Image from Flickr by SuperFantastic

One theme’s been standing out recently in the emails and comments that I’ve received: procrastination.

It’s the bane of many writers … or would-be writers. Some people spend months, even years, trying to get round to writing, but never quite manage to. And they beat themselves up about it.

But…

Procrastination doesn’t mean that you’re lazy.

It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer.

It doesn’t mean you can’t write.

Procrastination is simply a symptom of a cause; a sign that something in your writing world needs attention.

(Quick aside: you may think that this isn’t your issue. You don’t tend to waste much time — you’re always doing things. But keeping busy with non-writing projects — or the wrong writing projects — is a form of procrastination.)

Here are three common problems that I see time and time again, in my own writing life and in others’:

Problem #1: Lack of Preparation

Sometimes, procrastination is a sign that you’re not ready to get started on the writing: you still need to do some ground-work.

If you feel lost and confused every time you think about your writing – if you just don’t know where to begin, or whether you’re doing it all wrong – then check whether you’ve done enough preparation.

Fix it fast:

  • Prepare your writing space. If all your materials are scattered around the house, it’s hard for you to sit down and get started.
  • Write a plan for your project. Non-fiction needs an outline; fiction needs some characters mapped out and at least the beginnings of a plot.

Problem #2: Too Many Projects

You’ve been working on your novel sporadically for the past decade. You keep trying to fit it in, but other, more urgent, projects keep cropping up — that magazine article you pitched, those blog posts you want to write, and an editing job you promised your friend…

This type of procrastination is particularly insidious, because it feels like you’re being really productive. The only problem is, you’ve got a nagging sense of dissatisfaction: you wish you could finally finish your novel.

Fix it fast:

  • Say “no” to any new projects. If you make a living writing, this might not be an option – but can you at least cut back a bit?
  • Set aside time for ONE longer-term project. That might mean spending Saturday mornings on your novel, or Wednesday afternoons finishing off that ebook.

Problem #3: Feeling Afraid of Starting

This is the big one for many writers: procrastination gets bound up with a lack of confidence. I know just how this feels, because it happens to me all the time. I find it hard to get going with new pieces of writing because I know that as soon as I begin, all hopes of perfection have to be laid aside.

If you find yourself doing the dishes, clearing your inbox, tidying your desk, sharpening your pencils … anything but writing … then you need to get past your fear of starting.

Fix it fast:

  • Set aside a time for writing. If you’ve got Sunday afternoon blocked out for starting work on your novel, it’s hard to make excuses.
  • Write for just ten minutes. (And then keep going if you feel like it!) Set a timer and promise yourself that you’ll write until it goes off. Even if you only produce a couple of sentences, you’ve made a start.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments, if you struggle with procrastination (or if you’ve found a great way to overcome it).


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