Three ways to beat procrastination for writers

Posted on February 18, 2014

photoI could procrastinate for Australia. I could. If it were an Olympic sport, I’d be the Torah Bright of Procrastination – only without the fantastic teeth … and I’d probably find a reason to put off the dancing…

Having said that, I am also a surprisingly productive person. I know. Oxymoron. I walk around and around and around a task, finding 8 million reasons NOT to do it. Until, finally, there are no more excuses and I think ‘oh well’ and get it done. The key is to fast-track the process – both the walking bit, and the actual doing.

You can’t be a freelance writer without understanding procrastination. You need to know that it is part of your life. You need to know that it will not go away (trust me, more than ten years into my writing-from-home career and it shows no sign of abating). But you also need to know that you will not get paid if you don’t learn to manage it.

So, how do I beat it? Why, I wondered when you’d get around to asking.

Three tips to beat procrastination for writers

1. Bore yourself into submission.

Social media is a huge distraction when you work at home by yourself. Every day I begin by checking in on all my various social media accounts – and, oh my, I have a few – but it rarely takes long for me to realise that I’m flicking from one account to another waiting for something to happen. It rarely does. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. And once I’ve gone through that particular charade each day, I realise that my time is probably better spent elsewhere.

But I still let myself do it every day. I make time for it. Otherwise, I’ll wonder if I’m missing out.

2. Eat something – be it the frog or something tastier.

There’s a school of thought out there, inspired by Brian Tracy (and shared with me by Kelly Exeter), that says you need to get the worst thing off your To Do list first. I don’t necessarily follow that premise – for me, it’s all about doing something. I don’t just make a To Do list anymore, I actually timetable what I’m going to do. And if the first thing I do that day is to write a cheerful blog post rather than wading through the wording for a corporate report, well, at least I’ve made a start. I usually find that the getting started bit is the most important.

3. Start at the end if you have to.

In the good old days, before I had children, I used to sit down and write an entire article, from start to finish, in one hit. I wouldn’t start unless I knew I had time to finish. I’d write the opening sentence, always with an ending in mind, and off I’d go. Now, with so many different projects on the boil all the time – from features to fiction to podcasts to whatever – plus family commitments, I find it difficult to work like that. So I’ll write what I can. If I can start with the ‘box’ at the end, and get 200 words down, I’ll do that. Because it makes me feel like I’m making progress, which makes me feel happier about the whole task.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about procrastination for a magazine. The key finding: pushing past procrastination requires some pain. It means making ourselves do something that we’re finding – for whatever reason – uncomfortable. Perhaps we’re worried that we’re not good enough. Maybe the article we’re writing is complex and finding the right structure for it is just plain difficult. Maybe we’re in that awful ‘middle’ section of the novel, where the premise is outlined and now we need to escalate the story and take it forward.

Whatever the reason, it’s easy to walk around and around the problem, avoiding the pain of progress by cleaning the fridge or polishing the toaster.

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years, however, is just how much I enjoy that feeling of peace that comes once the task is done. It’s a little Olympic medal that I can aim for every day. With a McTwist.

Are you a procrastinator? Any tips?

So You Want To Be a Writer bookWould you love more writing tips and advice? Check out my book So You Want To Be A Writer: How To Get Started (While You Still Have A Day Job), co-authored with Valerie Khoo and based on our top-rating podcast.

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  1. Lee Kofman

    Thank you for a great post, Alison. The point about social media particularly resonated with me.

    • Allison Tait

      Yes… the social media conundrum is a big one for a lot of writers!

  2. Tarla Kramer

    Hell yeah! Love my cyber circling and hate eating frogs. Feel great if I put together one blog post and end up taking the rest of the day off!

    • Allison Tait

      You and me both!

  3. Maxabella

    I set myself three things to do each day and get them done first thing. After that it’s up to me whether I choose to do anything else much at all. x

    • Allison Tait

      I like that approach.

  4. JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    Point 1 is me to a tee! And I can also procrastinate about things, (especially filing), but then when I get stuck into it I get it done and it feels great. At the moment I’m overwhelmed with things that don’t matter, so somethings got to give. I’m waiting, procrastinating if you will, for it to happen even though I know it won’t happen unless I make it happen. Oh how the mind works…

    • Allison Tait

      Yes, I recognise that thought process…

  5. Kelly Exeter

    Oh hai there fellow highly productive procrastinator – gosh I am with you on that one. As you know my favourite tip is the eat the frog one. But I have also just recently started doing your thing of starting in the middle … or wherever I have the words for … and that really works!

    The other thing I do (for when I really feel I have no words) is force myself to write 200 words for the piece. Even if I don’t use those 200 words (and I usually don’t because they’re terrible), it’s like getting them out removes a block and allows the good stuff to come out 🙂

  6. Bec

    I have a story idea in mind, but I’m psyching myself out because I’ll be experimenting with second person. I get a few sentences in and stop.

    I rock at procrastination. Seriously, so good at it 🙁

  7. Kym Campradt

    Yes, I am a big procrastinator! I am trialling the timetable and giving myself blocks of time with tasks allocated. It’s working out well so far this week (NB: it is only midday on Tuesday…). I have just turned the TV off so I can concentrate and logged out of FB while reading your post. I really feel like a lie down but after reading this, I will push through. That push through bit is the hardest. I’ve also started rewards if I get my tasks done in the allotted time (non food related because then that would create another whole problem).

  8. Tricia

    Allison – I could have written this post, it is me to an absolute T! My current procrastination activity – reading the latest posts of my favourite bloggers :-). Very enjoyable though. Now time for a cuppa…

  9. John James

    I think routine can work as well… I have certain times over my three day weekend where all I do is write:

    12pm to 4pm on Saturday (for my Blog posts, writing exercises etc)

    9am to 11am and 1pm to 4pm Sundays for my book-in-progress

    9am to 11am Mondays for my book-in-progress

    I’m someone who works well with routine, and that’s my writing routine – any writing outside that is a bonus…

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