How to Break the Writing Procrastination Grip

From the Mailbag: Martha writes, I found your blog after reading Dogs of Dreamtime (loved Loved LOVED it!) and have been a reader ever since (thought not a very good commenter, sorry). I’m taking a writing course now and realize how hard it is to sit down and write everyday. How do you make yourself do it? I have a great idea for a book with lots of ideas percolating, but I’m having a hard time getting myself going and seem to find every distraction to delay me. Any tips on how to buckle down?

Martha, thanks for the plug. And you’re in good company; many writers find it a challenge to get jump-started.  Sounds as if the steam’s building, but the train isn’t quite ready to pull out of the station. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found a way to hurry that stage along. Seems things need to percolate however long they need to percolate.

I find that as long as we keep ourselves open by creating the space and time to be present to what’s percolating, we’ll eventually be able to get it down on paper. To help get ideas organized, consider carrying around a little notebook, so you can jot down ideas as they come to you. I also find that working from a loose outline helps. Often, just doing those two things is enough to get me over the initial hump of getting started.

procrastinateBUT, avoidance/procrastination is a horse of a different color. If procrastination is part of your difficulty, are you creating the space (however small) and giving yourself the time (however short) to be with your thoughts and writing each and every day?  H. Jackson Brown sums it up perfectly for me: “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backward, or sideways.”

I think of sitting down to write the same way I think about sitting down to meditate. For as many years as I’ve been meditating, I still have to force myself to make a time because it seems like an interruption to my day. And after I sit down, I have to fight to get myself settled down, because I really don’t want to bother shifting gears. And then I have to switch from feeling that I’ve put  myself in a time-out to allowing myself to plug into meditation’s creative/healing flow. When I’m finally able to get past all that and get to the actual meditating, it’s then that I remember why I like to meditate so much. Writing often feels like the same process.

Even when I’m “too busy,” even when it feels more like a punishment rather than a reward to make myself sit at the computer, I do it. Because, plain and simple, that’s how you create the habit. And eventually the habit creates the groove that becomes the expressway to your creativity, and the ideas and words will start flowing. It also helps that I allow myself the flexibility to work on several projects at once, so if I’m stuck on one, I can usually find the energy or interest to work on one of the others.

In a nutshell, to overcome procrastination and develop the writing habit:

  • Start with an inviting work space, free of clutter and distractions. (No music, TV, or social networking for example. )
  • Pick a time that you will commit to writing every day. (First thing in the morning works best for me.) And then sit down at that time every day, even if you only stare out the window to start.
  • Keep a notebook handy for new ideas, and learn how to create working outlines for works-in-progress.
  • No matter what, spend a minimum of one hour a day writing. (Doesn’t matter what you write, or how many words you write–even if you have no ideas and wind up retyping another author’s writing whom you’d like to emulate.)
  • If you don’t have the juice to write new pages, use that hour to edit and improve old pages.
  • Consider joining a writing group for support and useful feedback.

Perhaps Nike said it best: Just do it!

Good luck, and let me know how your project goes.

Anyone else out there have any tips or suggestions to share on how to avoid procrastination?

6 thoughts on “How to Break the Writing Procrastination Grip”

  1. Hi hun,
    I am a wannabe unpublished writer and I have been sending my begging letters *GRIN*off to agents/publishers…I have found that on days when inspiration seems to fizzle away…. I write (type) into my journal..I find that I can write about anything..from personal thoughts/wishes to last nights dream….It can inspire and record the wonderful roller-coaster ride of getting your manuscript published…Or not, as the case may be *SMILE*….Or…Not my favorite “OR” *GRIN*… I pick up a manuscript that has been put to the side that needs editing/tweaking *GROAN*!!

    I love the inspiration that I read from your blog pages.. :)
    Love, Light & Blessings,
    Snow :)

    1. Mrs Snow, those are all great ways to keep on going. And I’m a firm believer that if you keep on going long enough, you’ll eventually arrive at where you want to be. So keep on going, Mrs Snow. You’ve got the right outlook! I’m rooting for you!

  2. Good advice. Advice I needed to hear! Isn’t it funny how most things that are worthwhile feel so unpleasant during and then afterward we are so recommitted? Exercise is like this for me, as is writing, as is meditating, etc. You are so right about making habits, habits do make things easier.
    .-= Jo´s last blog ..Earthly Delights =-.

  3. The way I “prime the pump” is to set the atmosphere. My lap top is set up on an antique hutch. I always have my favorite cup of tea nearby (right now that would be “Women’s Mood Tea) along with some relaxing music…I’m listening to Loreena McKennitt “To Drive the Cold Winter Away” (magnificent!), and then I “ask” for guidance. Whatever your faith, or none at all…..simply ask your muse, and you shall receive what you need. But sometimes nothing comes, and I don’t question why. I go out and take a walk, then I sit down and ask again….and more times then not, the flow begins.

  4. I am not a writer, so take this for what it’s worth (not much).

    Would it help to set a piece of time aside for a little bit of writing. Enough for a blog post for example? Don’t start out trying to do so much you resent the time you spent later. Don’t try for a whole chapter, try for a couple of paragraphs.
    .-= Holly´s last blog ..Toot Toot! =-.

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