How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing

Procrastination has to be one of the top enemies of productivity.

Steven Pressfield, author of “War of Art” would call it one form of resistance.

Today, author and blogger Ali Luke from Aliventures provides some strategies. My personal tools include Write Or Die for first draft writing and diarizing like a crazy person, blocking chunks out for each part of my life.

Admit it, you procrastinate. All writers do. It’s perfectly understandable, too: writing is just plain hard at times, and sometimes you genuinely don’t have the energy to write.

Too much procrastination, though, can be incredibly frustrating. If you’re keen to finish a book – or even a blog post – but just can’t get started, then you need a simple, reliable way to get on with the writing.

And if you’re not sure you have a procrastination problem at all … well, just read on.

Recognising Procrastination

Procrastination doesn’t just mean playing your umpteenth game of Angry Birds. It often looks more like this:

  • Reading blogs about writing
  • Buying more books about writing
  • Tidying your desk so that you’ll be ready to write … really soon …
  • Hanging out with other writers (offline or online) and talking about writing

If a lot of your time revolves around thinking about writing or learning about writing without actually writing, chances are, you’re procrastinating.

Here’s how to stop:

Step #1: Break Your Project into Bite-Sized Chunks

However big or small your project is, you can break it down. “Write blog post” might leave you staring at a blank document. “Brainstorm topics for blog post” followed by “Create outline for blog post” is a lot more do-able.

The same applies for huge writing projects. For a non-fiction book, a great place to start is with a chapter outline. For a novel, you could work out who your main characters are and plan your first few scenes. If you still feel overwhelmed about making a start, break down your project even further.

Do it: Work out the first five bite-sized chunks of your project (a good rule of thumb is that each should take no more than an hour).

Step #2: Schedule a Time to Make a Start

It’s so very easy to put off writing until everything else is out the way. Week after week, you promise yourself that as soon as you’re a bit less busy, you’ll get on with the book (or the blog, or the magazine article pitches).

Months – even years – can go by, and you still won’t have stumbled across the “perfect” time to write. Make time by scheduling writing sessions. If you plan ahead, you’ll find you’ve got more time than you realised.

Do it: Look at your diary for the next week. Find one hour for writing, and mark it in as an unbreakable appointment.

Step #3: Set a Timer Going

If you find it hard to focus, then use a timer while you’re writing. (A kitchen timer, or the one on your phone, will do just fine – or you can use an online timer like Tick Tock Timer or e.ggtimer.com.) I find that between 15 and 30 minutes works well.

While that timer’s going, just write. Your emails can wait for half an hour. You can get a cup of coffee in fifteen minutes. Don’t worry whether what you produce is good or bad – keep writing, without going back to edit.

Do it: If you’ve never tried writing with a timer before, give it a go during your next writing session. Most people find it a very effective way to stay on-task and to write faster.

Step #4: Write Like Nobody’s Watching

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when we write. Often, we’re much too self-critical: this is no good; I can’t write; no-one’s going to read this anyway, why bother?

No-one but you will see what you write – unless you choose to let them. You can write something outrageous or scandalising. You can write something incredible self-indulgent and cliché-ridden. No-one’s watching you, and no-one’s judging you. If you like, you can delete or throw away your writing once you’re done. Hopefully, though, you won’t: you’ll realise that there’s a lot of good material there, and it just need some shaping and editing.

Do it: If you’re feeling intimidated, remind yourself that no-one needs to see your writing until you’re ready. Try writing continuously for just ten minutes (go quickly, and don’t worry about grammar or spelling) – this should help you get into the piece.

Have you got any tips to add for getting over procrastination and getting on with writing? Or have you got a procrastination problem that you’d like some help with? Just leave a comment below!

Ali Luke is a writer and writing coach, living in the UK. If procrastination keeps tripping you up, check out her post How to Overcome Three Common Causes of Writing Procrastination – Today for more help and advice.

You can also watch/listen to my interview with Ali about her novel Lycopolis here.

Click image: Flickr CC CurlyBob

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Comments

  1. says

    Actually some helpful stuff here. I like the idea of scheduling writing time so that it’s a not-to-be-missed appointment. So simple yet have I ever thought of it before? Nossir. Too busy finding new and creative ways to procrastinate.
    For me, it’s all very strange. I come from a place that’s sort of the antithesis of writer’s block – I was always writing, even when I should have been doing something else. I missed important engagements because I couldn’t be dragged away from the computer (or back in the day, the typewriter.) I kept pounding the keys even as it became clear my intellectual tank was empty and I was about to crash into a tree. Figuratively speaking. I don’t know what happened to that or what caused this current bout of the maybe-laters. Good to see some practical advice on it. Now I suppose it’s time to write. Unless you want me to tell you a story about my childhood. Would you like that? Story about my childhood? Cus I’ll tell it.
    I’m going, I’m going.
    Good stuff, Ms. Penn.

    • says

      Thanks, Mark. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the hardest ones to spot, aren’t they?

      Best of luck with getting going again with your writing. I think we all go through different peaks and troughs — I know I have times when writing feels effortless and times when it definitely requires a bit of willpower to get me going!

    • says

      I suppose that when we write just for ourselves, it’s less scary (well, unless you’re terrified of what your subconscious might come up with…) It’s feeling that other people will eventually read our work that brings out all sorts of fears. I find that when I’m drafting, it helps to remind myself that no-one’s going to see it until I’m ready!

  2. says

    I have huge problems with this.
    When I got my first book deal I got the advance, and then, of course, a deadline. But I found it really hard to focus on finishing it (I had got the book deal based on the first 3 chapters). Eventually I discovered my creative sweet spot. For me it’s exercise first thing, either a cycle, gym or even dog walk. Then huge mug of ultra powerful coffee as i sit at the desk at about 9am. These things combine to give me the energy to just hammer away for a few hours and really let my mind go. Afternoons can then be spent correcting grammar (don’t let things like spelling and punctuation get in the way!) and polishing what you did earlier. Evenings for me are a waste of time. Everyone has their own sweet spot, try and find it.

    • says

      I’m useless in the evenings … just occasionally, I’ve have a writing spurt if I’m really excited about a piece (or up against a deadline!) but I normally switch off after dinner. I think finding that “creative sweet spot” is so crucial!

  3. says

    Nice read

    I’m not too bad when it comes to putting things off, but procrastination certainly sneaks its way in from time to time. At the moment i need to start draft number two, and i’m putting it off a little. I know once i start i’ll be into it no end. That beginning though… oh boy haha

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  4. says

    Oh… dear.
    “Reading blogs about writing
    Buying more books about writing…”
    That’s me !
    So I AM procrastinating ! @_@
    All right then. Better get writing instead of reading.
    Thank you for the wake-up call ladies.

  5. says

    Step #5: Stop talking to yourself! I find many writers have a constant stream of negative chatter going on inside their heads. Stuff like: “My boss is going to hate this.” Or, “I’m such a bad writer.” Or, “This is going to be a really boring story.”

    IF this describes you, then you need to make a deal with yourself that you’re NOT going to address this chatter while you’re writing. Instead, you’ll consider it when you’re editing. Do exactly that and it will free you up immeasurably and writing won’t be such an unpleasant task — which, in turn, will motivate you to do it more.

  6. says

    Ouch . . . “reading blogs about writing. . . .” I’m supposed to be doing some writing right now. So I’ll get started as soon as I say this: one thing I do to get started is do my (almost) daily stop at 750words.com, a neat little website where the main focus is to log in and write 750 words each day — about anything you want. Your posts are private unless you make them public. I usually just do a brain dump — about 750 words about whatever’s on my mind at the moment — but frequently have started out saying “I have nothing to say today” and eventually freewriting my way into a pretty good blog post or a scene for my novel-in-progress or a snippet for a memoir I want to write someday. It’s really helped me develop the habit of shoehorning a little time for writing into an already overloaded schedule.

    Now, back to what I was *supposed* to be doing when I dropped in here. . . . Thanks for the great post, Joanna.

    Laura

    • says

      I’ve heard a fair few people recommend 750 words — sounds like a great way to get moving even when the creative urge might not quite be there. Good on you for squeezing in some writing time, too! :-)

  7. says

    Nice article!

    Two helpful things I’ve found is to do a) “Clear the decks”: phone and email off, browsers closed, TV off, no interruptions, no distractions. Maybe some music, but that’s it. It goes a long way in helping to combat, b) Urges. I got a big leap forward in my career when I realized that anytime I felt a strong urge, it was always the wrong thing to do.

    It’s amazing how, when about to sit at our work, we get overwhelming urges such as “I need a haircut!!!”

    • says

      Sounds like you do something similar to me … recognising and labelling those urges. I often have to consciously tell myself “No, that’s just an impulse, your emails can wait. Keep writing!”

  8. says

    Some good tips there – especially the final one. Often we don’t write because we’re “not in the mood” or we aren’t “feeling it”. But when you force yourself (or give yourself the permission to be crap), the results can often be surprising. Sometimes the first few hundred words are worse than useless. Pushing past that however, can turn that lead into gold.

    I’m in a 60,000 word writing challenge this February, and anyone familiar with the snail’s pace I normally write at will find the very idea laughable. However, I’ve over 30,000 on the board already this month, and that’s not counting blogs or anything like that (I’m a little behind, but far ahead of where I thought I’d be). The two biggest things that made the difference:

    1. Writing when you don’t feel like it.
    2. Downloading that Freedom program to block the internet.

    • says

      wow. That’s awesome. 60,000 words in Feb. I am appreciating your commitment and thinking I need to do a challenge like that too. It’s doable, definitely… and we can’t edit a blank page. Thanks for the inspiration David. I won’t do it in Feb, March I am away but maybe April…. you’ve got me thinking.

