Guest Post: How To Deal With Procrastination As A Writer by Laura Kerridge
Laura Kerridge is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace connecting authors with the world’s best publishing professionals. In her free time, Laura enjoys reading poetry, writing way-too-personal personal essays, and watching bad horror movies.
We’re all guilty of it. Procrastination is a major productivity killer, and we creative types are especially prone to it. Left unchecked, we can lose entire hours or even days to procrastination, and there’s nothing worse than finishing up a writing session, and realizing you haven’t actually gotten anything done.
So how can we escape the cycle of time-wasting and work-evading, and make sure we’re on track to meet our goals? If you’re struggling to stay on task, all is not lost! I’m here to help with some tried-and-tested hacks to help you deal with procrastination.
1. Find someone to keep you accountable
Some good-old-fashioned peer pressure may be the easiest way to increase your productivity. Got a friend (or distant acquaintance) who also likes to write? Ask them whether they’d like to be accountability buddies!
By scheduling weekly (or daily, if we’re honest about our needs) check-ins, you’re giving yourself motivation to make sure you’ve always got something — anything — to show for yourself at the end of your working day. You can also motivate one another in other ways, by offering encouragement, talking through hurdles you’ve come up against, and discussing what did and didn’t go well.
Having some dedicated time to reflect on how successful and productive your day was will help you recognize patterns in your workflow. Is there a common denominator in the times when you’re struggling to write? Are your late-night or early morning sessions more productive? Do you struggle to work when others are at home, or when you’re in a certain environment? Talking these things through with your writing buddy can help you increase your productive potential by working out which variables are holding you back.
2. Remember — it’s all in the edit
Sometimes, writing can feel like a one-night-only stage show, where you only have one chance to get things right. This mindset can lead to paralyzing stage fright, and stop you from even getting started — which leads to our old friend, procrastination.
One way to get out of this funk can be to remind yourself that writing is less like theater, and more like a movie. You get multiple takes (drafting and redrafting), and that’s before you even get to editing. It doesn’t need to be completely perfect the first time round: instead, you’re free to just put everything out there, safe in the knowledge that you can leave any less-than-Oscar-worthy stuff on the cutting room floor.
Bearing this in mind can take a lot of pressure off, and allow you to just start when you’re feeling overwhelmed. For more tips on how to get going when you’re struggling with the start of the writing process, check out Clarendon House Books’ great post on beating the blank page!
3. Keep your eyes on the prize (whatever that is for you)
If you’re really struggling for motivation, try and think about the bigger picture. Think about your end goal and what you’re doing this for, and try and bear it in mind whenever you find inspiration waning.
For example, if you’re planning on publishing your work, look ahead to the day you’ll reach that goal. Try and visualize your book launch, or start thinking about how to promote your book – let yourself get excited for what’s to come! If you’re simply writing for pleasure, imagine the satisfaction you’ll feel when you’ve checked this off your bucket list, and are holding a finished manuscript in your hands!
By reminding yourself what motivated you to write in the first place, and keeping your end goal in sight, you can find yourself a reliable source of intrinsic motivation to tap into whenever you’re losing focus.
4. Break the project down into manageable chunks
A famous Chinese proverb says it best: “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” And wouldn’t we all rather look ahead a few steps than contemplate a thousand-mile journey in its entirety?
It’s natural to be discouraged when you consider your entire project as a single job that’s incomplete until you reach the very end. Fear not, however — there’s a hack for that, too!
Instead of looking at the whole, break down your project into smaller chunks. Then break those chunks into even smaller chunks. Once you think the chunks are just about bitesize, break them down once more, just for good measure.
Breaking down your work into the smallest sections possible not only helps you keep track of your progress, it’ll also make you feel more accomplished at the end of each day — which will in turn motivate you to accomplish more! By giving yourself manageable tasks to tick off as you complete them, you’re giving yourself the dopamine hit of instant gratification every single day.
5. If all else fails, make “procrastination time” productive!
No matter how disciplined you are, we will all end up procrastinating at some point (heck, even Gandalf is guilty of it). But just because procrastination is inevitable, that doesn’t mean we have to simply “write off” a chunk of our time to it! Instead, consider some ways you might be able to harness procrastination and make it a productive part of your workflow.
Grant has already written a fantastic post on how to take advantage of procrastination, where he suggests switching between writing projects whenever you feel yourself procrastinating on one. The great thing about this approach is that you never have time to get bored — the second you start to flag, you’re on to the next thing!
However, this switch doesn’t just have to be between different writing projects. If you’re somebody who doesn’t like working on multiple projects at once, you can still maximize the productivity of your “procrastination” time by using it to work on other areas of your main project.
For example, you might want to use time to do historical research for an upcoming chapter, or reading up on formatting tips. You might even want to look even further ahead, and do some research on the nitty-gritty technical stuff you’ll need to know when you get to the end of your project. Why not put in the time now to research how to sell ebooks on Amazon, or get clued up on Amazon self-publishing? It’s never too early to think about these things, and it’s different enough from the task of writing to be a refreshing break for your brain — while still being super productive, since you’re chipping away at your overall to-do list!