What are you waiting for?
Do you find yourself with all the good intentions to sit down and write that novel/memoir/poem/magazine article/editorial/blog post that’s been tugging at your insides, only to find yourself at the end of another day with nothing to show for it?
If so, you may be a writing procrastinator.
There are a lot of legitimate reasons your writing doesn’t happen, but if you find yourself struggling on a regular basis, procrastination may be an issue for you.
I’m a procrastinator. I struggle. I wallow in indecision on a regular basis. It seems at the moment I decide to write I realize the dishes need washing, the bills need paying, the cat needs feeding, and suddenly messes that have been messes for months must be organized. When I want to I can find all kinds of things to distract me from writing, from de-cluttering to cruising Facebook and Twitter to making lists of things I need to accomplish ‘whenever I finally have the time’. What’s wrong with that picture?
Procrastination affects about 20% of the population. Some people procrastinate because they get a rush from putting things off even though it creates anxiety. Those are the people who say they do best with a deadline looming or cramming for tests at the last minute. Other people procrastinate because they want to avoid the activity they need to accomplish, even though they would tell you they really want to do it, ‘if only’.
If you procrastinate in other areas of your life, it creeps into your writing time as well.
“Lack of confidence, sometimes alternating with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, often leads to procrastination, and many studies suggest that procrastinators are self-handicappers: rather than risk failure, they prefer to create conditions that make success impossible, a reflex that of course creates a vicious cycle.” – James Surowiecki
Many prolific writers have occasional times of procrastination. Procrastination is often confused with writer’s block. Writer’s block is when you have the discipline to sit down and write but nothing comes. Procrastination is when you do all you can to avoid sitting down in the first place, though you may have lots of writing that wants to come out. I think more writers are actually dealing with procrastination issues rather than true blockage.
Perfectionism is also a willing partner to procrastination. A perfectionist would rather not do something than do it with the possibility that it doesn’t turn out perfect. Perfectionism is based in fear and the need to control all circumstances, but in reality it causes a lack of control. Perfectionists have a cushion in procrastination. They don’t have to take responsibility because ‘there wasn’t enough time’.
I know this from personal experience. I’ve struggled with perfectionism and the guilt that follows all my distractions in order to avoid writing because the truth, if I’m willing to face it, is that I fear I will be found out as a failure.
Procrastination boils down to fear.
Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of judgment, fear of commitment, self-doubt.
“Procrastination is not Laziness”, I tell him. “It is fear. Call it by its right name, and forgive yourself.” – Julia Cameron, The Prosperous Heart
Procrastination guarantees one thing. You don’t move forward. You don’t move at all.
What does procrastination look like?
- You ignore the activity or act like it doesn’t exist.
- You wait until the last minute until it’s too late to do anything about it, and blame it on your ‘lack of time’ or ‘being so busy’.
- You have a Scarlett O’Hara attitude. “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
- You downplay the importance or priority of the activity.
- You substitute a less important activity for a more important one. “These dishes aren’t going to wash themselves, I need to shine the silver (that you haven’t used in three years) in case someone drops by.”
- You deserve a reward or comfort for all you’re going through. “No one cares about all the frustration I’m going through with my writing. I’m going to cheer myself up with some comfort food/drink/new shoes/a night out, etc. This is legitimate until it starts happening regularly while writing does not.
- Unproductive productivity. You convince yourself that your delaying tactics actually help your writing. “I can learn about dialogue so much more if I watch the entire season of Duck Dynasty, read these fifty blogs and seven writing instruction books that I need to read before I start writing, and go meet my writing friends for coffee four times a week to talk about writing.”
- You focus on your weaknesses and give them all the power. “I’m just too tired/angry/depressed/anxious/in pain/lonely/to do any writing.”
Self-sabotage is the sneakiest kind of roadblock to your best writing life because who better than you knows all your triggers and knows how to use them against yourself?
Sometimes the universe aligns and the words seem to drip off our fingertips. But most of the time we slog. We march in the mud. We throw wild punches at the air. We rant and rave at the blank page. And then we write.
Writing is hard just like life is hard. As you work to move forward through life, don’t let procrastination keep you from moving forward in your writing life. Fight for it. Push back at fear.
Here are 10 Shortcuts To Stopping Writing Procrastination:
- Admit it. Just like any other bad habit (and it is a learned habit), you first have to admit you have a problem before you can do something about it.
- Consider the root cause of your procrastination. Why do you delay and distract yourself from the writing? Fear? Past failures? Lack of discipline? Not wanting to face the truths you are writing about? Take time to examine the heart issues that result in procrastination behaviors.
- Ask for help. Let your friends and family know this is an issue for you (although they already know) and that you’d like encouragement and support as you’re trying to change your habits.
- Find a buddy. The buddy system works in many behavior modification scenarios. Procrastination is no different. Connect with someone else who is struggling with procrastination and hold each other accountable. Three writing friends and I used a calendar system for accountability to help us focus on writing productivity. It’s surprising what you make time for when you know someone is watching.
- Get unblocked. If you feel like you are dealing with true writing blocks, try some unblocking techniques like writing prompts, free writing, other creative pursuits (painting, photography, etc.), or work on another project for a change of pace.
- Be realistic. Perfectionists tend to make grandiose plans that they know they can’t complete in the finite amount of time they give themselves and quit before they start. If you have a day job, small children, or other obligations, know that those things are not going away and you have to negotiate your time. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Start your time management make-over with small consistent bites of time to encourage yourself. A timer set for 15 minutes works wonders.
- Show up. Position yourself at your desk or wherever you usually write and hang around awhile. If you write, that’s great. But if you don’t, that’s okay, too. Train yourself to show up and eventually the writing will come.
- Stop comparisons. Comparison is only helpful when you are trying to find the best deal on hamburger at the grocery store. Don’t compare yourself to your writing friend who writes for seventeen hours straight or writers who may be at a different skill level than you are. Do what works best for you and be content with that.
- Embrace the process. Vanquishing procrastination is not something you do in one fell swoop or a single proclamation. “I’m not a procrastinator anymore. Ta-dah!” Instead it’s the accumulation of a million small choices, day in and day out. Don’t quit just because you backslide into old habits from time to time.
- Resolve to do one thing every day towards your writing goals.
BONUS SHORTCUT: Let go of excuses. Today.
Stop postponing your dreams – what are you waiting for?
Eradicate procrastination with this epic blog post master class:
- K.M. Weiland Shares 10 Ways To Motivate Yourself To Write at Helium
- The Writer As Stowaway from Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds
- The Minimalist Secret To Productive Writing from Jeff Goins, Writer
- How Freewriting Can Help Writers Overcome Procrastination at Procrastinating Writers
- Rachelle Gardner’s post What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?
- Get Rid Of “Should” Once And For All at Procrastinating Writers
- Being More Productive – Taking On The Procrastinating Pixies By… Eating Frogs? from Kristen Lamb’s Blog