Writing my Novel: Procrastination

Maybe I should have titled this series “I’m about to be Writing my Novel.”  That might have been more truthful.

moleskine notebooks As it stands, since I started and got all gung-ho about finalizing the decision of which manuscript to finish, I haven’t written a single word of the actual novel’s text.

But that’s okay, remember?  We decided last time that it was necessary for me to outline.

So have I outlined?  Kind of.  I started to!  Really.  But then I got stuck on what kind of notebook to use.  And that monumental decision has stayed my hand since last we met.

I’ve spent a way more time than I should have just deciding on what notebook to use to write the outline in.  I knew I wanted to use a Moleskine notebook, but outside of that, I had that big life-changing decision to make: which size would I use?

Pocket, 3.5 inches x 5.5 inches, or Large, 5 inches x 8.25 inches.

Okay, so maybe I was making too big a deal out of it.  And that’s my point.  I had both sizes of notebooks lying around my house already, so it Moleskinewasn’t like I had to go to a bookstore to get a new notebook to begin.

No, I had both the Pocket size and the Large size sitting on my desk, waiting to have an outline carefully written inside.  So I go with the Pocket size and begin writing, and I’m good.  But then, I think to myself, this is the notebook you use for work, too!  This will never work!

So I decide on the Large.  But then I think, You’ve already started in the Pocket one!  You don’t want to have to re-write all that! I couldn’t stand the thought of re-writing the 5 pages I filled in the Pocket size, so I sat for another while staring at the notebooks, procrastinating from doing any real writing or planing.

And then I had it!  I’ll Xerox the pages of the Pocket notebook and tape them onto the blank pages of the Large so I can keep my work and novel separate.

Ruled Moleskine So I did. It’s kind of ghetto, I admit, but it’s neat, and it gave me that feeling that I was actually doing something, even if it wasn’t writing.

So now I sit here, writing about procrastinating about writing to procrastinate about writing.  It’s a vicious cycle, I tell you. Vicious.

But now at least I have that totally major decision made and fewer excuses than ever to not begin plotting out the remainder of the novel.  This week, I’ve learned there are always excuses to not write: I don’t have the right notebook, I won’t be marketable, I don’t know the ending just yet, it’s finals week and I have to grade, etc etc etc blah blah blah.  Excuses, all of them.

I realize I was procrastinating for one reason: I am afraid to fail at this.  I have dreamed of being an author for so long that if I do this–put my all into it—and fail, it will devastate me worse than I am honestly ready to deal with.

So you know what I’m going to do?

Not fail. That’s what.

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. *grins*

    Boy do I know what you’re talkin’ about with the procrastination thing. Every little decision feels as if it’s make or break and absolutely critical to get right. Always more reading to do, more to learn before can even begin.

    If you get to the point of actually loading an editor to begin at all, then what? Where do you want to start? There. Ok, how are we introducing this? Not like that! Start again!

    Over and over.

    I thought after NaNo, I’d be better at ‘just doing it’, but it isn’t to be. Still procrastinating just as much, and for similarly trivial things. I think I’m almost over them for the moment though. I have done an outline I’m reasonably happy with, and even conceptualised a starting point I’m rather happy with.

    Or at least, I am, right up until I go set it down in text. Then I’m pretty sure it’ll no longer be any good and require some sort of changing before I can begin again… 😉

    Ah well. I like yer attitude, and wish you well! Just bear in mind though that getting rejection from half a dozen — or even a dozen — agents isn’t call to give up as a failure. And really? Nor is even getting complete and utter rejection of your first complete manuscript ever.

    I’ve seen it noted more than once by some very well respected authors that it took several manuscripts before they produced anything publishable… Then of course, there are those that DO get published anyway, leaving everyone else to wonder, ‘Why oh God, Whyyyy?’ *coughMeyerscough*
    .-= Naithin´s last blog ..Contemplation, Changes and Progress =-.

    1. I agree with you. I think this one might be publishable…eventually. I don’t expect to be a golden child and get a free ride, but I do expect to eventually find representation. I expect to get rejection after rejection. I mean, most of my favorite authors’ best books are not their first manuscript. Jim Butcher, for instance, wanted to publish “The Codex Alera” more than “The Dresden Files” but couldn’t until he published one successful series.

