What is the biggest hurdle to writing? Is it finding the time? Is it waiting for inspiration to strike? Is it constructing the perfect setup in your house or a café (pre-COVID) with the perfect beverage at the perfect temperature with the optimal background music at the perfect volume? And then as soon as any one of those components fall out of balance, your concentration shatters?
While these are annoying, I would like to argue that the biggest hurdle to writing is more insidious. More secretive. I put forth that Procrastination is the highest barrier to sitting your butt in a chair and putting words on a page.
If you’re anything like me, you have grand aspirations. A fulfilling career, thriving social media presence, loads of money from royalties flowing in. There’s just one thing. I can’t seem to sit down and write the actual book that’s supposed to get me there. I’m so busy doing other things that driving up my word count just doesn’t happen every day. Most days, actually, if I’m being perfectly honest. How does this happen? It’s more than just waiting for inspiration or waiting to feel like it. It’s procrastination.
Procrastination is sneaky. Sure, it can be obvious, like “I really don’t feel like writing this second, let me scroll through my phone until I feel ready.”
And then two hours later, you’re all caught up on Lore Olympus and wondering what happened to your evening.
Or, it can be more subtle, like “I can’t concentrate on this really emotional scene when every time I glance up, all I see is a sink full of dirty dishes.”
And so you go do the dishes and then you Swiffer the kitchen and then you take out the recycling and then…
There’s an even sneakier kind. This procrastination disguises itself as writing productivity. I am incredibly proficient at this kind. Worldbuilding. Research. Querying. Building an author platform. I am literally procrastinating on editing my WIP right this second by writing this post. On a superficial level, I feel productive, but deep down, it’s because I’m avoiding it. Because I know the revision process is painful. Because I know it’s going to be a lot of work and I’d rather do something else than confront the 72 thousand words lurking in another word document.
So what do we do about it?
1. Dedicate Time for Writing (and Treat It Like a Job)
You’ve heard it said before that if you’re serious about writing, you’ll write every day, no matter what, and that if you don’t then you’re not a real writer. Now, I don’t personally agree with that level of rigidity. Some days, it’s all you can do to keep from snapping at work or keep yourself fed or keep the kids from killing each other, so if that word count only goes from 4800 to 4807, don’t beat yourself up. As long dishes don’t get moldy and no one dies, well, sometimes that’s a victory and that’s ok.
I know I can’t write after work—I have to entertain the toddler and, honestly, my brain is so scrambled that by the evening I feel like a soggy washcloth that’s been wringed out all day. So that leaves the morning. I wake up early with the express goal of writing before the rest of the house wakes up. Early is also good, because I can’t flake out on myself like I normally do if I’m tired. No one’s ever accused me of being a morning person, so some days are more successful than others. But I guard that time and try to have a specific plan for that time (which helps keep me off my phone). This ties in with my next tip.
2. Make Your Top Priority a Priority
If no one’s ever accused me of being an early bird, certainly no one’s accused me of being organized, so this step is difficult for me. What I’ve done that’s really streamlined my productivity is making a categorized list of the things I want to accomplish. I have mine in an Excel file, but any list will do. My categories include things like Writing/Outlining, Editing, Critiquing, Research, and Reading. I list my projects out, move them around based on when things are due, etc.
Having everything listed out makes it much easier to see which tasks will take a long time and which will be easy to check off. I feel a lot better about choosing to read a book versus just reading a book, so I don’t have to write and then feeling bad about myself.
It also makes it so that if I reeeeeallly don’t feel like writing, I have a list of other important things to do, which, again, keeps me off my phone. I’m beginning to sense a pattern here.
3. Turn Off Wi-Fi (or Chuck Your Phone Across the Room)
I have this really bad habit of bringing up my phone to check emails when I hit a wall. A tricky emotional beat. A painful scene. An epic fight that I have no idea how to start so I get overwhelmed so I have to step back for a minute. When I’ve finished a thought and I don’t know how to start the next one.
My favorite vice is finding those cookie decorating videos on Facebook. Put the phone down. If you’re not strong (like me), you can put timers on your apps. Like if you’ve been scrolling in Pinterest for too long, it’ll time out after 5 minutes. You get your break, but your break doesn’t break the time you’ve allotted for writing.
4. Set Small, Accomplishable Goals (and Give Prizes for Reaching Them)
You could have your goals outlined in your categorized list. I include due dates for myself, which can be flexible (like when I want to send something to my critique group) or which need to be adhered to (like if a CP is waiting for feedback or a submission window for a short story closes).
Some people set word count goals, others set scene and chapter goals. Both are great options, so do whichever is comfortable for you. 20 words a day will add up. Very slowly, but you can increase your goal gradually.
An exception is Nanowrimo, which is bonkers, and I haven’t won it before. That beats procrastination by instructing you to turn off your inner editor and just leaving it all on the page. I’ve heard people gushing about how they learned a lot about discipline and deadlines. Also, since it’s organized, there are plenty of support groups trying to manage it together. It’s a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s crazy. It’s Nanowrimo.
The best thing about my steps is that you can apply them to almost anything. For example, my husband is teaching himself piano. He carves out time at the end of the day to practice. Instead of working remotely on the computer. Instead of watching TV (although we do a fair share of that as well). Sometimes the dishes don’t get done the night of, but he’s just about nailed the first quarter of “Pilgrims on a Long Journey” from the Child of Light soundtrack. I don’t even need to listen to background noise anymore.
Remember, procrastination isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it might even be a way to protect ourselves if we’re not ready to do something. The important thing is to be aware of it and ensure it doesn’t impede our goals. Well, I’m going to go scroll through Brooklyn 99 memes before settling down for some editing.