Procrastination for Writers

Pencil-tapping-distractor-213269-hMy newsletter comes out every two weeks without fail and usually I get the material for it to my friend who compiles it for me well ahead of time.

Not this week.  

Yes, life got in the way–I won't bore you with the particulars.  But I also procrastinated.  Because if I had really wanted to, I could have fit some work on it in the nooks and crannies of time.  I'm used to doing that.  I do it all the time.

Not this week.

I knew I needed to get the newsletter done in plenty of time for it to be scheduled, but I didn't do it. And then last night, as I was falling asleep, I realized why: because I didn't have the topic yet.  Bear in mind, I write posts for this blog a lot.  (Over seven years, I've managed to rack up over 1,000 of them.) So coming up with ideas and writing them is not often a problem.  But in this case, I didn't.

Until I realized I wanted to write about what was happening to me in the moment: procrastination. And here's the deal, the epiphany that occurred to me, the idea that made it all worthwhile:

Sometimes procrastination is a good thing.

Yes, I said that.  So let me explain why, and when you can use procrastination as a tool, and when it is just a plain old bad thing.  Okay?

When Procrastination is a Good Thing.

Sometimes, a story or a scene or an essay simply hasn't formed itself enough to be gotten down on paper.  Period.  You can try to force the issue as much as you want and it simply won't budge.   Stories are like that. And then you've got to let it come out in its own time.  (Which can look like procrastination to uninformed spouses but really isn't.) Some ideas that might help the process:

1. Take notes.  Gently, without trying to force anything.

2. Actively think about it.  Like, when you're vacuuming.  Or reading CNN.  Or doing whatever it is you do when you procrastinate.

3. Quit worrying about it.  Remind yourself that peaks and valleys are part of the creative process.

4.  Don't think about it.  I know, contradictory to #2, but that's how creativity works.  Put it out of your mind and do something else.  Sometimes this is what's needed for an idea to bubble up.

5.  Decide you're going to give up writing forever.  Kidding!  Sort of.  Because, in truth, sometimes these sorts of dramatic vows are what it takes to lift yourself up out of the procrastination morass. Because you realize that you really do want to be a writer and since that is the case, you better get to it.

When Procrastination is a Bad Thing.

While we all want to put a good face on the way we run our lives, sometimes procrastination is just that: procrastination.  And more likely than not, it is fear-based.  Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of putting yourself out in the world, fear that you don't know what to write.

I'm here to tell you that the best and only way to deal with fear is to walk through it.  And the best way to walk through it is to throw words at the page.  Bad words, crappy sentences, ridiculous paragraphs.  Or, if you can muster it, fantastic combinations of words.  But don't worry about that. Just write.  Anything.  Trust me.  The act of writing itself will lead you back to where you need to go–which is where you are at the moment:



We All Suffer From It.

Well, maybe you don't.  But I do.  And most other writers do, too, if they will admit to it. (Procrastination is sort of like drinking too much or reading trashy novels in that nobody wants to claim it as a habit.)

But, if you find yourself procrastinating, just remember to use it to your writing advantage.  And then you call it something else that sounds much more industrious.  

Like composting.

Or, fertlizing.

Or, marinating.

Or, stewing.

(Almost all my metaphors have to do with the garden or food.  I think its time for me to get planting and cooking. Nah, never mind. I've got too much writing to do.)

Here are some other posts I've written about procrastination:

How to Procrastinate

Procrastinating on Your Writing? Try This

One Technique for Overcoming Writer's Block

Okay, come on, it's time to 'fess up: what's your favorite way to procrastinate?  Please make us all feel better and share.

Photo by Rennett Stowe. 

PS: A couple of you have not yet claimed your prizes on the birthday blog giveaway.  Come on over and find out if you've won.

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12 Responses to Procrastination for Writers

  1. J.D. 04/10/2014 at 05:27 #

    I love the five suggestions on dealing with the plague, #5 in particular. You know, some folks want to write, feel an urge to write, call themselves writers, but . . . . Time is precious. Instead of wasting 20 years pretending, become a professional bowler, learn to shoe horses, learn to hand dye ties. If after a long heart to heart you truly want to be a writer, great! But don’t spend decades pissing away your hours. Time truly is precious.

  2. D young 04/10/2014 at 05:40 #

    Horse shoers can procrastinate too. Anyone can. Even if you don’t have a career other than being a wife and mom. The laundry can wait…I don’t want to grocery shop this morning- maybe later. Ill pay the bills…next week.