      • says

        David, wow! That’s fantastic — and what a great challenge. :-) I think challenges can bring out the best/worst in us (depending on how you see it). I’ve definitely got a strong competitive spirit when I get going… ;-)

  9. says

    Block the internet?? But what about Farmville? For the love of God, think about the chickens!
    But, really. I’d never heard of Freedom. I’m hoovering the trial as we speak. This turned into a helpful thread. I think I’ll read it again.

  10. says

    Fpr the last 3 months I have been diarizing fiction writing time and also going into the London Library for the day. Physically changing locations has been great for changing heads from the entrepreneur side of things, blogging etc to fiction immersion.

    • says

      I need to do more of that! Been thinking about working in Oxford’s public library (they have a fair bit of laptop space). I try to change my home writing environment when I’m doing fiction — full-screen DarkRoom rather than drafting in Word like I do for blog posts, plus I’ll often put music on (which I don’t normally do for non-fic writing).

  11. says

    I find that writing is a reward in itself. It is also like breathing to me. When I am not writing I am thinking about writing. I dream my stories when asleep. My problem is procrastinating about everything else. Just saying. Loved the blog post.

    • says

      I often feel the same way about fiction — sadly, my fiction’s not what’s paying the bills at the moment! ;-) (I love my non-fiction writing too, of course, I just sometimes need to give myself a little nudge into action with it.)

  12. says

    Have you been spying on me? Seriously, you must have been writing about me. ;)

    I struggle, mainly because I want to write perfect and not have to write a ton of drivel in order to get a few pages of good writing. It’s dumb, I know.

    Thanks for the tips….I definitely need them!

  13. says

    I agree. I finally got over procrastinating to write an actual book but find my creative juices have dried up whilst doing yet another proposal, fully knowing, I must see it through before starting my next project.
    It really is like they say, being caught up with the business side of things, not getting to the creative part …and totally frustrated.
    Help!!
    Loli

  14. Lucy G says

    I hadn’t realised that reading about writing can be procrastination, but I find it helpful when I need some encouraging words. I find a clock timer is brilliant and when it’s going, I don’t play on Facebook. Thankfully, I do not have a TV but watch the occasional bit of internet TV in the evenings. It definitely helps to be prepared when I’m about to write – I wouldn’t be without my chapter plan.
    I came across a quote the other day ‘Dream big, get things done and change the world.’ I found myself telling me that the other morning (in order to get out of bed and do some writing before I had to go to the day job). Remember try not to beat yourself up too much, have the occasional day off. It doesn’t hurt to.

  15. Ross says

    My problem is that I want to get it all over and done with as quickly as possible, I’ll start one chapter or introduce a new character and i start to think on another great scene and i just cant get back to the last part I left. Or over night I have had a new idea for a new story with completely different characters and setting and i just forget about my others pieces of work that i need to get back to.

    • says

      You have to finish something Ross, and then you have to rewrite and edit that piece until it is publishable. Just make a brief list of your other ideas to keep them there for later and then focus on one piece.

  16. Aurora says

    Thanks for this post. While reading about writing may be procrastination, it’s hugely encourage to read the post and the comments to know that 1. I’m not alone, and 2. it can get better. I write for a living and it’s scary when you can’t get the job done.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] 3) How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing “Steven Pressfield, author of “War of Art” would call it one form of resistance. Today, author and blogger Ali Luke from Aliventures provides some strategies. My personal tools include Write Or Die for first draft writing and diarizing like a crazy person, blocking chunks out for each part of my life. Admit it, you procrastinate. All writers do. It’s perfectly understandable, too: writing is just plain hard at times, and sometimes you genuinely don’t have the energy to write. Too much procrastination, though, can be incredibly frustrating. If you’re keen to finish a book – or even a blog post – but just can’t get started, then you need a simple, reliable way to get on with the writing. And if you’re not sure you have a procrastination problem at all … well, just read on.” [...]

  2. [...] 3) How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing “Steven Pressfield, author of “War of Art” would call it one form of resistance. Today, author and blogger Ali Luke from Aliventures provides some strategies. My personal tools include Write Or Die for first draft writing and diarizing like a crazy person, blocking chunks out for each part of my life. Admit it, you procrastinate. All writers do. It’s perfectly understandable, too: writing is just plain hard at times, and sometimes you genuinely don’t have the energy to write. Too much procrastination, though, can be incredibly frustrating. If you’re keen to finish a book – or even a blog post – but just can’t get started, then you need a simple, reliable way to get on with the writing. And if you’re not sure you have a procrastination problem at all … well, just read on.” [...]

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