You can picture it now: that one teacher, hands on hips, scowling as you turn in another piece of homework you wrote the night before during that re-run of Spongebob. That familiar welling in your chest; half-proud, half-ashamed. Putting off the harder long-term goal with the shorter, pleasurable one.
Procrastinating doesn’t mean you’re lazy or stupid – everyone fights procrastination, from daunting writing projects to the washing up.
But for writers especially, too much procrastination can be bad for our work. Most of what we do is motivated by our own stubbornness, completed in self-doubt and marked by a looming deadline. We rely upon ourselves to pick up the slack and get the damn thing written.
So when we find ourselves snacking on Cheetos for the third time, while the cursor blinks upon a blank page on the screen, we can feel disheartened.
“Maybe I’m not cut out for this sort of thing,”
“There are more motivated people out there.”
“Maybe I just don’t have the attention span.”
Yes, there are more motivated people out there.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t become a more motivated person.
How can we fight procrastination? There are many tips and tricks on the internet (I’ve listed a few of my favourites at the end of this article.) However, the ones I am going to share with you are ones that you can do when you’re pressured for time and just need to get it done.
So, from one writer to another, here two of my favourite ways to fight procrastination.
NUMBER ONE – WRITE A LETTER TO THE FEAR
Think back to when you were a kid. Afraid of the monster under the bed. As you lie in the dark, you think of all the horrible things it could do to you. But the thought of grabbing a torch and seeing the monster – with all its crooked teeth, its jagged claws – is even more scary. So you shut your eyes, clutch the covers a little tighter, try to think of anything else.
Procrastination is the same.
Fear is the number one cause for procrastination. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Even fear of success. And like any creature sensing a threat, we will do everything to avoid it.
I will do this thing, once I make tea.
Okay, I will do it now – or maybe after lunch.
These excuses comfort us. They give us safety in routine. But they do not get rid of the fear forever. In fact, by giving into our excuses, we ignore fear rather than address it; this often makes the fear worse, even painful.
So, the next time you start to feel afraid or uncertain about your work, grab a pen and address the feeling directly. Accept it is there. Question it. Tell it exactly why you’re going to ignore it. Take comfort in it. Say everything is going to be okay. That you can do it.
Here’s one of mine:
You’ll find that, once you address the fear on a personal level, it won’t be as powerful. Having the letter by your side as you write is also a great motivator – when you start to slip, just give it a read. Remind yourself of your own determination.
Just make sure your letter is brief – we don’t want it to waste your valuable writing time.
NUMBER TWO – BLACK CLOUDS
You haven’t managed your time properly. Things have come up that you couldn’t avoid. Now you have stories to write, essays to plan, articles to pitch, synopses to cry about – even if you do get one thing done, there’s still something else to do, so why bother? What’s one day of working going to accomplish?
Feeling a positive sense of achievement is crucial to our work. For many of us, our writing goes unthanked and under-appreciated. We want to feel like we’ve gotten somewhere – that we’ve done something worth doing. Just a little bit of relief in the shadow of relentless writing can be enough for us on a bad day.
Taking the time out to reward yourself is important. Many people suggest cake, or ice-cream, or going out for dinner. Sometimes, however, there just doesn’t seem to be time for that. Deadlines are coming. We need to stay at our desk. We don’t have time for cake.
Fear not. For those looking for a quick, cathartic, and less pressing on the wallet reward, here’s a little trick I like to do.
Before starting a project, break the task down into measurable milestones. 100 words. 200 words. 300 words. Whatever feels achievable for you.
Then, when you begin, draw a black cloud on a separate piece of paper.
As you reach each milestone, make the cloud a little bigger. A little darker. Add some lightning bolts. Make it more and more horrible each time. Then, finally, when the final milestone has been reached, snatch up that piece of paper and tear it apart.
Throw it around the room. Screw it up into a little ball. Toss it into the nearest recycling bin. Have five minutes of complete and utter paper destruction.
By making the cloud larger and darker as you go, you not only track how much work you do, but also provide an outlet for any negative emotions you may have. Then, by destroying it, you clear those emotions, and give yourself that much needed reward for all your hard work.
A sense of achievement is vital when avoiding procrastination – and who doesn’t like throwing paper balls everywhere?
Remember: we all procrastinate. It’s human nature. It is not necessarily because you’re lazy or bad at what you do, even if it feels like it. You can get through it.
Don’t be afraid – be excited.
Go and write!
Do you have any advice about fighting procrastination? Comment below, or share your advice @ERHollands. I’ll retweet the best tips for other writers to see!
(Some links to helpful websites: