Productive procrastination by Elizabeth Mitchell

Although I have gotten much better in the past couple of years about putting myself in the chair and just writing, I still have those times when I would rather not.  At those times, I call upon the power of productive procrastination.  What is that?  It is the art of getting something done while feeling as though one is playing, or avoiding “real” work.


Instead of turning to a computer game, or falling down the rabbit hole of Facebook, I turn to the following tricks:

Interview my characters about their childhood. Did my shero hate her younger sister for stealing her father’s attention from its rightful target, and does she still fall into the trap of attention-seeking behavior? Did my hero get pummeled by an older brother, so that he instinctively looks out for the weaker guy?


Describe my hero in excruciating detail, especially that lock of curls that keeps falling into his eyes, or how the shade of his eyes change when he’s stuck in traffic. Does he care about how he dresses, or does everything the man puts on make him look edible?


If I can’t stand another moment with my characters, I turn to flash fiction prompts. There are many sites, including flash fiction prompt generators.  A google search will bring up many fruitful possibilities. Cleansing the palate with a good antagonist or unpleasant character often helps me fall back in love with my characters.


If I can’t stand the thought of fiction, I will write a letter of complaint about my day job, or a poison pen letter to someone who has drawn my ire. Surprisingly, I have found that something from these vituperative diatribes will plug into a scene, or, at the least, give me insight into these emotions when a character needs to express them.


If you would like to know how much you are writing during your creative procrastination, or want to limit the amount of words you are writing, is very helpful with these pursuits.  Also, our fearless leader, Kait Nolan, gave a link to her awesome word count spreadsheet in the opening post for this Round.


All right, say that no form of writing appeals, defeated by boredom or just the normal stubbornness of the muse. Turn to other creative pursuits:

Create a playlist of music your shero loves, or that defines her in some way.

Create a pinterest board of what clothing your hero would wear, or what his house would look like.

Draw your shero, her house, or her dog.


Still cannot endure thinking about your characters?  Play music, sing, draw, paint, quilt, knit, or anything you enjoy that taps into your creative brain.


I am constantly surprised by how other creative pursuits loosen the clog in my writing brain, and help refill the well. I am convinced that there are no bulwarks between the segments of my creative brain, but all creativity sloshes around in a way that would sink the Titanic. I am also surprised by how much these other pursuits feed into my writing, and in fact are pouring words in the window when I have shut the door tight and refuse to think about writing at all.

What do you do when you play or avoid working on something?  Do you find creative pursuits help or hinder the return to the computer keyboard?


Elizabeth Mitchell

4 thoughts on “Productive procrastination by Elizabeth Mitchell

  1. Lovely suggestions with a nice touch of humor — especially during NaNoWriMo! I’ve used off and on, but more so this month to keep ideas flowing. Haven’t tried the flash fiction generator yet, but I will. I’m pretty visual, so drawing relationship maps or keeping a notebook (with lots of pictures) helps [did you know that huskies have really long tongues and they look like they’re laughing?]. Research drives so much of what I write, that reading stuff from the 19th Century is a good jumpstart. Walking also helps. As a writer who feels her way into characters, being mindful about the sensory world around us links right back to the writing. Falling down the rathole of FB or computer games does make me feel guilty. For after the momentary respite, what has been accomplished? But I still enjoy Words with Friends and am entranced by the lastest graphics for PS3 games (thankfully don’t have the equipment). Thank you, Elizabeth, for an encouraging article!

    1. Thank you, Beth! Your suggestions are very good ones–I especially like the suggestion about walking. Movement does unlock some creative well in me as well. And, of course, research is near and dear to us historical fiction types!

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