Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Make Procrastination Work for You

By Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz
Copyright © 2008 by Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz, All Rights Reserved

Are you a procrastinator? Many writers are. I know I am. While it behooves me to sit down and write, I often think of other things I should be doing. Although my intentions are good, many times those other "things" end up taking precedence. Fortunately, there are ways to make procrastination work for you.

1) Watching TV is a big culprit. How can this be put to good use? If you're watching the news, look for interesting stories that could be turned into fiction or non-fiction. Is there a major crime investigation going on? Here you'll find good fodder for a mystery novel or short story. You may want to follow up by going to court and watching the trial after a suspect is charged. What about a missing child? Did the child run away? Is there a family abduction? You could use a story such as this to create a young adult adventure novel. Maybe you're a sitcom junkie. Here, too, you can look for story ideas. Can you imagine a different outcome, change the characters, and make an entirely new story? How would you change the plot? Why is this series so successful? Who are the characters? What do they do? Try to recreate this in your own work.

2) Reading the newspaper or magazines. This form of procrastinating is similar to watching TV. Here, too, you can look for interesting angles to turn into factual articles or fiction. Look for articles with human interest. Can you use any of these situations in your stories? People want to read about characters like themselves. What better place to find these characters than in your local newspaper? Just be sure to fictionalize your characters and change the situation to protect both yourself and the person you read about. Small town newspapers oftentimes have lead stories which don't make it to the big city papers. With some research, these be turned into paying articles for you.

3) Housekeeping. Surely this is a chore most of us detest, yet when faced with a blank screen, we suddenly decide to do some spring cleaning. Surprisingly, you can use the time with your vacuum to plan a new story, practice dialog, or create characters. If you have a special technique for getting out stains, write it down and find a place to submit it. Have you found a way to clean your bathroom without using chemicals harmful to the environment? Lately, lists have appeared on various sites, showing the ways Bounce© can be used to chase away insects, remove odors from books, and eliminate odors from cat litter. Someone thought of these ideas and submitted them, and most likely got paid. Do you have tips to share? Think about what you may do differently from others. Do you have time-saving techniques? Do you have ways to cut costs on household cleaning supplies? These tips are worth money.

4) Gardening and yard work. Depending on where you live this can be either a year-round or a seasonal distraction. It's especially difficult to be stuck in front of your computer or typewriter if the sun is shining and your yard chores are calling to you. You can arrange your time so you do both, and you can use your time outdoors to think of article ideas. While you're in your garden, what do you think about? Have you found certain plants which thrive in your gardening zone? Do you have a unique way to stop slugs, deer, or rabbits from destroying your crops or landscape plants? Maybe you've developed a special technique for composting? Think about these things as you "procrastinate" in the sunshine, then when you come in, jot down your ideas and later develop them into paying articles.

5) Playing with your children. For writing parents, spending time with our children is always a juggling act. We know we should be writing, but we also have a responsibility to the little people we've brought into the world. Spending time with them, however, can also be a time to generate new ideas for your articles. Have you a method of getting your children to sleep without hassles?  Do you have a family-tested project you do with your children during holiday seasons? Perhaps you can share a natural way to color Easter eggs, or a way to craft a Menorah using a felt board. Have you found children's books you can review? Even taking your child to the playground can give you ideas. Listen to the way children interact. Makes notes of speech patterns and unique words and phrases different age groups use.

6) Spending time with your animals. For some of us our animals are like our children. For others, animals may be a source of food. Whichever it is for you, you can use the time you spend with the animals finding article ideas. Do you have a pet with allergies? Have you developed a recipe for kibble that you can share? How do you bathe your dog? Do you use a technique which you could share with others? How about walking your dog? Can you sit at a dog park and people or animal watch? Have you created a pattern for a dog sweater or a cat toy? If you raise chickens for eggs or eating, what have you learned that you can share with others? Have you built a hen house? What special things did you need to do to ensure the health and survival of the chickens? Do you ride horses? What riding techniques can you share? What tips for care would a young person need to know?

7) Reading. While this may seem like procrastinating, reading can be work-related. Read novels in the genre you plan to write. See how published authors create characters, plot, and dialog. How did the author begin and end each chapter? What type of hook was used? If you're reading a mystery, can you spot the clues? Would you use the same techniques or something different? Do you want to branch out into a different genre? Maybe you're interested in writing non-fiction. Check out other books written about the subject and read them. Do you have something new to say or a unique way to present the information? Reading can be a way to do research for your next novel or how-to book.

8) Organizing. Let's face it, many of us will rearrange our desks before we sit down to write. While this can be a form of procrastination, let that time work for you. Have you rearranged your reference books? Which ones do you have? Which ones do you find you use the most? Let other writers know. Maybe you could review one or more of these so others will be able to choose which book to purchase. How did you organize your desk? Is it more helpful for you to have your books handy or to have a clear space for spreading out note cards or tools? Perhaps it's your house you choose to organize instead of working on your next draft. There's an article there as well. Do you find some organizing systems work better or are better quality for less money? Do you have a special technique for sorting items in your closet? Or can you offer suggestions to others on how to down-size your collections? As people age, they are sometimes forced to move to smaller apartments. Having some tips available for getting rid of clutter would be very useful. Share your organizing techniques.

9) Cooking meals. You can't tell the family to have macaroni and cheese or hamburgers every night. You do need to feed them, and five minute meals can get old really fast. If you like to cook, consider being a food writer. Use your time in the kitchen to create new recipes. Maybe you've got an idea for heart-healthy meals. Or, perhaps, you've found a way to make a cheaper cut of meat tastier. Or, since you've been serving those five-minute meals for so long, you have a plethora of simple recipes to share. What kind of kid-friendly recipes or ways to cook with your child have you created? Do you have family-tested ideas for birthday party treats? Jot down your ideas and turn them into publishable articles.

10) Traveling. Everyone loves to travel. How do you, as a writer, travel? Make sure you bring a camera, lots of batteries, either a laptop or lots of notebooks, pens, and pencils. Keep track of where you stay, how much it costs, what kind of service you received. Check out other motels/hotels in the area. Would these have been a better choice? Why? Collect brochures of places you visit. Ask for take-out menus when you dine. Collect business cards. Always keep a journal of where you go, what you see, the people you meet. Record conversations, aromas, good times and bad. What did you bring that helped your trip? What did you forget that you absolutely needed, but couldn't find? Other travelers can benefit from what you learn. Share the information.

While you may think you're procrastinating, make that procrastination work for you. If you need to, keep a small notebook and pen in your pocket to jot down ideas. If a tape recorder works better, find a small battery-operated unit to carry with you. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you can turn time away from your computer into cash in your pocket.


Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz has published over 77 articles, 51 stories, two e-books, and a chapbook, and her stories have been included in two anthologies. Her fiction has appeared in numerous genre publications and her non‑fiction work has appeared in a variety of writing, parenting, and young adult print magazines and online publications.