Is procrastination plaguing your writing life?
It’s ironic that when preparing to write this post, I’ve checked my email, worked on a course I am writing, gotten a sandwich, and avoided writing it. Maybe the procrastination gods are playing a cruel joke on me. Nonetheless, I am here, butt in seat.
Procrastination is an odd phenomenon, yet an all-too-common one. We want to get things done and off our minds. We know we’ll have more time for the fun and joy in life and avoid the Tums-inducing stress of waiting until the last minute. If we get it done, no one will nag us, our bosses won’t fire us, or we won’t have to pay the late fees on whatever we put off. For those of us who are writers, our blog posts get delayed, our plotlines stagnate, and worst of all, our books don’t get finished IF we even manage to start them at all. Why then do we procrastinate?
“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” – William James
It turns out there are a lot of reasons.
But when we look more closely at those reasons for procrastinating, we’ll find that there are a few core things happening. There are emotions in play that mess with your ability to do what you are supposed to do and even things you really want to do.
Fear of failure and success are two sides of the same equation that highlight the lack of confidence you have in your ability to write well or communicate your point or to keep up with the demands of your wildest writing dreams coming true.
Writing can be a scary thing. You put yourself out there every time you post on your blog, share your writing in a Facebook group, or publish a book. Am I good enough? Will people think I’m stupid? Will I have to hide my face in shame on a far-off island for the rest of my years?
I remember the agonizing feeling the first time I posted something on my blog knowing that anyone in the world could look at it and scrutinize every word. My hand hovered over the mouse until gravity took over squarely on the publish button. And when it came the time to publish my first book, that feeling was magnified. With each successive book, the feeling lessened a bit, but never really subsided. I’m not alone. Writers at all levels face fear. Most are able to push through fear and give their writing wings. I know you can, too.
Whether we acknowledge our fears or not, there is an underlying pull (sometimes greater than others) that keeps us from putting pen to paper, so to speak. My friend, Carolyn Bennett Sullivan wrote a great book, Get the “F” Out, that will help you understand and deal with the monkey chatter of fear that rattles through your brain.
Sometimes we put things off because, face it, they are boring. I know that happens with laundry or the dishes, but it also happens occasionally when I write. It’s a lot easier for me to write about creativity than it is about technical aspects of writing. I tend to put off writing those chapters or those blog posts until later.
There is a psychology behind it, too. We naturally crave and seek out pleasure and avoid pain. Tim Urban, in his article Why Procrastinators Procrastinate, artfully describes what goes on in your brain when there is a task to be done. It is way more fun to watch reruns of Friends than to find errant commas in your manuscript. Not only is it more fun, but it’s much easier to plunk yourself in front of the computer and watch cat videos. The pleasure sensors in your brain are illuminated. Thinking about editing the first chapter of your book for the 43rd time sends flares up and sirens blaring making you run for the Ben & Jerry’s and binge-watch House of Cards on Netflix.
Part of the problem, it seems, is the inability to accurately envision your future self. An article in the Washington Post says this about our connection to who we will become:
“When making long-term decisions, [people] tend to fundamentally feel a lack of emotional connection to their future selves,” says Hal Hershfield, a psychologist at UCLA Anderson School of Management who studies the present and future self. “So even though I know on some fundamental level in a year’s time, I’ll still be me, in some ways I treat that future self as if he’s a fundamentally different person, and as if he’s not going to benefit or suffer from the consequences of my actions today.”
This lack of empathy for us a week, a year, a decade from now prevents us from embarking on the journey toward making life better for them. Aging apps like AgingBooth can help us see ourselves as we may look in the future. This may help make the future us feel more real.
A lot of what we do is a function of the habits we create for ourselves. Sometimes it is because it is easier, but mostly we do what we’ve always done. This accounts for our good AND bad habits. There are few among us who don’t have some bad habits and it takes a bit (or a lot) of motivation to change them. Lack of motivation makes it hard to get started and keep going.
According to the book, Mini Habits by Stephen Guise, the key to creating a habit is to create one so easy to complete that you can’t possibly fail. A goal of exercising for an hour a day may set you up for sure failure, but a goal of doing one pushup is doable and stupid easy. For writers, this may mean sitting down and writing one paragraph or even one sentence. Most people find that once they have set their mind to complete a super simple task, it’s so easy to do the next pushup and write the next sentence. The mere act of engaging in the task is more important than the amount of work you set out to achieve.
[bctt tweet=”Instead of setting a huge writing goal, create mini-habits that are stupid easy to accomplish. #amwriting” username=”loishoffmande”]
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg helps us identify the routine we want to establish and then focus on the reward we receive when we engage in the desired action. I feel great when I post helpful information on my blog. I feel like I accomplished something worthwhile and am ultimately rewarded when someone comments or shares my blog post with others as a testament to the value of information I share. That’s a pretty powerful reason to write.
Still, it’s not always easy.
I used to write whenever I had time, which, by the way, was never. Before I had my business, tomorrow was always my answer. I knew I needed a different path. I started writing with a writing partner every Wednesday morning. We motivated each other and cheered each other on when the writing flowed and especially when it didn’t. I started adding an extra day then an extra two days and then three days until my writing habit was established. Now, I can’t wait to get up and express myself, learn something new, and share information with my readers. The habit of writing makes procrastination less likely because I am already in “butt in seat” mode.
If you are procrastinating, try these three things:
- Write down your fears about writing. It may be that you fear what people will think of you if they read it or what you will miss out on if you take the time to do it.
- Write down how you will feel after you write something. What is your immediate reward? How can you enhance the reward to make it even better (think bribe)?
- Create a mini habit of writing one paragraph or 50 words. Expand it as your habit is firmly in place.
For more ideas, check out Brian Johnson’s website Optimize with Brian Johnson containing other awesome tips to create habits and live a better life.
It’s time to break the chains of procrastination and WRITE!
“A year from now you may wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb
What have you tried to help you overcome procrastination?
If you’re ready to break the chains of procrastination and REALLY write your book and write it NOW, check out Adventures in Writing Nonfiction: A roadmap for writing a book people want to read. The interactive content will help light up the pleasure sensors of your brain so you can get your book written and out in the world where readers can be inspired, entertained, or transformed by your words.
Someone is waiting to read your words and feel the power contained in them. Isn’t that reason enough to start?