There exists a space between the desire to write and actually sitting down to get the words on the page: This is the abyss. Too many writers fall into it and never return.
Those blank, dull, empty writing sessions spent staring at the computer screen. Coffee gone cold. You postpone for a minute. Then five. Another dozen minutes. You confront the chilling realization that you won’t be writing a damned thing.
Janet Malcolm, a journalist, had this to say:
We tend to put off the process of writing for as long as possible. And where do we turn to feel like we are doing some actual work? Why research, of course. If you’re “researching” or “preparing” for your novel, then that counts as actual work.
Signs of Research Procrastination
You want to write something stunning and original, but each time you consider it, you feel like you’re not ready, yet. Your confidence shrinks to the point that it paralyzes you.
You tell yourself that you need to read a little more on the subject. Another book or webpage will make everything “click” together.
This can end up being a rabbit hole of endless reading and researching that never leads to a single word written by you.
How to Escape the Abyss
Create a Research Diary: Researching ideas or background for your writing are essential, but often we get too much mental input. We need time to process all that information.
Jot down notes on the articles or research you are doing. This gives you time to mentally hash it out so when you face the blank page, you can start committing to actual ideas.
Set a Timer: If you find that your “research” phase spirals out of control, you can set a timer. Schedule your research sessions so that they don’t take over your actual creative writing. I often use slots of time when it would be inconvenient to write (stuck in line at the grocery store or on a walk) to scroll through some possible research ideas.
Postpone the Research, Not the Writing: Put in a placeholder for whatever you want to research and just move on. You can flesh that out after your writing session, or maybe later in a revision session. In other words, if your story needs certain details about a weapon or a particular location, just put in parenthesis (research later) and then keep on writing. Yes, you might have to heavily revise elements of the story once you know these details, but at least the research element didn’t derail your writing.
The abyss exists and it’s so tempting to let it suck you in. You can fall forever in that blank space between idea and execution. Escape the black hole of procrastination and get those words on the page.