How to Beat Three Common Causes of Writing Procrastination – Today

14 Jul 2020 | Writing

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):

Aliventures Survey: Summer 2020

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.

About

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.

My Novels

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.

33 Comments

  1. Tinkyarny

    Until I read this post I had no idea that my procrastination came from a lack of planning. I thought writers just sat and the ideas/ words would flow! A childish assumption, I know. I tend to have half way decent ideas but no clue how PLOT.

    • Ali

      Well, I can tell you that this writer definitely doesn’t just sit down to an automatic flow of ideas and words… 😉 I find it so much easier to have a plan.

      I’m guessing you’re trying to plot fiction, probably a novel? I wouldn’t worry about planning out the whole thing in advance — but you should have an idea of how it well end, so you know what you’re eventually aiming towards. You’ll also want a good grasp of your main characters, and some ideas about major events that need to happen along the way.

      Good luck!

      • Tinkyarny

        Thanks. Your suggestions make writing feel like less of a mountain, when you plan making it to one ridge at a time while keep the idea of reaching to top eventually.

        • Ali

          Glad to help. 🙂 I see writing fiction as a journey through fog, where you can only see the little bit in front of you … but where you’ve got a general sense of direction.

  2. Janet Thomson

    Ali, I resonate with all three examples, but #3 is my biggest culprit. I will try writing for 10 minutes with a timer and see how that works. Thanks for the tips.
    Janet Thomson’s last blog post ..Summarize Your Book and Your Thoughts

    • Ali

      Good luck! Timed writing is a great way to throw yourself into it — no excuses. 😉

  3. Michael White

    Number 1 has always been my downfall. I have found through calender planning that if I arrange my writing into sections I become more productive in the long run.

    • Ali

      Yes, this really helps me too. I quite like to have different days for different projects (or at least half days) — it’s hard to switch rapidly between several types of writing.

  4. Stephen Thorn

    Number two is my downfall. Aside from the never-ending distractions life demands we pay attention to (cook dinner, clean the cat box, sleep, earn a living until the book is done, etc.) it seems there’s always another paragraph to write in Project 1, editing to do on Project 2, rewrite some dialogue in Project 3, and so on. Oh, for a magical stopwatch that stopped time for the entire world except for me!!

    • Ali

      If you find that stopwatch, Stephen, let me know…!

      Do you have one project that’s the current priority? Alternatively, can you polish off a couple of smallish projects so that they’re entirely out of the way? It’s surprising how much mental energy (not just actual time) multiple projects can take up.

      • Stephen Thorn

        Fortunately, Ali, I do get little projects done. I finish a short story or poem or post and then I attack The Main Project again, but it’s not long before another inspiration hits and then I’m infatuated with another short story or poem or whatnot and devote my precious writing time to that new love. So I am accomplishing goals in writing, just not the big goal I’d set for myself. I’m loath to put-off new projects because past experience indicates that will cause me to lose interest in the new project and it will either never be written or will fail to meet my standards when it is written. Ah well, I’m writing good stuff until The Main Project is done, so I’ll console myself with that fact.

        • Ali

          Sounds like you’re getting a lot of great writing done. 🙂 And I know just what you mean about not putting off new projects — sometimes the enthusiasm for them just drains away. Hope you manage to strike a good balance between working on The Main Project and working on shorter piece.

  5. Gerty

    You hit the nail on the head. Procrastination has always been my downfall as well, and it comes from the fear of failure, the fear of getting started, the fear of not being good enough, the fear of wasteing time when I should be doing somthing else, like the dishes. Year after year, it’s the same old thing. I have good intentions, and great stories inside my head, but I never get beyond the first chapter. I hope I don’t die with my stories still inside of my head.

    • Ali

      Please make time to get those stories out, Gerty — the dishes can wait! And in my opinion, it’s never a waste of time to do something that you find fulfilling and enjoyable. Even if you just find 10 minutes to write each day, you’ll find that you soon make progress, and those fears start to fade away.

      • Gerty

        Thanks for your words of encouragement.

