Ways to procrastinate(and pretend it’s writing)
So you’re burnt out, stuck indoors and the muse has packed up and gone to get the sun and sand you haven’t had. But you still want to create, one way or another. Sound familiar? This list is for you. Here are several ways to procrastinate — while convincing yourself that it’s still writing.
Build the living space
One good exercise for fleshing out your world, regardless of genre, is to physically build it. On the relaxation side, there are two obvious options — long-running video game series The Sims, or Animal Crossing.
The Sims (see also Paralives for an upcoming indie alternative) is useful mostly for creating homes for your characters as this can be an excellent way of thinking about aspects of your characters that you might have overlooked before. For example — are you building their ideal room or the room they actually have? Do they like chrome or wood panelling for their materials? Cozy spaces or wide open ones? Lots of windows or only one or two? Building a realistic room for a character rather than an ideal one can be especially revealing, as it forces you to make choices when optimising the space: if the room is on the small side, what does the character value most? What do they keep closest to the bed? Do they make room for a desk, a walk-in closet, a video game console? Do they read before bed or scroll through their phone? Do they have any keepsakes or photos nearby? Are these on display or buried at the bottom of the closet?
The Animal Crossing option is really only possible on the latest entry, New Horizons, as it is the only version that allows the player to build rivers and cliffs wherever they please. For an idea of some of the ridiculously creative towns people have achieved, have a look on YouTube — there’s everything from modern cities to ghost towns and there’s plenty of potential to achieve most sorts of town if you have enough time and a lot of patience.
If you’re more into art than gaming, try making a little isometric art — cut out one of the walls and draw everything within the box. Or even try experimenting with different styles to inspire you — the isometric art style works well with pixel art or a cute chibi style, as seen below with the indie game Kind Words.
Build the media
For me, one of the notable qualities of properties like Grand Theft Auto is the humour of the details used to build the world. One of the most memorable aspects is the in-game radio stations, complete with numerous different DJs all with their own styles and personalities.
So what would a radio station sound like in your world? Is their a J Jonah Jameson dominating the airwaves? Or does it sound more like Welcome to Nightvale? If print is more your thing, is there an in-universe publication that exists in your novel? What kind of things are advertised in them? How about indie zines? Which material would your characters gravitate towards?
Build the vibes
If you’ve been on the Internet long enough (or been in a fandom), you’ve probably seen playlists associated with certain characters or shows.
So build your own! Be your own biggest fan. Find songs that you associate with a character’s journey, or a particular arc of your story and compile them. Listen to them to get you in the mood.
Or take it further — your characters might not be the musical sort, but if they were, what genre would they be? What would they sing? Or alternatively, what do they listen to? What songs speak to them most? Do those songs reflect their inner truth accurately, or just their perception of themselves?
Build the memories
One thing that is often said of writing is that some of the senses are often overlooked, principally the sense of smell and taste. The sense of smell is especially potent as certain scents can bring back intimate memories — the scent of baking bread for a long lost home, or the harsh smell of chlorine recalling the first time a character went swimming. Taste can be the same — if your character has a favourite haunt, returning to food or drink associated with it years later will naturally be tied to the memories that go along with it.
These are excellent details to seed into your story, because associating one scent, food item or symbol with one specific event, emotion or character will associate those two things in the reader’s mind, also. And all you have to do to have the reader remember is bring that detail back, and let them fill in the blanks.
Build the memes
Any good at animation? How about plumbing the depths of memes and Vines for clips you can fit to your characters? This approach comes with the benefit that most memes and Vines are short in length — no need to animate anything movie-length here — and they can help you distil the dynamic between two characters in your mind by finding something you can work comparably to. Unlike the other examples, though, this requires retooling existing media or jokes, so avoid painting your characters into existing boxes if you take this route!
Build the merch
Not into animation? How about plain old art, or making things with your hands? There are a lot of themed ‘sets’ you could use as an excuse to put your characters in different settings. How about a Tarot card set? You don’t have to illustrate every single card, but it could be fun to look up the meanings of the cards and see which characters fit where — the results might surprise you. Or if you’re more crafty, what about sculpting a chess set? Who gets to be a king — and who gets to be a pawn?
Build the guide
Remember earlier when I said you had to be your own biggest fan? I’m reiterating it here, but this time even more so! My final suggestion for how to be non-productively productive is this: make your own fan guide to your novel or series.
For inspiration, consider existing fan books for other series and the material they include and consider copying or adapting some of it. In addition to character profiles — which are a good excuse to put all the wiki-level details you might need to refer back to in one place — you could include any of the material created from the exercises above, guides on how to draw your characters along with outfits they might wear or associated colour palettes. Sure, this is essentially a series bible by any other name, but if you make collating the details fun and include visual details, it’ll be less of a chore to do and be more visually appealing to refer back to.
Build some head-space
It’s of course important to mention that if after all those prompts you still feel overwhelmed and tired, what you probably most need to build is some space for yourself. Put down the project for awhile, and let your unconscious chew it over while your conscious mind takes a break. Not every activity can be made productive and not everything should be.
And if you’re still feeling anxious about the muse going on holiday, remember: it’s common advice when finishing a novel or a project to put it down for awhile before picking up the chisel again. Even mid-project, sometimes a fresh pair of eyes are what’s needed.
28/02/2022, Post #1
Hope this post inspired you to try some different ways to procrastinate! Have any ideas you’d like to contribute? Feel free to put them in comments below, and thanks for reading all the way to the end.