an article in Writer’s Digest or The Writer. But I never had time to write a query because I was in the middle of teaching a couple of classes or starting a new project or focusing my novel.

So my excellent idea would go back into the “Someday I’ll Write” file, until the next time I thought about it. More times than I can count, I opened my notes with good intentions, only to eventually rotate them back to the Someday file, which in all truth I ought to relabel “Stuff I’m Postponing” file.

My idea is in a Postponement Loop. It’s not about time. Clearly. I’m resisting writing it.

I bet you also have an idea, maybe an entire book concept, that rotates from your “Stuff I Could Write, But Somehow Never Quite Get Around To” file to your desk, where it gets buried and eventually winds up back in Stuff file.

Everything Is Grist for the Mill

Since I don’t have the brilliant post about what early drafts should be called and why, I’m going to reveal my process as I bring this idea out of the Postponement Loop. Finally. Well eventually.

As Bullwinkle says, “Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat. This time for sure.”

We’ll all see how this works.

Step 1 Get Real About Time

For the past couple of months, I spent the bulk of my Product Time (now reduced by my semi-retirement status) preparing a presentation to the Professional Authors Network at the Romance Writers of America conference.

AND… I still could have given my early draft idea 10 or 15 minutes once a week.

One way Postponement works is to delude ourselves with the idea that we can’t possibly give any time at all to any secondary project until the current primary project is complete. Putting first things first and giving time to your top priorities first is an excellent strategy, but…

There were times when I truly couldn’t give this idea time, but I know I missed a multitude of 10 to 15 minutes here and there that add up to hours, even weeks of lost opportunity over the past couple years.

Step 2 Make a Realistic Commitment to One Secondary Project

Another way Postponement works is to confuse ourselves with a host of possible projects. It’s fun to have lots of ideas to choose from and it makes sense to have a file to hold all those great possibilities.

But the best way to move any of those possibilities into reality is to pick just one at a time. If you don’t have a project that you keep coming back as I do, pick one at random. Let’s not waste the precious short sessions we have debating which one to start with.

My commitment is 10 minutes of Product Time once a week to the Early Drafts project starting July 28 (when I return from the RWA conference and a vacation).

Step 3 Give Your Project a Name

I just realized that naming the project (Early Drafts) somehow made it more real. Sharing the name of the project and my commitment with other writers also moves it closer to reality.

I invite you to name your postponed project in a comment. When you’re ready, share your commitment to that project here or with one or two of your writing allies.

I want and need your insight. Please comment on what’s worked for you or share suggestions for what could work to rescue excellent ideas lost in a Postponement Loop.

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8 Comments on “How to Rescue Your Lost Writing From Postponement Loops”

  1. Laura Sommers August 14, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

    I’m naming my postponed project: Laura’s Author Blog. Wow, that makes it real! Talk to you soon.

    Like

    • rosannebane August 14, 2018 at 1:12 pm #

      Funny how that naming thing works… Kudos, you’re on your way!

      Like

  2. www.bethanyareid.com July 26, 2018 at 2:54 pm #

    I love the label, “Shitty First Drafts” (or SFD’s for short), mostly because it has helped me stop taking myself so damn seriously and just write. But I totally get what you’re saying about postponement loops. I always have 20 ideas floating around, and I spend about 2/3 of my time beating myself up for not pursuing them. Thanks for this post!

    Like

    • rosannebane August 9, 2018 at 9:51 am #

      Thanks Bethany. I’m sure Anne Lamott’s intention was to help us stop taking ourselves too seriously and free ourselves of perfection so we can write. I’m curious about your process. What do you do with your shitty first drafts? How do you take them to the next level?

      Like

  3. Joel D Canfield July 26, 2018 at 8:17 am #

    I’ll have to ponder Postponement Loop Projects, but I wanted to tell you I’m eager to read that article; I’ve always disliked Lamott’s phrase, as much as I love the rest of her work.

    Like

    • rosannebane August 9, 2018 at 9:54 am #

      Thanks Joel! It’s the phrase “shitty first drafts” that I, too, find problematic. I don’t doubt her intention to free writers from perfectionism, but I’m wondering if writing shitty first drafts just leaves writers with shitty drafts they don’t know what to do with… Have you seen that with clients/colleagues or experienced it yourself?

      Like

      • Joel D Canfield August 10, 2018 at 2:45 pm #

        I have never had a client willing to embrace the concept enough to be in danger of that. For myself, I always have such a complete story idea before I start writing that I can plow through what I’m now calling a quickdraft (my phrase to replace AL’s phrase) which is essentially the story in a nutshell.

        My scifi mystery just released, I had an outline, more or less a scene list, and started writing complete scenes. After a 2-year hiatus, I wanted to know the whole story in more detail before I dove in, so I wrote a 6 or 7 page quickdraft of the latter 2/3 of the book. Once I knew the story worked, I dove into the real “first” draft.

        I’m now finishing another book which had a basic outline and 10K words written. Again, a 5 or 6 page quickdraft tells me the story is solid and workable, so I’m going back and expanding each 2-paragraph chapter into my usual 1,000-1,200 word chapters of “first” draft.

        I understand your question, though, and think I’ll ask around to see if anyone’s experienced that. The concept makes sense, try so little you end up with actual junk, but I’m wondering, like you, whether it’s likely, possible, or unlikely.

        Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Rescuing My “Early Drafts” Project from a Postponement Loop: Step 1 Pull a Rabbit Out of My Hat | Bane of Your Resistance - August 10, 2018

    […] a previous post, I promised to reveal my writing process as I move my idea about “Early Drafts vs. Shitty […]

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