End writing procrastination now: 7 steps

End writing procrastination now - 7 steps - image of notebook

What if you could stop procrastinating now and start or finish writing a book? We recently asked you what your largest writing challenges were. Many of you responded that procrastination keeps you from fulfilling your dream of finishing a novel. In this post you can read 7 steps to take to end writing procrastination and become a focused, motivated writer:

What is procrastination and why do writers do it?

Before the 7 steps, a few words on procrastination:

To procrastinate means to avoid completing a task that needs to be completed. It’s common self-obstructing behaviour for many aspiring writers. You may have a story you want to tell, even a cast of characters waiting in the wings, but somehow you can’t start or stay motivated to finish. Finishing writing a novel is a wonderful feeling: Your story has taken you to unexpected places and is something you can share and revisit. So why do we procrastinate?

5 common reasons for putting off completing your novel:

There are at least five major reasons why writers procrastinate:

1. Struggling with confidence in your writing

‘Do you think this is any good?’ This question is put to other members by many in our Now Novel community when they submit their work for feedback. It’s natural and good to desire others’ insights on your work. Yet if you are the first to answer the above question, and the answer is always ‘no’, you could be self-sabotaging. The harder you are on yourself, the more likely you are to put off writing. Remember the advice of Jodi Picoult: You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank one.

2. Flawed time management

Type-A people might have calendars, schedules and outlines they follow strictly. Yet many of us are pantsers and this can cause time management problems. Read on for suggestions on managing writing time productively.

3. Lack of motivation

Some claim that lack of motivation isn’t a real reason for writers not to write. Chuck Wendig suggests that if you’re a writer you don’t need motivation. But this isn’t true. As this article on Princeton University’s teaching and learning portal points out, to stay motivated you need to have productive reasons behind your writing goals. Negative reasons (such as believing you’ll be a ‘failed’ writer if your book isn’t a success) can put you off writing completely.

4. Lack of planning your story

While some of us are more pantsers than plotters, even flying by the seat of your pants requires that you have some idea of your destination. Where is your story going? You can take detours wherever you please once you have a general but clear idea of the direction you want your story to take.

5. Succumbing to distractions

Distractions are real and disruptive, especially in the digital age where social media and general web browsing can take up much of your time. You can read ideas for dealing with distractions and staying focused in step 3 below.

Any of the five above reasons for writing procrastination can also be the causes of writer’s block (not putting off writing but finding that creativity and ideas just simply don’t come to you when you start writing).

7 steps to overcoming procrastination so you can write your novel

start writing - Louis L Amour picture quoteWith NaNoWriMo fast approaching, there’s no better time to get to the root of your procrastination and commit to writing your novel. Here are 7 steps you can take to become a more productive writer:

1. Uncover the source of your procrastination

Taking action and no longer procrastinating might seem easier said than done. Uncover the true reasons for your never making time to write and half the struggle is won. Is it that you are creating creative paralysis but criticizing your work until you start over or abandon one story idea for another? Whatever it is, make a list of the fears or the challenges that are preventing you from realising your writing dream. This will help you create a blueprint for staying motivated and productive.

2. Get rid of as many distractions as possible

Is your working environment particularly noisy? Do you find you always have your favourite social media platform open in another tab in your browser and you check it frequently? If focus is a problem, try an app that let’s you wager real money on reaching your desired word count. You can install browser extensions that stop you from visiting certain websites during set hours or for a set length of time that you decide on.

3. Make sure that you set positive, productive writing goals

‘I want to be famous’, ‘I want to be the best romance writer in the world’, and similar types of motivations for writing a novel are dangerous. You can place overwhelming pressure on yourself this way. Comparing yourself to others or focusing on far off goals rather than what you can achieve right now, today, in the next hour, will make you procrastinate more. Instead, write a quick bullet list of why you should squeeze at least 15 minutes of writing in, today.

4. Find time management methods that work for you

Time management is a challenge for many aspiring writers. Break the writing process into small chunks, so that you only write a single scene, page, or set count of words at a time. If you struggle to focus and get the most out of your writing time, use a timer and set yourself a word count to reach before the time runs out. This will help you get the most productivity out of each writing session. Even if what you produce is weak or badly structured, you can edit this once you’ve reached your targets.

