by Ellen Byron
Like all authors, there are moments —okay, more like half-hours —when my focus drifts away from my work-in-progress. Instead of writing, I’ll procrastinate by scrolling through social media or checking out the latest headlines. I felt guilty about these distractions until I began balancing them with more productive detours.
For example, I sometimes take a writing break to focus on building my author brand. Instead of haunting Twitter, I visit sites where I can create promotional graphics or videos. I plan my next newsletter. I revise my bio or write a blog post. I label these particular focus drifts “productive procrastination.”
What’s the difference between productive and plain old procrastination?
I posed this question to Dennis Palumbo, psychotherapist and author of the acclaimed Daniel Rinaldi mystery series. “In my mind, productive procrastination is kind of a misnomer since it isn’t really procrastination,” Dennis says.
“I see it as what a writer does when he or she is at a point in their narrative where they need to let their unconscious work on the problem at hand. They stop and go do other things while their unconscious allows the issue to marinate.”
“Regular procrastination is different in that the writer is reluctant to write due to a fear of shameful self-exposure. To quell this, the writer does other things, usually as a way to justify not doing what he or she should be doing—which is write.”
7 ways to creatively switch gears
Back to the concept of productive procrastination. (I’m going to stick with this label because I’ve always been a fan of awesome alliteration—see what I did there?) Whether you’re a published or aspiring-to-be-published author, here are seven ways you can take a break from the writing process and still put the time to good use.
- Play with a graphics program or app. Canva allows you to create your own promotional graphics. After hearing about it for months, I timidly gave it a try. My initial attempts could not have been more basic, but I’ve now spent enough time futzing with it to create visuals that don’t embarrass me. Sign up for the free version of Canva or similar programs like Adobe Spark or Bookbrush. When you need a break, experiment with one of these programs.
- Play with a video program or app. I learned about the video program Lumen 5 through the author community and have since made some not-bad videos. During a recent bout of insomnia, I discovered the iMovie app on my phone and made a jokey trailer for my current release. The cute video I created through Lumen 5 to celebrate the launch of my new book, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard, has garnered almost 900 views as the pinned post on my Twitter profile. “I’d like to thank the Academy and productive procrastination …”
- Make a list of Facebook groups for your genre. No matter what you write, there’s a group – no, a phalanx of groups – for it. Make a list of them and start dropping by. If you’re published, they’ll love a visit from you. If you’re not, you’ll build a support system that will be thrilled when you do land that book deal.
- Do a mindless task. Sometimes the most mindless task can lead to a creative breakthrough. I wrote a whole blog post about this, titled “The Zen of Picking Up Dog Poop.” Dennis Palumbo’s go-to task is folding towels. “It’s both mindless and has a tangible result: a bunch of well-folded towels,” he says. “It also allows my unconscious to work on whatever problems my current writing project is presenting.”
- Optimize your website’s SEO. The other day I got an email from Wix, my website provider, offering tips on how to up my site’s visibility. I wrote back, “Thank you!” What a perfectly productive way to procrastinate. Who doesn’t have a website these days and want to attract more eyeballs to it?
- Feed your blog to your Amazon Author page and wherever else you can share it. Amazon’s Author Central allows authors to connect their blogs and some social media feeds to their Author page. It can be tricky, but what a feeling of satisfaction when you get it to work! You can feed to other sites as well, whether you’re a published author or not. Do a little research and find out where.
- Got a book out? Plan your own Goodreads or Amazon Giveaway. The publisher of my Cajun Country Mystery series didn’t provide a Goodreads giveaway for my recent release so I ponied up the $119 to pay for one myself, with the proviso that my publisher supply and mail five books. I consider that money well spent. “To-reads” for my last Cajun Country Mystery release were 358. “To-reads” for my new book with the giveaway: 2,778! That’s almost an eight-fold increase. Amazon Giveaways allow for both Kindle and physical copy as prizes, with the only charge being the cost of the books you give away.
Stay on track
This is but a small sampling of the many ways you can make procrastination work in your favor. But be careful. It can be a slippery slope from productive procrastination to full-on procrastination. Says author and psychotherapist Palumbo, “If you find yourself thinking up things to do as a way to avoid writing, then you’re in the grip of non-productive procrastination. To get back in harness, so to speak, you have to be honest with yourself about your fears related to the thing you’re writing. Grappling with those fears is the best way to get back to work.”
Do you have other tips for productive procrastination? Share with us on Facebook.
Ellen writes the USA Today-bestselling Cajun Country Mysteries and Catering Hall Mysteries (under the pen name Maria DiRico). Among her beloved novels are Murder in the Bayou Boneyard and Mardi Gras Murder, the latter of which won the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel. A Cajun Christmas Killing and Body on the Bayou both won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery. In addition, Ellen’s TV writing credits include Wings and Just Shoot Me. She has authored over 200 magazine articles, and her published plays include the award-winning Graceland and Asleep on the Wind. She is a native New Yorker who lives in Los Angeles and attributes her fascination with Louisiana to her college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University. She also worked as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing.