Do you put your work off until the last minute? Or perhaps you struggle with procrastination in writing, in different ways, for example, missed deadlines?
Well, Neil Gaiman's advice for writers is simple: “You have to finish things — that's what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.”
But what if you're having trouble getting started, let alone finishing your work?
I faced this problem a few years ago. I worked as a journalist for a local newspaper. It was my job to write news stories each week.
I struggled with perfectionism in this job, I was never happy with my news stories, and I missed several deadlines as a result. So, my editor called me into the office and told me to close the door.
“If you can't finish the thing, you're not doing your job,” he said.
I eventually figured out how to overcome procrastination, and in this article, I'll offer 10 effective strategies that any writer can use.
- 1. Follow a Consistent Writing Process
- 2. Don't Leave Writing Till the End of the Day
- 3. Write Your First Draft… Fast
- 4. Guard Your Writing Time
- 5. Beat Procrastination By Free writing
- 6. Start a Writing Assignment in the Middle
- 7. Plan Ahead
- 8. Renegotiate Your Deadlines
- 9. Set Clear Writing Goals
- 10. Hold Yourself To Account
- Procrastination In Writing: The Final Word
- Procrastination In Writing FAQs
1. Follow a Consistent Writing Process
Routines are powerful because we don't have to think about them.
On the other hand, if you spend the day wondering how and where you're going to write, you're more likely to say, “I'll write tomorrow.”
A good writing routine should feel automatic, and, like brushing your teeth, it's not something to question.
If you lack a good writing routine, work at the same time, in the same place, every day, like in a coffee shop, library, or a quiet room where you live.
Use the same tools if possible. That way, you'll stand a far better chance of creating writing habits that help you get the job done.
2. Don't Leave Writing Till the End of the Day
Putting writing last means it's less likely to happen due to work and family life.
Science is on the side of early morning writing, particularly if you don't have enough time for creative work. The American philosopher and psychologist William James said:
The great thing, then, in all education, is to make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and to guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague.
I've found I'm more likely to do my best work in the morning as that's when I'm freshest. I confine other activities like admin and email to the later afternoon or end of the day when I'm tired.
Consider what your ideal morning writing routine looks like, and write it down on paper. Thinking it through will help you find more time for working on stories or a book and avoid procrastination in writing.
3. Write Your First Draft… Fast
Most professional writers agree the first draft is the hardest part of any piece.
Revising is usually easier than editing, and you can always work with another editor at this stage or use a grammar checker.
So, work through your first draft paragraph by paragraph and page by page. Write it as quickly as possible without stopping to edit yourself or worry about grammar and punctuation mistakes.
Your goal is to finish writing the first draft as quickly as possible and end up with something to rewrite and edit. So, open up the blank page, write for 30-minutes, and then take a short break. Now, repeat.
Dictating the first draft is another good approach for several reasons: It's harder to edit speech to text. You can dictate while out for a walk or away from your computer screen or social media. It's faster than typing too.
4. Guard Your Writing Time
As a productive writer, the word “No” is your most potent weapon against the time-consuming demands of daily life.
Use it to keep meaningless activities from filling your day.
Using the word “No” means you can avoid putting off writing until the last minute because you're distracted or overworked.
Consider if you can remove particular devices and distractions from your writing space, such as email, busy work, social media, Netflix, etc.
I also like using the word “No” to set time limits for hours to spend on non-creative tasks like admin, phone calls, and so on during a normal working day.
5. Beat Procrastination By Free writing
Free Writing describes the rapid, non-judgemental capturing of ideas as they occur.
Influential writers use this technique to express themselves faster and avoid procrastination. It also helps with writer's block as everyone has something on their mind, even if they feel like they lack a good idea.
Simply sit down at your desk and write about whatever is on your mind for at least 30-minutes. Don't stop to edit yourself or question an idea. It's kind of like a warm-up for the main act. Free write for a bit, and writing the first draft will feel more manageable.
6. Start a Writing Assignment in the Middle
An introduction explains or sets up what's about to happen. But how can you write an introduction if you don't know what comes next?
A conclusion to a writing assignment usually wraps up the piece in question. Again, how can you write one if you don't know how it ends?
- Start writing from chapter five or 25, or from anywhere that inspires you.
- Start writing by saying something like, “Then there I/he/she was…”
- Begin in the middle of a sentence, paragraph, or idea.
- Write as close to the end as you can get without stumping yourself.
7. Plan Ahead
Consider your entire day as a glass.
To paraphrase the great Dr. Stephen Covey, you can fill this glass with essential activities or big rocks, such as spending time with family or working on exciting creative projects.
Or you can fill it with pointless tasks or grains of sand, like swiping down on Facebook.
If you fill your glass with nonessential activities first, you'll have no room left for big rocks, like key writing assignments.
At the end of the day, ask yourself, what are you're going to write and when? Then, layout notes, research, and materials for your articles or new book in advance. That way, you can start writing faster come morning time.
You've only got a certain amount of creative time each day, so use it wisely.
8. Renegotiate Your Deadlines
What gets measured gets managed, and your time is no exception. Apps like Freedom and RescueTime can help quantify how you spend time at your computer.
It's a good idea to set a personal deadline that's a few days ahead of your editor's. This approach offers a window in case you fall behind. Also, consider shipping an early draft for feedback.
But what if the scope of a particular writing assignment is more significant than you first thought? If so, deadlines from editors and clients are usually open for renegotiation. Better to ask now, rather than later.
9. Set Clear Writing Goals
Set clear writing goals for projects that you work on every day, for example, a target word-count, deadline, or ideal outcome. Review your goals on Fridays to see if you worked on the right tasks.
By the end of this week, I will contact and pitch ten editors with freelance writing ideas.
By August, I will write the first draft of my 40,000-word non-fiction book.
By December, I will write and publish ten blog posts on my website.
10. Hold Yourself To Account
The writing life is challenging. Creatives often fool themselves about how much they're working. If you suspect you're procrastinating about writing, engage in self-reflection.
- What's the last writing project I abandoned? Why?
- When was the last time I published or submitted a writing project for publication?
- Am I continually seeking new ways to find feedback about my writing?
- Finish what you are working on, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment alien to the writer who gave up altogether.
Procrastination In Writing: The Final Word
In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King offers this advice for writers who procrastinate,
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Planning what you’re going to write on in advance will help you avoid getting distracted during the workday. You’ll also have more energy when it’s time to write.
Hold yourself to account in terms of deadline, word-counts, and writing goals. Track your progress and eliminate inefficiencies.
These strategies will help you build momentum. Apply them, and you'll become the kind of writer who thinks of an idea, fleshes it out, edits, rewrites, polishes, and rewrites some more.
Until finally, you finish writing.
Procrastination In Writing FAQs
How do I stop procrastinating and writing?
Try free writing. Basically, this strategy involves writing about whatever is on your mind for pre-determined period. Don't stop to edit yourself or fix mistakes in your work. Like stretching before a workout, free writing will warm up your mental muscles for the main event.
Why do I procrastinate writing?
You're probably procrastinating about writing because of a fear of the first draft. It's the hardest part of any writing assignment to complete and one you must complete alone, without distractions. That said, the job of the first draft is only to exist. So, write your first draft as quickly as possible and ignore your mistakes. You can fix these while revising and self-editing.
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