5. Improve your writing focus and motivation with planned rewards

Once you have scheduled time to write and broken the task into manageable parts, set yourself a calendar of rewards you can give yourself for each milestone. Finish the first chapter of your book? Go for a walk somewhere restful and inspiring, have a chocolate, or make time to see friends. Rewarding yourself when you reach your goals reinforces the uplifting, happy boost you get from writing and will help keep you focused on the biggest reward – putting in the final full stop.

Stop procrastinating - Martin Luther King quote6. Have a plan (but be realistic about your expectations of the writing process)

It’s especially hard to improve your writing focus and stay motivated when you don’t have a sense of direction. Create a plan for what parts of your story you will work on depending on the writing day, plan your story’s major plot points and create a brief sketch of each major character. A well-planned blueprint for your novel makes the task of drafting much easier. Also remember to be realistic about your expectations, as procrastination is often triggered by disappointment caused by high expectations.

7. Be accountable to someone else

If you’ve done all the above, solving why you procrastinate and putting in place structure and motivating rewards, and you still can’t seem to stay on track, you would benefit from having a writing mentor. Someone who checks in with you frequently to inquire about your progress will keep you focused on finishing your novel. In mentoring writers, we’ve seen how ideas start to flow when writers feel responsible to someone other than themselves who is equally passionate about seeing the complete story emerge.

Writing groups provide another form of accountability. Your writing community will want to know what happens next to your characters and will spur you on to write more with supportive, constructive feedback. Try Now Novel groups and get helpful feedback for your writing.

Procrastinating is not the same thing as being lazy: you might spend long bursts of time working when you are near finishing. It’s a matter of working smarter. If you have trouble getting started or continuing with your story, make sure you’ve taken as many of the steps outlined above as possible. Tell us in the comments below if you’ve found any particular method useful for helping you stop procrastinating.

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  • D. Holcomb

    Oh, I recognize this foe well. Great tips. I especially like the idea of setting the timer for 15 minutes (something I already do), AND adding a word count goal to the timeframe. Ah-ha! That’ll spur me on.

    You’re right about breaking things into small tasks. I don’t have time to write a novel. But I have fifteen minutes to draft one scene. That’s doable.

    You might enjoy my tongue-in-cheek post about how to get that writing job done:

    http://squirrelsinthedoohickey.com/how-to-get-that-writing-job-done/

    • The fridge – that timeless procrastinator’s friend. Enjoyed your post, Diane. Have shared it. You’re completely right about how there’s always time to write at least a small chunk of your novel. It’s all too easy to spend 15 minutes doing something completely unproductive instead of making headway!

      • D. Holcomb

        I can easily fit in fifteen minutes of unproductivity several times a day. (I just made up that word. Spell check is not happy; it wants to futz with it.)

        Thanks for the share! I appreciate it.

  • Tatiana Bickler

    Procrastinating is a beast I battled for a long time. Mostly because my issue was number four of the five common reasons for putting things off. I had a concept, characters, interesting setting, but no clue where I was going with it. It was painful…..

    • Thanks for sharing, Tatiana. One exercise you could try is writing the last page first and working backwards. This might sound ridiculous since how would you know what the last page will say when you haven’t written the story yet? What it can do is give you an idea of the kind of ending, mood and narrative purpose you want your story to serve. But the fact you used the past tense means hopefully you were victorious over the beast!

  • I too procrastinate something awful. Mine begins with self pity: No one will read it, no one will want it, it’s not good enough. I read this same notation above and had to totally agree with it as being me.

    • Hi Sienna. Many writers are indeed perfectionists. I hope you’re kinder to your writing this year! Happy new year.

  • Cheesy Services

    Great usefully tips are give me writing to how to tread and write some attractive some diffrent way to usefully task types.

    Thank You.

  • Louisa Bauman

    Distractions is my worst problem, and being overwhelmed is just as bad.There’s so many things I want to do: read writing blogs, take courses, enter contests, write my novel, research, organize my notes, critique other people’s writing, and have my own critiqued then revise, read books similar to mine to study the writing, research agents, publishers, editors, book covers, go on Facebook,etc etc. I love it all, but I don’t know what I should be doing that is most important.

    • Hi Louisa,

      I hear you – it can become challenging to stay focused. Have you tried dividing up your word count target and scheduling writing time for each part of the process? I’d say focus on getting your first draft written – the rest can come afterwards. All the best for your writing.

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