“All procrastination is fear.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
So you want to be a writer. You have the plotline, your characters are having conversations in your head, and you have even envisioned your book cover.
But then you sit down and that blinking cursor is mocking you. You freeze up. Where do you start?? It’s so overwhelming. As the anxiety creeps in, you notice that the dryer just went off and those clothes need to be folded ASAP. Your dog needs to go for a walk. You’re low on milk so you need to pop out to the store. Or you decide to melt into the couch and binge The Gilmore Girls for the hundredth time.
We all have millions of reasons to procrastinate when it comes to writing. Whether it’s fear of failure, self-doubt, writer’s block, or lack of a muse, we all can be guilty of letting that blinking cursor (or blank page) win. And our to-do lists of random errands suddenly become more important than getting our words out.
But there are ways to combat procrastination. With these tips and tricks, and a change of mindset, you’ll be writing your new bestseller in no time.
When you’re traveling to a new place, it’s helpful to have a map, right? It’s the same with writing. Although you might be excited about all of your new ideas, not organizing them first and completing your research will only hinder the writing process. And when we get stuck, we tend to procrastinate more.
First, make an outline for your novel or story. There are many free online templates to help you plan everything from your original premise to every individual chapter. Do what works for you, and don’t overwhelm yourself with extremely detailed outlines. Just get a good sense of where you’re going.
Once you’ve done your outline, do your research. Doing all this planning on the front end will make your writing experience much more enjoyable, and you’ll want to sit down and write every day.
It can be hard to get motivated to write a novel because the end seems so far away. Like light-years. So break tasks up into smaller manageable tasks by using a timer.
A timer can keep you focused and on track, and help you check some small goals off your checklist, which can help you feel more motivated.
For instance, start a timer and free write for ten minutes straight without stopping. Or set a task for yourself, like setting a timer for 20 minutes to write character sketches or work on worldbuilding. No matter what it is, just write something. Odds are after that initial ten or so minutes, you’ll want to keep going. Then when the timer goes off, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something.
As a former English lit and composition teacher, I always had my students use graphic organizers to use for brainstorming. Like novel outline templates, there are a plethora of free writing graphic organizers online to help you organize your thoughts when you’re brainstorming instead of jotting them down in a jumbled mess.
We’ve all been there. You type “chapter one”, the cursor endlessly blinks, and then you get an Instagram notification. One hour later, you’re falling down a rabbit hole of cute puppy videos and haven’t written a word.
If this is the case for you, put your phone away from you where you can’t reach it, or use phone apps or Chrome Extensions like Forest, where you will kill a tree if you exit the app or go to time-wasting websites to goof off while you’re supposed to be working. If you stay focused, your tree grows and you start to grow a forest. If not, you’ll have lots of poor little dead trees. Guilt works, folks.
If you always aim for perfection every time you write, writing will become impossible.
First drafts are not perfect. They’re not supposed to be, that’s why they’re called drafts. Every famous book you’ve ever read started with a first draft. What we don’t see is the months or even years of work that went into polishing up that first draft into a publishable piece. It is a process of blood, sweat, and tears for sure.
So your new chapter or short story wasn’t the best? No worries! Take some time away from it and come back to it, or start fresh. No one is perfect, so cut yourself some slack. Writing ten pages badly is better than writing none at all!
I’m looking at you, font maniacs. Don’t worry about if Spectral or Amatic font will “vibe” better with what you’re working on. Formatting is one of the last steps that should be on your mind, and playing around with fonts is like opening a bag of potato chips. It’s hard to stop once you start!
If you can’t resist the siren song of all the formatting options in Google Docs or Word, you can use a site like Draft, which lets you write in your browser without all the formatting bells and whistles which can become time sucks.
Sometimes writing can distance us from what we actually want to say—kind of like not seeing the forest for the trees. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or if your ideas are a confusing mess, talk it out with a writer friend. Tell them your plot points, themes, or issues you’re having with your characters. Odds are, just putting a voice to your troubles will help you see them more clearly, helping you beat that procrastination monster.
If writer’s block is really killing you and making you procrastinate even worse, try something new. If you’re a novelist, try writing a short story. If you write short stories, try your hand at flash fiction. Write from a new perspective, or craft something in a completely new genre. It’s scary trying something new for sure, but no one will read it, so what do you have to lose? You might even find new talents you didn’t know you had.
Writing flash fiction has been a great way for me to handle writer’s block when it comes to my novel, and it’s helped hone my skills as a more concise writer. But if the words aren’t coming at all, I do something else completely, like paint a watercolor painting. Doing another creative activity that isn’t writing helps relax my brain, and then the ideas just start flowing unbidden.
If procrastination is eating up your time, try sitting down and writing down your goals. Why are you a writer? Why are you writing this piece? What do you hope to accomplish with this piece of work?
It’s easy to get caught up in the process of writing, sharing on social media, and thinking ahead to next steps that sometimes we forget why we started this journey in the first place.
Keep your “why” in mind, and it will help keep you focused, no matter what your “why” is.
According to research, it takes an average of 66 days for a habit to become routine. If writing consistently is a problem for you, making writing a ritual can help you look forward to it because you create the right conditions for working.
Look at these aspects of your writing practice, and see where they might need tweaking:
Time of day. You want to work when you have time, you’re not overly tired, and won’t be distracted by work or family responsibilities.
Workspace. Having a great space to write is a great way to make the process more inviting. I make sure I have a very comfy chair with pillows, a blanket if I get cold, and my diffuser with some uplifting scent that will energize me. If writing in bed works for you, then you do you!
Ambiance. Music and lighting are also factors to look at when creating your perfect writing space. You might like scented candles or ASMR playing in your headphones. For me, it’s natural light, a window to look out of, and chillwave for background music.
Find whatever works for you. Play around with different music or move your desk to a new spot. When you look forward to writing, you’re sure to keep coming back to it.
Defeating procrastination, like defeating self-doubt, is a work in progress. It doesn’t happen overnight. But if you keep working at it, before long procrastination won’t even be a word in your impressively extensive vocabulary.