Editor’s Note: Dr. Bruce Forciea’s new medical thriller The X-Cure is now available at Amazon.com
Have you ever had the experience of wanting to begin that short story, novella or novel, but never succeeded because of good ole procrastination? Is your new novel bouncing around in your brain but can’t seem to get out because of work, family, and…yes…life? Whenever you think you can grab some elusive writing time you’re either too tired or something else warrants your attention? If so, then what can you do to get started, keep going and finish your project?
Well, for one, understanding how we change may help. Behavioral scientists have studied what makes people change and have come up with a process called the Transtheoretical Model, or stages of change. The idea is that we can work to facilitate lasting change by increasing our understanding of how change occurs. With respect to writing this means we can finally get our projects onto paper.
Overcome Procrastination in the Precontemplation Stage
Here’s an example of how the model works:
Let’s say that ‘Joe’ has completed his first novel and is looking to begin his second. His recent visit to his writers group meeting goes something like this:
“Hey, Joe, have you started writing that novel yet?” said Jane, another writer.
“I’m too busy right now,” replies Joe. “Maybe this summer will be better.”
Joe is in what is known as the Pre-contemplation stage. Joe has no intention of changing and exhibits denial about starting a new writing project. Joe needs to find some way to find motivation. Perhaps gleaning inspiration from another author’s book, or thinking about how he felt when he found out his first work would be published would help to inspire him. If Joe is a first time writer, he may need to seek encouragement through reading about how other authors began their writing careers.
Use Intention to Reach the Contemplation Stage
Once Joe decides to begin writing he enters the contemplation stage. This stage is marked by simply having the intention to write. Intention is powerful in promoting positive behaviors as it works to bring abstract thoughts into reality. Once Joe has an intention to write he can move forward and enter the preparation stage.
Research and Organizing Comes Next in the Preparation Stage
During the preparation stage, Joe may conduct research about his project or seek the advice of fellow writers. His research may include plot and character development, locations, and other information needed to tell his story. He still hasn’t written a single word, but he is moving in the right direction. Joe is preparing himself mentally and emotionally to begin writing. His activities work to build his confidence and determination that he will succeed.
Set Realistic Goals in the Action Stage
Once Joe begins writing he enters the action stage. During the action stage it is important to set realistic goals. Here is where reality differs from the typical fictional depiction of the writer who goes on a two-week hiatus holed up in a motel room and returns with a best-selling novel. While churning out 4,000 words per day, or an entire novel in a few weeks, may seem like realistic goals for some writers, Joe finds that just taking time out each day to write a little can go a long way in completing his project. Joe understands that taking small steps over large sections of time will yield results. What is important to Joe is to continue forward in his writing journey.
Joe is now on his way to completing his novel. Everything is moving along fine until his day job requires him to work overtime. He abandons his writing for a couple of weeks but revisits what motivates him to write to help him get back on the path. For Joe, it’s his writing group that helps to motivate him to pick up where he left off and continue writing. Other motivators include reading what he has written so far and understanding that reading after a delay is just part of the writing process.
Reinforce Your Writing in the Maintenance Stage
The more Joe keeps a regular writing schedule the more his writing becomes a habit. A month later, Joe finds writing easier and is progressing on his novel. He has developed a supportive environment that includes scheduling time to write as well as interacting with others who support his writing. He is now in the maintenance stage of change. The hallmark of this stage is the formation of new habits by repeating behaviors.
Take Time to Progress Through Each State and Keep Moving Forward
So, what can we learn from Joe? We can learn that change is a process and in order to promote lasting change we must proceed through the steps one by one. We can also learn that it is important to begin with intention and then set realistic goals while realizing it takes time to create and strengthen new behaviors. The most important thing is to move forward, even if it seems as though we are moving at a slow pace.