We've been told since childhood not to procrastinate. But sometimes, taking a step back before you move forward is the best course of action.
Here are some instances when procrastination might be wise:
1. Don't plunge into a new article before you research the topic to see where it's been done before. You may have to find a new angle and perhaps a more original title. Put key words into a search engine and see what comes up. If the topic has been well covered by general-interest magazines, can you gear it more toward parents? seniors? You don't want to waste your time writing about a topic that's already been exhausted.
2. Don't begin writing until you find potential markets. If article is so specialized it only fits one publication, you need to figure out how to tweak it for others, in case the first one turns you down. It's also important to have subsequent spin-off articles in mind before you dump all your best work into the first piece. You may want to save a quote or a snippet of interesting information for a different audience. You may have a particular market in mind, but don't limit yourself until you've done a thorough search.
3. Don't think your personal experience alone can become a magazine article. You need some objective information, quotes from others, and a broader perspective before an editor will feel this is worth publishing. You may even have to abandon your personal story completely, and focus instead on others in a similar predicament. Maybe the article will focus on mid-life divorce, rather than your own experience, or on the therapeutic value of all pets instead of just cats.
4. Don't query a magazine before you finish your research and know you can actually find all the resources and interviews you're promising. You don't have to give all these to the editor, but it can be persuasive to indicate the number and type of resources you plan to use. Begin with a search engine, of course, but also use your wide range of contacts. You never know when a friend has a cousin who works in that field, or a relative has a neighbor with expertise in that area.
5. Don't send a query or submission too early, before the publication is ready to consider that holiday, anniversary, or coming event. Timing is everything! Consult editorial calendars, and know how far in advance some magazines work. This often means querying Christmas pieces in June. And don't forget to take part of an article you published years ago that contains an anecdote or information about a specific occasion, and send that as a new, short piece for a newspaper or magazine. Often if you send the completed article on spec at the right time, it may land on an editor's desk just as they're searching for something that length for that issue.
6. Don't enter a contest without reading the fine print about what rights they buy. Some claim ownership of all submissions, even those that win no prizes. Others state that submissions that fall short may still be included in an anthology with little or no payment. Also, check out every contest by seeing if there are complaints about it on popular writing websites and newsletters. Weigh the cost of the contest against the potential prize money to determine your chances of winning anything.
7. Don't complete a non-fiction book before finding an agent and/or publisher. It's not uncommon for an agent or publisher to want you to shape the book differently. If you've spent a lot of time writing this, your heart may be set on some aspect of the format, style, or content, making you reluctant to listen to an agent's advice. Agents know what will sell. A good agent can often show you how to turn a mediocre manuscript into a winner.
8. Don't create a blog before you have your own website to attach it to. You need to own your own blog postings, and not take the risk of having them disappear in case the host site is sold or vanishes, or be lifted by unscrupulous visitors because the hosting platform doesn't police its site. And don't waste your best work on your blog!
9. Don't send a press release before you have all the information on your website to back it up. Working on your own website is the most valuable use of your time. It's your showcase, where you establish your platform, provide your resume and testimonials, post your bio, and list your best work, with links to where it's been published.
10. Don't buy into that old advice about keeping your current project a secret. Sharing with other authors can be extremely valuable, providing you with perspective, additional contacts or research materials, as well as encouragement. Join a local writers' group and bring work in progress to read. If you worry about criticism, provide a simple checklist to hand out, asking members to comment just on certain aspects, such as if they can identify with your main character, if there's too much description, or if you open with sufficient action to keep the reader's interest. Take notes on their comments, and use these to improve your next draft.
These are ten reasons why you may want to procrastinate before you make your next move!
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Copyright © 2014 Barbara Florio Graham
This article is not available for reprint without the author's written permission.