Four Steps to Overcome Writing Procrastination
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I've met a variety of writers since joining the online writing community, and I have to admit: I'm mad jealous of those who look forward to every single writing session with reckless abandon. I am not one of those writers. And I know I'm not alone.
For a number of us, writing isn't always the most joy-inducing task in the world, no matter how much we love our stories. For any number of reasons, sitting down to write can be difficult for some of us. And oftentimes, procrastination wins out. The good news? Writing procrastination is completely normal.
You should never treat yourself like less of a writer because you lack the motivation to tackle your next writing session. Like I said, there are a number of reasons why procrastination may plague you. We're going to talk about each of these reasons, as well as how to stop procrastination in its tracks, in today's article. So let's get going!
The many causes of writing procrastination…
A few weeks ago, I was perusing the non-fiction shelves at my local library when I came across a book called The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey. Being that I often struggle with productivity, I decided to see what Bailey had to say, and one of the biggest topics Bailey covers in his book is procrastination.
According to Bailey, there are six reasons why people may procrastinate a task:
1) It's difficult.
2) It's boring.
3) It's frustrating.
4) It's unstructured or ambiguous.
5) It has no personal meaning.
6) It has no intrinsic reward.
All of those reasons can be applied to why we procrastinate writing.
Sometimes, writing is difficult. We hit tough scenes or we don't know how to overcome a plot hole, and so on. Writing can also be boring, especially when we're working on necessary, but unexciting scenes or trying to get through line edits.
And when we're working through difficult scenes or facing a tough edit, writing can also be quite frustrating. Without a plan, we may also lack direction, leading to unstructured writing sessions.
And finally, completing a full manuscript — or even just a single draft — is terribly time-consuming, which can wear down the personal meaning and intrinsic rewards (e.g. a sense of accomplishment, progress, satisfaction, purpose, etc.) that usually bolster our motivation.
But I'd also like to add one more productivity killer to Bailey's list: doubt.
Perhaps a lack of confidence in our skills or the value of our stories would fall into the "no intrinsic reward" category, but doubt is such a major factor in so many writers lives that I thought it was worth a mention all its own. (And if doubt is something you struggle with often, I encourage you to check out this Well-Storied article.)
Now that we have a clear understanding of what causes procrastination, it's time to break down how we can overcome it the next time our will to write seems to have hit the highway.
How to Overcome Writing Procrastination
There are four steps in particular that help me overcome procrastination in my own writing life, and today I'm going to share them with you. But first, I want you to ask yourself if you're truly passionate about the project you're working on.
Because if you aren't, these four steps are never going to work. And besides, why waste time and motivation on a project you don't enjoy when you could be working on something you love? Don't ever be afraid to set aside a project that just isn't the one for you.
Fill your writing life with passion projects, and you'll find it so much easier to conquer procrastination and kickstart your writing momentum. With that in mind, let's jump in to the four steps we'll take to overcome procrastination ASAP:
Step #1: Identify the cause.
Before you can counteract procrastination, you need to understand what's causing it. So take a look at the list we discussed in the last section of today's article.
Are you working on a difficult project or are you frustrated by the scene you're trying to write? Have you grown bored of your story or are you having trouble seeing and appreciating the progress you've made?
Maybe doubts are weighing you down or you just don't feel like you've accomplished much.
Whatever the case, whether your procrastination stems from a single cause or all of them at once, knowing what lies at the root of your writing struggle is the first step to overcoming it.
Step #2: Lessen the pain.
Writing isn't always easy or fun. That's a topic we've discussed a lot lately here at Well-Storied---and with good reason. If you're struggling to love your writing, know that you aren't alone.
With that in mind, it's time to take a look at the root cause(s) of your procrastination and to work to lessen the pain of them. Not sure what I mean? Here are a few examples:
1) If writing is difficult, reward yourself with something special at a specific milestone. Might I suggest a cookie or two for every 500 words written? Yum!
2) If writing is boring, try switching back and forth between your current boring task and something more exciting, such as creating Pinterest story boards or writing a fun action scene.
3) If writing is frustrating, try taking a long shower or a walk to see if your muse provides you with a solution to your frustration. Letting your mind unwind for a bit is key!
4) If your writing is unstructured, what are you waiting for? Go make a plan!
5) If your writing has no personal meaning, consider whether you're truly passionate about your project. If you are, try working through Write With Purpose as a way to remind yourself of why you write.
6) If you've lost sight of writing's intrinsic rewards, try reading some of your old work or tracking your writing progress to see how far you've come.
7) And if you doubt your story's value or your ability to tell it, remind yourself that you are as good a writer as you work to be. Growth is in your hands, and every bit of progress you make brings you one step closer toward your goals.
Step #3: Discover your pressure points.
A bit of healthy pressure can go a long way.
Doing word sprints (e.g. trying to write as much as you can in just 10 or 15 minutes), working on a self-imposed deadline, or trying to reach a certain goal can motivate many writers to sit down and pick up the pen.
But for some writers, the pressure they place on themselves is already too much. If you're one such writer, working to a minimum goal instead can be the key to kicking procrastination to the curb.
I often employ this tactic in my personal writing by telling myself that I only need to write 200 words or edit for 10 minutes. It takes the pressure off, reminding me that progress — not productivity — is what's most important.
And of course, if you find your writing groove after giving this method a shot, don't be afraid to keep working. Go with the flow and get those words, writer!
Step #4: Implement a reward or anti-reward system.
You may have already employed this tactic when you sought to lessen the pain of procrastination in step #2. But if you haven't, I encourage you to give it a try.
Implementing a reward or anti-reward system ties right back in to getting to know your relationship to pressure. If you often place too much pressure on yourself, try implementing a reward system.
This may look like eating an extra cookie after a successful writing session, allowing yourself to buy a new book after writing every day for a week, or spending extra time with your favorite fan-fiction after hitting a new manuscript milestone. Whatever floats your boat, my friend!
However, if you do respond well to a little healthy pressure, I encourage you to try implementing an anti-reward system instead. In other words, try using the risk of a "punishment" to motivate yourself to write.
For example, you might put the $10 you were going to spend on a new book into savings instead if you don't reach your writing goal. Or you may deny yourself that delicious cookie or a few extra hours snuggled up with a Darcy fan-fic.
Whatever the case, the thought of not doing the things you love just might light the fire under your bum you need to get your fingers on that keyboard.
At the end of the day, overcoming procrastination does look a bit like Nike's "Just do it!" mantra. Which is certainly hard for us procrastinators to actually put into action.
But by employing the steps above when you feel your writing motivation begin to slip, you'll slowly but surely build up the willpower you need to make conquering procrastination ever so much easier. So what do you say, writer? Let's get to it!