Why Do We Procrastinate About Writing When We Love to Write?
I love writing.
When I’m writing, I feel truly myself. Sometimes I lose track of time. I can immerse myself in whatever I’m creating – a story, a blog post, even simply an email – and it’s a wonderful feeling.
And yet, sometimes, just getting started on writing feels like a huge effort. If I’ve taken a break from my novel-in-progress, or if I’m mulling over ideas for a new short story, actually sitting down and getting words onto the page can feel almost impossible.
Perhaps it’s the same for you. I know it is for a lot of writers. We have a tendency to procrastinate: to put off sitting down to write, or to get started, write a sentence or two, then immediately look for something else to do.
That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with us – or with the writing. This kind of procrastination is completely normal.
Let’s take a look at why, before turning to some ideas for pushing past procrastination and spending more time writing.
Writing Takes a Lot of Effort
There are lots of things in life I don’t procrastinate on, because they aren’t hard – at all.
If I’m sitting on the sofa with my phone in my hand, I certainly don’t feel that scrolling through Facebook is going to be much effort. In fact, it’s so effortless, I often find myself gazing at Facebook posts without even remembering opening the app.
Funnily enough, I never find myself “accidentally” writing. 😉
Writing takes a lot of effort. It requires multiple different skills applied at once: for instance, you might be working through intricate details in your plot, while also aiming to reveal character, while trying to pick just the right words to make your dialogue sound authentic.
Writing can be a huge amount of fun, but it also takes a lot of effort. And it’s only natural to resist applying that effort and to look for something easier to do.
Writing Rarely Seems Urgent
Some things in life might take a lot of effort or energy, but we don’t tend to procrastinate on them either, or at least not for long.
I don’t find myself procrastinating on making meals for my kids – because if I did, I’d have grumpy, hungry kids. There’s a deadline attached to getting dinner in front of them! If it’s 4.45pm and I haven’t started on dinner yet, it’s getting pretty urgent.
I’m sure you have similar situations in your life. Maybe you get yourself to work on time – not because you love commuting, but because there’s a clear divide between “on time” and “late”. Perhaps you’re always at church by 10am on a Sunday, because you don’t want to miss the start of the service. Or you find that you can focus on your essay surprisingly well, the night before it’s due.
By contrast, your writing might rarely seem urgent. Unless you’re hurrying to meet a competition deadline, there’s no real difference between doing your writing today and doing it tomorrow. And that makes it very easy to put off writing for another day, especially when there are lots of other genuinely urgent things that need to be taken care of.
Writing Really Matters to Us
One huge reason we procrastinate on writing – and I think writers don’t always recognise this – is because writing matters so much to us.
Perhaps you’ve sometimes thought that if you were a “real” writer, you wouldn’t even want to procrastinate – you’d just get on with it.
But I don’t think that’s true. Or if it is, I haven’t reached those giddy heights of being a “real” writer, either.
When you care about writing – when you want to do it well – then there’s a lot of weight attached to it.
That can make it really tough to begin. Even the thought of typing the first sentence can be daunting, because as soon as you start, you have to abandon the illusion that your writing can ever be completely perfect.
You might feel that one of those reasons resonates with you more than another – or maybe there’s something else that holds you back from getting going (and keeping going) with your writing.
There are lots of great tips out there for beating procrastination, but here’s one that I’ve found the most effective of all:
Set Aside a Chunk of Time and Get Away From Home to Write
My best writing progress comes when I book a hotel room solely to have somewhere to write.
I check in at 3pm, write all afternoon and into the evening, then do some more writing the following morning.
I can get a huge amount done that way – and much of it at a time of day (4pm onwards) when I normally struggle to focus well at all.
If booking a hotel room isn’t a possibility for you, could you get out to a coffee shop for a couple of hours?
If that wouldn’t work, is there a way you can set aside a block of time at home, purely for writing? That might require some organisation in advance – perhaps you want your partner to take your kids out for a few hours, or you need to let your teenagers know that they’re fending for themselves for dinner. If you plan ahead, you might be surprised what’s possible.
Keeping Going During “Normal” Days and Weeks
Booking a hotel room or heading out to a coffee shop for half a day is a really good technique for getting started – or restarted – on a writing project.
It’s probably not something you can do on a daily or even weekly basis … though if you can block out every afternoon to write at your local coffee shop, by all means, go for it!
Instead, you’ll want to also look for ways to keep up the momentum of writing during “normal” life. I’ll admit this is where my plans often fall down.
For me, it helps to:
- Make it easy to write. I write fiction on my Chromebook laptop, which is light, easy to carry around, comfortable to work on, and has a great battery life. I’ve finally found Scrivener-like software I really love that works with my Chromebook: Wavemaker. I also try to make sure I keep my mouse and headphones easily to hand.
- Plan ahead for the best time of day to write. Evenings can work for me, but I’m definitely at my best in the mornings – one of my goals at the moment is to get into the habit of using the early morning to write fiction.
- Have at least 30 minutes to write without interruptions. I know that if you have kids or caring responsibilities, that can be tricky, but it really does make it easier to focus if you know you’re not going to have to stop after five minutes.
- Use timers or time tracking. I track the time I spend on my freelance work using Clockify, which really helps me to focus (as it’s a pain to keep stopping and starting the timer). With fiction, I’ll often set a 15 or 30 minute timer if I’m struggling to focus: I find this really helps me to stay on track at least until the time is up.
Some of the things that work for me might well help you too – and if you’re looking for more ideas, check out Supercharge Your Writing Session, which is packed with tips on getting some writing done.
Most of all, though, remember that all writers have times when they’re reluctant to write. If you find yourself putting off writing, even when you do have time, or you find writing slipping further and further down your to do list, that’s completely normal.
Don’t beat yourself up for procrastinating. Do recognise it in yourself – and try out different ways to move forward with your writing, despite the urge to procrastinate.
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.
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