For many life is busy, busy, busy. And aspiring writers often lament, If only I had time to write. If only I had time to write. If only I had time to write. And crucially, if only I could avoid procrastination.
Often, though, when that time presents itself, writers find themselves thinking, Finally! But first I better do the laundry/rearrange my office/do anything and everything but actually write.
Why oh why do we procrastinate, and what are some strategies for getting down to the work that’s so important to us?
What is procrastination?
Procrastination involves putting off an activity to engage in another activity. And, yes, that other activity may be something that you absolutely positively have to do RIGHT NOW. Kids, for example, aren’t keen on missing meals. And most bosses from your day job will care more about fulfilling that job’s duties than the idea that you’re trying to pump out the next bestseller.
Or procrastination may be something a little less urgent, like staring off into space or doom-scrolling through social media. Whichever the case, procrastinating takes you away from doing the thing. We need to avoid procrastination at all costs.
Why do we procrastinate?
One simple answer is that writing is hard. Often another activity, and we do mean almost any other activity, might present an easier path. We also fear not living up to the expectations of our readers, our partners, our friends. Perhaps most of all, we fear not living up to our expectations for ourselves.
We may want to be not just a good writer but a GREAT writer, and we are deathly afraid of failing. So what better way to ensure you don’t fail at something than by not doing that thing in the first place?
Procrastination, of course, ensures only that you don’t succeed. What did Wayne Gretzky say about missing 100 percent of the shots you don’t take?
So let’s look at some strategies you can use to avoid procrastination and get all those wonderful words swimming around your head out of your noggin and onto the page.
Tips on how to avoid procrastination
Some or all of the following strategies might serve you well as you move toward that shining goal of a regular writing routine.
Check in with yourself to avoid procrastination
The scariest question of all might be, Do I really want to write?
Answering this puts you face-to-face with what might be a hard truth. Are you more interested in being a writer than writing? Are you in it only for the fame or the adulation of friends, family, and anonymous readers?
If that’s the case, then you may actually resent the thing (writing) that’s standing in the way of the thing you want (being a writer). So you may want to fall in love with writing or consider that maybe your passions lie elsewhere.
Again, writing is hard, and there are many, many writers who don’t always enjoy the writing of the thing but who love to have written the thing. This is perfectly OK, and it’s a kindness to yourself to remove the unrealistic expectation that every day of writing should be a blissful experience as the muse fills your head with story and the words come gushing out, as if of their own accord.
Sure, writers get in the zone, but the work is often work—hard, at times frustrating work—and it’s important to recognize that.
See also How to Start Writing.
Prioritize to avoid procrastination
Lives are full, and there will always be other tasks crying out for your attention (and sometimes literally so, if kids are in the picture).
No different from how you’d commit to an exercise routine, if you’re going to write regularly, you have to place writing high on your priority list. This will involve putting it ahead of things you like to do, or things that are a lot of fun, of things that others may want you to do.
You have to be ruthless with your time.
Set boundaries to avoid procrastination
No matter how supportive friends and family are of your writing endeavors, they will inevitably attempt to coax you away from your writing.
You have to set your boundaries and say, “No, this is my writing time, and when I’m at my desk (or my writing place of choice), no one can bother me unless it’s an absolute emergency.”
Only you can set your boundaries. Make it a nonnegotiable.
Identify your ideal writing time to avoid procrastination
Everyone has a time of day when they work best, and different times of the day may be better suited for different tasks, depending on the individual.
This might be late at night for you. It might be early morning. But identifying that time will align your wants with your body and mind’s needs and lead to a better writing experience.
Jobs or childcare or other responsibilities may contradict with your ideal writing time, but if you identify it, at the very least you can recognize and look for ways to adjust your schedule so you’re writing in the right place at the right time.
Change your environment to avoid procrastination
No matter how nice a writing space you carve out in your home, there may simply be too many distractions and associations to get yourself in the right mindset so you can avoid procrastination.
How can I write, after all, when there are multiple loads of laundry to be done?
A space that you associate only with writing, whether that’s a home office or somewhere else, will put you in the mood to write and get those words flowing faster. Some like to write in coffee shops. Others in libraries.
Find your place.
Be messy to avoid procrastination
It’s almost impossible to write if you’re terrified that every word won’t be absolute perfection, won’t be a lyrical delight sung through the ages.
You often hear the old saying: write drunk, edit sober. Embrace that notion. Get words on the page. Be OK with the idea that your first draft will be a mess. Love the mess. Revel in it. Enjoy the flow, and when you come back to it you might marvel at what you’ve accomplished and realize it wasn’t such a mess after all.
Stop short to avoid procrastination
This is a strategy many writers use to avoid procrastination to great effect. Getting started is often the biggest challenge, and once you actually start hitting those keys your inner writer often takes over and you’re off to the races.
So don’t make yourself start from scratch each writing session.
Stop your writing day when you’re three-quarters of the way through the scene and you know how the rest will play out. This will make it all the easier to get started the next day, and power you into the next scene, whether or not you had that planned in advance.
Plot or pants, but do what works best for you to avoid procrastination
Discovery writers lose interest if they plot their story out in advance.
Plotters can’t write unless they have that clear path forward.
Any number of writing-related activities can be used to avoid the writing itself, but know what works best for you, and follow the method that best matches your strengths and inclinations.
Hold yourself accountable to avoid procrastination
Ultimately, you’re the one who’s going to have to make you follow through with your writing routine. But you can use external mechanisms to help you stick to this routine.
Use to-do lists or bullet journals to schedule you time. Even if you’re the only one who sees it, crossing to-do items off a list is a powerful incentive. And it also creates a powerful sense of achievement.
Block time on your calendar. Use whatever tools you have at your disposal to combat the procrastination monster.
Ask others to hold you accountable to avoid procrastination
Everybody needs a little outside help at times.
You might ask your partner to stay on your case about your writing. You may join a writers’ accountability group to encourage you to stick to your goals. You might hire a writing coach.
Take help where you can find it. Again, writing isn’t easy, so be kind to yourself and realize it’s a common struggle.
Reward yourself to avoid procrastination
Did we mention that writing was hard? Set writing goals and reward yourself when you hit them.
Building a routine isn’t easy, but once established it has its own momentum.
So be kind to yourself and create positive associations with keeping to your writing schedule. Your brain likes rewards and will encourage you to continue to do the thing that results in those rewards.
The world needs your stories. Get down to business, set your routine, and become that dedicated writer who does the thing that all writers must do: write.
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Article Written by James Gallagher
James Gallagher is a Fictionary-Certified StoryCoach, copy editor, and proofreader. James has worked on more than 250 books and particularly enjoys horror and romance. An active member of the editing community, James loves to help authors bring out the best in their stories.
More about him can be found at https://castlewallsediting.com