      I have plans, at some point, to endlessly revise a set of short stories I have written over the years and Kindle publish them to get something out there and see what raw talent I have. That’s a while coming, though. I’m not sure if my wife is ready for that kind of editing job yet. 😉

      1. Funny you should mention Butcher, just started reading the first book of the Dresden Files the other night. It’s.. uh.. fairly light reading. Characters have about as much depth as the paper they’re written on, yet the story still works.

        I can appreciate it for what it is, but I guess it’s just somewhat unfortunate that I took to reading this series right after Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man series (Follow up to her Assassin’s Apprentice series), which is also set in the first person, but is done fantastically.
        .-= Naithin´s last blog ..Contemplation, Changes and Progress =-.

        1. Keep reading. The series gets a //lot//more complex after the first novel. By book 3, he hits his stride, and I literally couldn’t keep from reading in my spare time. I think I finished the 9 that were out at the time in under 2 months.

  2. I know that feeling. You might even say I’m there as well. In the similar situation I mean. Sure, my fears are different (I have a language problem- my English is not good enough for novel writing and I live far, faaar away from any possible agents), but I understand your situation.

    So yes, I know what is like. But you have to move on. One little step at a time.

    PS-The idea for story in question came to me somewhere in summer 2002. I started my first outline (yet uncompleted) two years ago. And yes, I am a student and no, I don’t have much free time for this, but still, outlining is a time consuming process (at least for me).

    1. I can see how that could be a barrier, but your English is very good on here (I could never tell you have English as a second language), so I say go for it.

      I’ve had a lot of ideas as long as 2002, and I’m finally starting to act on them. Or at least think about acting on them. Outlining is time consuming for me, too, but the more I do it, the more I really appreciate how it’s helping me create this world.

  3. Haha, somehow I imagine this mental process has been experienced by every writer.

    You’re not alone Beej. Frankly, procrastination has a very different connotation for writers than for others. I often take time to “think” and I fully value the time I take to sometimes seemingly do nothing.

    Then, I start jotting down little notes here and there, and if the writing conditions are not quite right, I don’t write it. I suppose I do all these things because I know what I can produce when I force something out of me because I think it’s time to, and the results are never as good as I know I can write.

    Hang in there, Beej.
    .-= Robert´s last blog ..Fringe 1×10 ‘Grey Matters’ =-.

    1. There’s a difference in actually thinking about where the book should go as I outline, Robert, and thinking about the literal place the book should go.

      My main concern is that I leave very little room in my notebook’s pages for notes and revisions, so the pages are going to get very ugly, very fast. Or I’m going to have a //lot// of PostIt strips in there as I go back.

    1. I don’t know if I ever have it in me to write a children’s book. I love the things, but I don’t know if I have that delicate a hand with my words and stories.

  4. I’ve got to say, when it comes to writing – ACTUALLY writing – I’m a bit more romantic than practical. I love the idea of sitting with a notebook and writing ideas, but with the amount I get done versus actually writing, it’s just not very productive. I’ve been playing around with several ideas of something to seriously write, and I understand that numerous ideas pop into my head at a whim, and all of them could be helpful when seeking inspiration. I could do this with Word, but I really do hate the Word Processors these days. I guess its partly due to having written hundreds of thousands of words in high school and college.

    Recently I’ve been checking out Mashable’s HOW TO* on using the web for Novel writing. It’s another one of those things that I’m unsure of using the tried and true Word Processor, a notebook, or an unfamiliar web application. I always have the fear that writing anything on the web reduces the security of my work so that rules a lot out from the guide, but I too will always find ways to procrastinate with my decision making.

    One of these days I’ll just have to sit down and do it. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

    *That Mashable HOW TO if you haven’t seen it http://mashable.com/2009/09/16/write-novel/
    .-= Phaethon´s last blog ..Why Blizzard Should Care That I Quit World of Warcraft (Even Though They Don’t) =-.

    1. I really love Word 2007. I have a way with a word processor that a notebook can never match. I’m faster, and I can get more ideas out there, which is exactly why I can’t use it as a way to plan and plot a novel. I get too carried away with Word, and I start writing whole scenes, or I worry too much about formatting.

      But when I have a notebook, I just write. I can’t write the actual prose at all; it stinks in longhand. But I can do notes. And I can do lots of them, since it’s just jottings.

      I’m sure that’s totally in my head. But at least I know that, and if I think it works one way, why mess with it, right?