  6. Paige | simple mindfulness

    I have huge issues with procrastination, especially #2. With two jobs, working to grow my blog and create products, taking care of three little kids and many animals and fit some exercise and sleep in there somewhere, I manage to do everything else (almost) before sitting down to write. It’s hard for me to focus on writing when I know there are other little things that need to get done (laundry, dishes, etc.). I also have a hard time setting aside a certain day/time for anything. Small children don’t understand schedules so my life tends to be a bit too free-flowing. Thanks for the great ideas Ali! Nothing is impossible and I’m in the process of creating new habits that include your suggestions.
    Paige | simple mindfulness’s last blog post ..The Free Guide You Need to Make This Year Your Best

    • Ali

      Yikes, Paige, that’s a lot! Have you tried using a timer? When I’m struggling to focus because I know I need to deal with an overflowing inbox/sink/bin, I find that it seems easier when I tell myself “everything else can wait for the next 30 minutes while I write”.

      Good luck with your new habits; I don’t have kids yet, so I can only imagine how tough it must be to get things done around them! One thought: can you arrange to swap childcare with a friend once in a while, so that you get at least a couple of hours to yourself? Or even pay a teenage babysitter to amuse the kids while you’re in the house writing?

      • Paige | simple mindfulness

        I like the “everything can wait” idea! Since I live in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, I don’t have neighbors, friends or relatives that can conveniently help. I’m working with my husband so he can take all the kids with him a couple days a week. Thanks again!
        Paige | simple mindfulness’s last blog post ..The Free Guide You Need to Make This Year Your Best

  7. Sam

    This was great to read as I can identify with all of the problems. Ironically I help other people write as part of my job, and when given their ideas I can help them develop them quickly. But when I have an idea, I just don’t know where to start. I think my main problem when I start writing is that I hate the sound of my ‘voice’. How can this be overcome?

    • Paige | simple mindfulness

      Sam,
      Perhaps the dislike for your “voice” is some programming in your past that writing isn’t a “real job” or that your writing somehow wasn’t “good enough” for some arbitrary standard. To get to the bottom of it and resolve the issue, try writing the beginning of the statement, “I hate my voice because…” or “I hate the sound of my voice because…” and free-flow write as many reasons as you can. If your thoughts on some of the reasons go off on a tangent, follow the tangent and keep writing until you can’t write any more. Dive into the issues and painful places this may take you. Avoiding any of them will ensure that you continue to carry them around with you. When you’re done, burn, shred, flush or otherwise dispose of all the writings. I’ve found this process to be very therapeutic and healing. Good luck!
      Paige | simple mindfulness’s last blog post ..The Free Guide You Need to Make This Year Your Best

      • Sam

        Hi Paige,
        Thanks so much for your superb reply. I had never thought of doing it in this way before, though I know of the technique as a useful one for therapy. The suggestions you made make sense and I am going to give this a go. Thanks again!
        Sam

        • Ali

          Paige, what a great suggestion — thanks for adding it.

          Sam, I hope this helps you. Will you come back and let us know how you get on?

          Also, however hard you might find it, you could try showing your writing to some friends or fellow writers: you may find that *they* love your voice.

          In case it helps…

          I used to really dislike my speaking voice. My family moved house when I was 10, and I promptly got teased for sounding “posh” compared with other kids at my new school. For a long time, I was scared to even do any audio recordings online, in case my readers fled in droves! It’s only been since going to a few blogging conferences in America that I’ve realised that lots of people *love* my accent (my American friends can’t get enough of it). This helped me accept my voice, and now I can hear the good things in it, not just that long-ago teasing.

          • Sam

            Hi Ali,
            I certainly will report back once I have done this. I am planning to sit down tomorrow, once the house is quiet, to have a go. Ironically I have undertaken numerous creative writing courses and have received favourable feedback on my writing (as well as useful constructive criticism) but for some reason there’s still that voice in me that says what I am writing is too depressing, when I try to write something serious, but I can cope with comedy better. However, I would like to have a go at something with a little more ‘depth’ so this activity will be invaluable I think.
            My daughetr currently suffers from the same affliction as you – she is called ‘posh fish’ at school! So I can empathise 🙂

            • Paige | simple mindfulness

              Sam,
              It’s funny that you say that you can cope better with comedy while serious things appear too depressing. When I was in college I worked at a stand-up comedy club. I learned that many comedians are some of the most depressed people around. Their comedy, while quite funny, was their method of dealing with their depression. I think “serious” things are much more removed from depression than comedy.