    To me, it’s all about getting out of your head and setting mini goals in order to achieve the bigger goals. “I want to write a novel”. Ok- but that’s kind of like- how do you eat an elephant? Well…one bite at a time….

    Set smaller, daily, achievable goals that set you up for success in achieving your big goals. Much like my marathon training. 26.2??? Crazy, yes. But slow building of miles each week with one day push of longer miles keep it obtainable.

    Don’t overwhelm yourself. Time is prescious, yes. But it’s what it takes to achieve in the long run. Gotta keep your mind on the right things.

  3. Charlotte Dixon 04/10/2014 at 05:54 #

    I love that and I’m glad you made the point that time is precious–I feel like I should have said that! But that’s why I have my wonderful readers. You guys add so much to the conversation. And I think that every writer has run into the person at the party who says, “Oh I always wanted to write….” and their voice trails off. Because they procrastinated and never did it. Thanks, J.D.!

  4. Charlotte Dixon 04/10/2014 at 05:57 #

    Wow, my readers are really on it today. Thank you, D! Yes, the mini goals are so important. I’m guilty of the grand idea and putting “write a novel” on the to-do list doesn’t quite cut it, does it? “Slow building of miles” easily translates into “slow building of words.” Great point.

    PS–I just had a great idea. Some time I’m going to write a subject line on a post and just let all my wonderful readers write the post. As a collective consciousness, this tribe is amazing.

  5. D young 04/10/2014 at 06:00 #

    Count me in!

  6. DON 04/10/2014 at 14:26 #

    “I’m here to tell you that the best and only way to deal with fear is to walk through it.”

    I couldn’t agree more with the above statement. I found that it’s the only thing that works, but when it comes to procrastination, well, that word is my middle name!

  7. DON 04/10/2014 at 14:26 #

    “I’m here to tell you that the best and only way to deal with fear is to walk through it.”

    I couldn’t agree more with the above statement. I found that it’s the only thing that works, but when it comes to procrastination, well, that word is my middle name!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 04/10/2014 at 15:31 #

    Hmmm, you sure there's not a connection there?  Though I do know for a fact that you walked through some pretty scary things recently and came out the other side!

  9. Angie Dixon 04/11/2014 at 08:03 #

    Thanks, Charlotte.

    I’ve written about procrastination a lot, and I’ve (mostly) become a person who does not procrastinate, but you’re absolutely right that sometimes it can be a good thing. Many times I’ve felt that I was procrastinating, and had to fight the urge to beat myself up over it, then later realized that I was avoiding doing something that wasn’t the right thing, or I was procrastinating because I didn’t know what to do and I needed to think about that.

  10. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) 04/11/2014 at 08:39 #

    Loved all the clever, funny and earnest comments and I love your idea of posting a subject line and letting your readers write the post. Do it!!

    This week I was sick, but I also had a self-deadline to get my own newsletter published. On my own I would have let it slide, but these days I have a lovely editor helping me so I feel I don’t want to let her down. (Great way to beat procrastination – find somebody to be accountable to!)

    I had to write a short column for said newsletter but I felt overwhelmed at the mere thought. So I went back to bed for about a dozen naps, with the vague idea that “I don’t have to do this if I’m too sick.” Lo and behold, the next day, and just in time, my brain gave me the topic I needed. (It was something right in front of me, so obvious it almost bit my nose off. But ya never see it till ya see it.) Sick as I was, once I had the topic it was no effort to write. And we published the newsletter on time.

    Kind of an extreme example, but I believe it bears out the truth of everything you said above. It’s the “allowing ourselves” that sometimes is the battle.

  11. Charlotte Dixon 04/11/2014 at 11:22 #

    Great story, Milli–and I hope you feel better.  And yes, in our society, allowing ourselves time to do anything is the hardest thing.  I rarely even allow myself to be sick.  (I've prided myself on not ever getting sick for years.  Enter two grandbabies.  Um, that whole never getting sick thing?  Since being exposed to them all the time, not so much.)  I'm so, so glad that your idea popped into your head after you allowed yourself to take a gazillion naps.  And here's to accountability!

  12. Charlotte Dixon 04/11/2014 at 17:17 #

    Exactly.  So often, at least in writing, there's a reason for procrastination.  I sometimes find I go back to my work and realize that I was locating the scene in the wrong place, or that I had the wrong characters in it.  And I find if I just allow myself to accept that I need to think about it, I can be more active in my procrastination.  If that makes any sense.

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