      But I’m like you. I’m much too romantic when it comes to writing a novel. I have yet to see it for the work that it is because I am still in the “ideas” phase. Once I move into the actual work, I’m sure my passion and dream will take over and help me through it, but right now, I’m still in the euphoric romantic stage I love to be in. (Heck, I must; I’ve never really gotten more than 11k words out of that phase).

      And thanks for the link. I’m bookmarking it now and reading it ASAP.

  5. Hi!
    It was really cool to see your posts on the worldbuilding project on twitter #scifichat — I didn’t use all the hashtags because they take up too much space. I hope you saw all my posts.

    Checking out your twitter bio page, I found this blog, and saw the procrastination and outlining dilemma.

    I have the solutions and have written a number of posts about outlining and various other writing craft posts that don’t seem to be about procrastination but can get you over the hump by following the directions and exercises.

    On this co-blog I post on Tuesdays.

    You can start here and follow the links in the post back along this discussion subject.


    Or here:

    Or here:

    Apparently you are one of the writers who “should” not “outline”. I have had successful writing students who started out as professors, so this might be worth your while to consider because I’ve seen your problem before and solved it.

    I would suspect that academic training has ruined your native ability to “outline” for the purposes of fiction because the process and the resulting document called an “outline” for a novel are totally different from the necessary “outline” for a paper.

    I would suggest the following.

    1) name your protagonist
    2) name your antagonist
    3) do NOT write character sketches or biographies for them; make it up as you go along, and conform it in rewrite so it makes logical sense. Do not attempt logical sense in outline level.
    4) Find the moment when the protagonist and antagonist first come into conflict. That is parag 1 of your novel.
    5) Determine the “ending” (just determine success or failure — NOT in detail about what happens and how). Just determine who wins in the end, who prevails. The rest you can make up as you go along. The one who prevails is the protag.
    6) Determine the Middle. If the ending is success, winning, Happily Ever After, the middle is the low-point of the protag’s life, the worst thing that can possibly happen to that person. If the ending is failure, the middle is the best moment of the protag’s life.
    7) With those guideposts in place, start drafting, and just TELL THE STORY, and nevermind everything else because you’ll do that on second draft.

    I’m sure you knew all this already. But knowing and doing aren’t the same thing. You are one of those few writers who should not outline, and that is evident because you tried to find a notebook to put the outline in.

    OUTLINE is done in your head — very little writing it down because it’s not for anyone but you.

    The best way to do it is to open and name a word processor file, write the title and byline at the top.

    Then paste in those 7 steps I listed into the file. Space down under each point and type what goes there. Now go back up to the top and insert your opening line.

    You concoct the opening line from the conflict that will be resolved between the two opposing forces, or conflicting forces.

    E.G. “I told you already! When the bullet smacked into the wall beside my head, I knew my number was up!”

    Once you have that opening line, you won’t be able to stop typing. When you run out of what comes next, scroll down into your “outline” delete the parts you’ve done, and look at the next signpost in the plot. That will tell you what comes next.

    You can skip whole scenes and event threads to leap to the next signpost, and as you’re writing that point, you can fill in the “outline” as you think of things that come in the blank spot, and tomorrow go craft that bridge scene.

    Remember, write it wrong on purpose, then go back and fix it once you’ve written THE END.

    If this method doesn’t work for you, it means you’ve gotten the opening line wrong. If you get it right, you can’t stop writing.

    You may be interested in my Sime~Gen Universe in which I sometimes collaborate with Professor Jean Lorrah.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com (for current available)
    http://simegen.com/jl/ (for complete bio-biblio)
    .-= Jacqueline Lichtenberg´s last blog ..SFR Holiday Blitz… and the Alien Romances winner is =-.

  6. This is a clever post in that by writing about how you have not written a word for your novel, you are motivating yourself to get started (FYI love the photocopy idea!) and motivating others to get their own lives sorted!

    Good post, nice notebooks too!
    .-= TheInfoPreneur´s last blog ..Ignore the Probloggers =-.

    1. Thanks. 🙂 I’ve written some on it, but it’s not recent. I’ve edited recently, but not any real work. I’m mostly in the planning stages now.

      But you’re right. This is motivating me by making me think about it, and (hopefully) others who can do the same.

      Now if I could only pry myself away from the World of Warcraft random dungeon finder that was released last week, I’d be good to go.

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