How to Beat Three Common Causes of Writing Procrastination – Today
Quick note: I’d be really grateful if you could take this year’s Aliventures survey (it’ll only take a few minutes):
I use the survey responses to help me plan what to write about on the blog and to help shape other resources that I create on Aliventures. This year, I’m particularly looking at the possibility of creating an online group to offer writers a sense of communtiy and peer support, and I’d love to have your input on that.
This post was originally published in January 2012 and updated in July 2020.
One theme’s come through already in the survey responses: 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.
Others do write, but they end up spending far more time procrastinating than actually writing, and they feel frustrated at their lack of progress.
It’s easy to end up feeling like procrastination is just part of who you are, something you can’t really change … but that’s not really the case.
Procrastination is simply a symptom of a cause; a sign that something in your writing world needs attention.
Here are three common problems that I see time and time again, in my own writing life and in others’:
Procrastination Problem #1: Lack of Preparation
Sometimes, procrastination is a sign that you’re not quite 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 you may find it helps to spend a little more time on the “planning” stage of writing.
Fix it fast:
- Get your writing space ready. If your notebooks, pens, etc are scattered around the house, it’s hard to sit down and get started … meaning it’s easy to end up procrastinating.
- Create a plan for your project. With non-fiction projects, a detailed outline helps a lot. If you’re working on fiction, you’ll want to develop your characters and have some idea about the plot.
Procrastination Problem #2: Too Many Projects
Perhaps 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 a bit of editing you promised to do for someone in your writers’ group…
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? Could you turn down new clients that aren’t a good fit, for instance? Or can you hire some help with certain aspects of your work?
- Focus on just ONE longer-term project. Believe me, I know how hard it can be to settle on a single project when you’ve got loads of things to write … but you’ll make much faster progress if you focus on a single priority.
Procrastination Problem #3: Feeling Afraid of Starting
This is the big one for many writers: procrastination gets bound up with a lack of confidence. I used to struggle with this a lot in the first few years of my writing career. I found it hard to get going with new pieces of writing because I knew that as soon as I started, all hopes of perfection would have to be set 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. You might even want to book to go away for a short writing retreat, perhaps at a local hotel.
- 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.
Don’t let procrastination get the better of you. It can be tough to beat, however many “tips” you try, if you’re not looking at the root cause. So today, ask yourself what’s behind your procrastination … and do something to tackle it.
If you’re looking for more help with time management, check out The Time Management Pack.
It’s a set of four self-study seminars, including one on beating procrastination and conquering writers’ block. All the seminars have full transcripts, plus nicely edited worksheets to make it easy for you to put what you learn into practice in your writing life.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.