How to beat procrastination and just write!
Procrastination is a big roadblock, especially for writers. You might even suffer from its influence and not even realize it!
Not to be confused with laziness (which is more not wanting to do anything or wanting to exert as little energy as possible), procrastination is putting things off in favor of doing other tasks. Unfortunately, sufferers have only themselves to blame. This, however, is not a bad thing as this means you have the power to solve the issue all on your own.
Step One: As so many step programs claim, the first step is identifying your issue.
Do you suffer from extreme (or even light) procrastination syndrome? As the (very loudly) self-proclaimed Queen of procrastination, allow me to give you a few examples of my own so that you can judge for yourself.
In my quest to avoid writing: I have done the spring cleaning I have been putting off all year (cleaned all the windows, hand scrubbed the carpets, and even cleaned the walls—which apparently is a thing). I have shaved my dogs with clippers when they were looking a bit wooly. Did they need haircuts? Yes. Did they need mohawks? Probably not, but they got them. Why? Because, even though that work was five times more time consuming and difficult than just sitting down and actually working on my latest project (my dogs really hate getting haircuts), to my warped, anti-writing mind, it seemed easier to tackle.
I have even gone so far as to fool myself into believing that the tasks I am doing in lieu of actually writing are in service of my writing. IE: Doing over the top research, extensive world building (back a thousand years or more). And while these might be helpful in the long run, say if I wrote a series or a prequel, for the stand alone project I was working on, it was too in-depth and was material and detail readers would never see.
Neither of these were my wake-up call, however. That honor belongs to the completely useless and unnecessary computer 3D model I created of my character’s 138 room mansion complete with individualized wallpaper, carpet, and furniture …Yeah, that happened…
Now, as you might have noticed, when it comes to procrastinating, I am a bit of an overachiever. So, if you read my examples above and thought, ‘Oh no, that’s definitely not me. I’m not that crazy!’ You are probably right but take all that craziness above and reduce it significantly and you might start to see some commonalities where writing avoidance is concerned.
If you’ve determined you are a fellow sufferer, or simply want to stay ahead of the game to prevent yourself from falling into the sticky tar pit that is procrastination, proceed to step two to find out how you can combat this abominable menace.
Step Two: Fight procrastination (or at the very least manage it).
– Give yourself a deadline!
Whether it be a main deadline for the completion of your project or smaller deadlines for word count, scenes, hours, or chapters. Having goals set for your writing will give you something to work towards and give you a sense of urgency where your project is concerned, decreasing the chances of it falling by the wayside.
The reason writing is so easy to push off is because it has no set due date (unless of course you already have a publisher, then go you!). Many tasks awaiting attention, feeding the dogs, paying bills etc. usually have ‘complete by’ dates or times that make them take priority over other items. If you give your writing a set timeline, you are automatically raising its importance.
You can set one large goal (total domination…I mean completion) of your work, or set several goals increasing in size. They can be daily goals, weekly goals, monthly. Whatever you decide, make sure that it is doable by you. There’s no reason to set yourself up for failure by over challenging yourself, because we all know how that will end (tears, burned manuscripts, punched walls, etc.).
There are many apps that can help you keep track of goals like word count and/or time spent writing (search apps by looking for ‘word count apps for writers’ there are a lot: WriteChain, NaNoWriMo.org, Novelist, pacemaker.press etc.), or you can do it the old fashioned way by making yourself one of those big ol’ goal meters that you can color in as you get closer to your set destination. It works for various fund drives, why not for your writing? And who doesn’t want that on their wall? Really, who?
– Make your writing a priority!
Now that you’ve given your writing some clout by giving it its own special deadline (awww, adorable), you need to figure out how it stacks up in comparison to your other tasks. And the best way to do that is to use lists, lists, lists.
