Writers: Why You’re Procrastinating (And 9 Ways to Snap Out Of It)

The other day I stumbled onto what was supposed to be a comical jab at the life of a writer. The blog post boiled us down to alcoholic, procrastinating, penniless introverts.Writers: Why You’re Procrastinating (And 9 Ways to Snap Out Of It)

I think I’m doing something wrong.

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy a glass of wine or putting off my Saturday afternoon writing goals on occasion. I’m human. And, I’m certainly not a millionaire. Otherwise I’d be blogging to you from a pristine Australian beach, not snow-packed Iowa.

But overall, I’m productive. I have a reliable flow of paid projects. My desk mug is almost always filled with herbal tea. And, I actually look forward to my time at the keyboard.

So, it can be difficult for me to understand why so many writers struggle to actually write.

Why don’t they want to hone their craft?

Why don’t they want to make progress?

What’s holding them back?

Why is procrastination a daily battle?

In a Psychology Today article written by F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W. the author comes to terms with her own bouts of procrastination and advises other writers to pinpoint what makes them fear the keyboard.

She cites feeling overwhelmed, anxious and incapable of doing her writing tasks. Her solution? Break down her writing goals into small pieces. Do a little bit of writing each day.

I think this can be applied to everything from authoring a book to penning a 300-word blog post. Simply tackle a paragraph, some research or even chapter titles in one sitting. Then stop. Put the work aside and revise it later.

Making some progress is better than doing nothing at all.

I also like to mix up my writing tasks throughout the day. It’s a rare day for me to compose for eight hours. Instead I block out my day with an hour of writing here, and hour of researching there and I toss in some time to promote my articles too. I also plan exercise and meal breaks to make sure I get away from the computer screen.

I have to keep shifting my focus and tasks to avoid burnout and brain drain.

Carleton University psychology professor Timothy A. Pychyl, PhD says self-doubt and inadequate performance is at the root of procrastination. It’s what makes us linger on Facebook too long or organize a closet when we’re supposed to be working.

So, let’s snap out of this loop of procrastination and lack of productivity.

9 Ways to Stop Talking About Writing and Actually Do It

  1. Practice free writing. Give yourself a topic or join a writer’s group online that offers daily writing prompts. Force yourself into the creative mode by warming up with a random writing topic.
  2. Set a schedule. I wouldn’t meet half of my deadlines if I didn’t plan out each day of each week. You have to put “writing time” on the calendar if you want to make progress.
  3. Please yourself first. Even if you’re writing on deadline for a client, you have to compose the piece in a way that you enjoy reading and writing about the topic. If you hate what you’re writing, maybe it’s not the right project or genre for you?
  4. Keep it casual. Jot ideas in a notebook. Use a laptop at the park. Type some notes on your desktop during a lunch break at work. You don’t have to “prepare to write” every time. Just get the ideas out of your head.
  5. Don’t stop typing. When your brain is flooded with ideas and imagery, keep your fingers moving. There’s plenty of time to edit, spellcheck and clarify later. Get the main ideas down NOW.
  6. Give yourself deadlines. If you’re working on a personal piece, create your own timeline of goals and deadlines to help keep you motivated and on track to complete the project.
  7. Have writing buddies. Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing, especially among writers. Nobody feels good knowing a friend finished 1,200 words while you played Candy Crash.
  8. Get extra cozy. Create a space where you’re inspired to write. Burn candles. Play music. Sip coffee. Sit outside. Do whatever gets you into a writing mood so you can focus.
  9. Read other writers. When I procrastinate, I usually end up reading articles online, which often sparks inspiration for this blog (see the opening of this post!) or gives me ideas to think about for other pieces I’m working on.

What holds you back from meeting your writing goals? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

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5 Replies to “Writers: Why You’re Procrastinating (And 9 Ways to Snap Out Of It)”

  1. Perfectionism and high expectations can be obstacles. I can still hear my journalism professor yelling, “You make one mistake, it’s actually 50,000 mistakes or whatever the circulation of that newspaper! And the way you’re going, you’re not going to get a job at a newspaper!” My wife tells stories of the Medill “F.” If you had one mistake in a story while in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, you received an “F” for that assignment.

    1. Ouch! Medill sounds tough! We’re all bound to make mistakes, and honestly, I think minor goofs help us learn how to be better. But yes, perfectionism and high expectations can be crippling. I’m working on the whole “polish it and just let it go” theory. After all, I have to give editors something to do, right?

  2. A good piece of advice Angela. I totally agree with you that perfectionism and high expectation level can be a barrier. But I feel satisfied and happy when I deliver a perfect work piece and the Client reverts back with an email of appreciation for the efforts I have put in.

    1. Thank you! Oh, I agree. Submitting a polished piece and getting positive feedback feels great. It only becomes a problem when writers never finish the piece because they never get it “perfect enough”! Write on! ~Angela

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