              And as for everyone’s accents – they’re all beautiful! Insecure people tend to put down others who are different but it’s the differences that make life – and people – so beautiful. Tell your daughter to wear her “posh fish” label as a badge of honor to be proud of. She has something that the others are lacking.
              Paige | simple mindfulness’s last blog post ..The Free Guide You Need to Make This Year Your Best

              • Ali

                Some writing is dark and grim — and cathartic for the reader! In my own reading and writing preferences, I’m a happy-ending sort of gal, but I’m fine with plenty of suffering along the way…

                Sympathies to your daughter! I hope she doesn’t take the teasing too much to heart.

                • Sam

                  Hi
                  Just thought I would update on the writing exercise you suggested, Paige. Thanks for the recommendation – it was interesting what came from it. Mainly that I have a little, annoying voice that says I have nothing interesting to say, but also something a little more worrying, in that I am concerned about something that might come out that is hidden rather deeper. Not sure what that is or how to get to it – more freewriting perhaps!
                  Oh well, I am working on a script for a sitcom competition at least… Hope everyone else is well!
                  Sam
                  Sam’s last blog post ..Do or diet

                  • Paige | simple mindfulness

                    Sam,

                    Very glad to hear you’re making progress on this! It’s not something that fixes itself overnight, by any means. Maybe give ‘the little, annoying voice’ a name and a persona and have some open discussions with it. Ask it, “What’s the worst that could happen if that deeper thing comes out?” The inital answers and feelings are usually pretty scary but keep moving past them and things will feel much better. The ego immediately feels threatened and will do anything to stop that. But YOU are not being threatened.

                    Years ago it was a challenge for me to face my dark, hidden secrets in my own journal. Now I write about them in my blog in the hopes that I can help others face and overcome the same challenges.

                    I think a big part of facing these kinds of things is a recognition that we’re not perfect. We aren’t the personas that we portray. Why do we all have such a hard time exposing our problems and issues when others can learn from us and we can heal ourselves in the process?

                    Keep it up! Feel free to contact me directly at paige@paigeburkes.com if I can support you further with this. 🙂
                    Paige | simple mindfulness’s last blog post ..Why Do You Want What You Want?

  8. Sheyi

    This post has really helped me.I’m stocked in the P-2 which is too many projects. The ideas kept on coming but I have now find the solution. I will leave others and face one now. I hope I will be able to get it done on time now.
    Sheyi’s last blog post ..$100 Niche Site Case Study!

    • Ali

      So glad it helped, Sheyi. I think focusing on just one idea is a great way forward. You can keep the others safe and come back to them when you find yourself stuck for something to write about!

  9. Fred

    Lots of thanks Ali, your post is very helpful and informative enough. You really hit my head on this post. Now I get the idea wheres my weakness point. In my part, my procrastination came from lack of creative thinking and stress. I remember during those teenage days of mine. I do have good writings not like now.
    Fred’s last blog post ..How To Get A Girlfriend

    • Ali

      Thanks Fred, glad to help. I hope you can get some down-time: stress and busyness can really dampen that creative impulse.

  10. Tony Fuentes

    Hey Ali, great post. What helps me stay on task is routine! I wake up at 5am every morning (not weekends, though.) I check my email and read and comment on a couple of blog posts. Then I get up to stretch, do a few push ups and start writing.

    That way you train your mind to “activate” once certain protocals have been met. Setting yourself on autopilot is much easier than having to remind yourself to be productive all the time. 🙂
    Tony Fuentes’s last blog post ..Life’s Sweet Spot + What I Wish I Knew In College

    • Ali

      Cheers, Tony! And eesh… 5am would be too early for me. If I’m up before 7am, I’m happy. 🙂 I like your autopilot suggestion; setting up good routines can save a lot of brain-power for more important stuff…

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