Not everyone likes to use lists, and that is understandable, but the main focus at this juncture is organizing your ‘To Do’ items somehow so that you can see where your writing falls. Even if you have to disguise a list in another format, say a calendar with items scheduled out, or a pile of things that relate to the tasks you have awaiting your attention, or perhaps one of those not so concealing eye-only superhero masks. Do whatever works for you.
When using a list (or one of its well disguised brethren) you want to write out the tasks you have to complete and the date/times you have to complete them by. Then move those items around and organize them. Hopefully with a deadline, your writing has been bumped up significantly, especially the little, short-term goals you have set for yourself. With a list organized by priority, you are more likely to follow it from top priority to bottom and less likely to skip around based on what you’re ‘feeling’ at the time. Which is pretty much what drives procrastinators to procrastinate, right? You feel me?
– Hold yourself accountable!
At this point you have given yourself deadlines and goals, as well as figured out your writing’s priority level. What you need to do now is hold yourself accountable. Ugh, do I have to? Yes, because if you don’t, who will? Well, my friends could. Sure, but that’s in the next section, so don’t skip ahead!
This part depends solely on your ability to manage yourself. And sure, as a potential procrastinator your track record with that likely hasn’t been stellar… it’s still something you can do because it can be learned and developed until it becomes a habit. Also, did I mention treats? Because there will be treats!
Holding yourself accountable doesn’t have to be as dull as it sounds. It can be fun! I doubt that! I promise, it really can! How, you ask? Through the use of incentives, aka rewards. And who doesn’t love a reward?
Whatever breakdown method you end up using for your goals, always be sure to reward yourself when you have reached one of your set milestones. Take yourself to that restaurant you’ve been eyeing, buy yourself a new fancy calligraphy pen, watch an episode of your most recent binge show. The best part about being in charge of your own accountability is you know what reward would motivate you most. This will encourage you to continue and help you to look forward to the next mile marker.
BEWARE: using cookies and candy as rewards may cause your clothes to cease to fit should you be really, really successful. Resulting in a ton of mixed feelings!
– Enlist outside reinforcements!
Afraid you won’t be able to hold yourself accountable considering your spotty history with that exact thing? Never fear, dear procrastinator, your friends and family are there to help you! Or at least they will be once you make them be! It’s easy to tell yourself ‘tomorrow’ or ‘later’ but it’s a lot harder to tell someone else that.
‘But what if I don’t have friends or family that are willing to help me?’ Then all is still not lost! In fact, in a recent Motley Writers Guild post, author Em Van Moore, talked about solving that precise issue. Not only connecting with friends, but connecting with fellow writers, beta readers, and critiquers. All of which are necessary for getting your work query or self-publish ready!
Once you have built a stable network of fellow writers, or convinced one of your long time friends or family members to help you, you are ready to pop the big question. Come on, you know the one. Starts with ‘will you’ and ends with ‘me.’ That’s right, ‘Will you help me?’ (Said in one long earnest breath, eyes closed). Earnestness is crucial! You might also want to add something like ‘Stay on task and reach my writing goals’ to your request, but that’s entirely up to you.
It does help however to let your helper know what you expect from them and what you expect from yourself. Do you want them to check in with you daily, weekly, monthly. Track your word count via a shared google doc and pester you when you haven’t touched it in a week? Let them know, so that you are receiving the exact prodding you need and want, to get your project done.
WARNING: Failure to meet goals and possible constant pestering (even when asked for) may cause you to become resentful. But remember, you’re not really mad at your friend or family member, you are only mad at yourself. Try not to take out your frustration on the person who has so generously agreed to help you!
Alright, that’s it. From one procrastinator to another (and well done if you got this far without deciding that that painting across the room could use a little straightening), procrastination is not an insurmountable roadblock, though it can seem so at times. Just like with your goals, break everything down into smaller parts and pieces and tackle them one by one. Once you build that habit of setting a goal and reaching it (and the treats, don’t forget the treats) you can continue utilizing that practice with your next project, and then the next, and the next!
Now go out there and show procrastination who’s boss!
The Motley Writers Guild’s – A.D. Moseley