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How to Beat Writer’s Procrastination

16 Jan 2013 | Mind monkeys, Tips, tools, tricks

Writers, ever find yourself procrastinating at that ‘just about to get started’ phase?

You know once you get started and into the flow, you can be totally focused, inspired and creative, but before that holy grail of flow lies a whole minefield of distractions.

This is how author Janice Horton described it to me recently:

“I tend to get immediately side-tracked on my way to my desk and I find that I’m giving other jobs (housework or cooking mostly) priority over what I should be doing (writing my books). It’s as if I have to get the other things out of the way, in order to ‘clear my mind and my workspace’ and concentrate fully on my writing. Often, by the time this happens, I’m physically and mentally tired!”

I know exactly what she means, and I’ve done it myself!

The key I’ve realised is to distinguish between preparation and procrastination. Clearing space both mentally and physically to write can be a really useful thing. But when it takes over and replaces your writing, that’s not so helpful!

The truth is, there’s always stuff to do. There’s always another job to do, another pile to tidy, another thing to remember, if you wait until ‘everything’ is done before you start writing, you’ll never start.

Instead this is what I suggested to Janice:

1. Decide when you’re going to start writing and commit to it

Give yourself 15 minutes before to get your space in order, and decide what absolutely needs to be in place during that time, (e.g. pen, paper, laptop, cup of tea) and what can wait until later (e.g. laundry, tax form, phoning the bank). Use a timer if you need to.

2. Keep a tangent log

Sometimes our biggest distractions do not come from our external environment, but from inside our heads, when our brains come alive with ideas, thoughts, and reminders that have nothing to do with the task at hand.

Keep a separate notebook next to you for anything that comes to mind unrelated to your writing. Every time you go off on a tangent write it down – every thought, reminder and idea. This way, you don’t have to keep remembering and you know you can come back to it later. Capture the thought, get it out of your head and keep it free to write.

It takes time to get into new habits, so I suggested that Janice try this for three weeks and see how she gets on. Follow her progress and check out her collection of writer’s top time tips on her blog.

 

Keep a Tangent Log is just one of the tips I share in my book, 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time, a little book that is packed with simple, practical tips and techniques you can put to use straight away, to help you manage the stuff that sucks up your time, and have more time for what really matters.

What are your favourite ways of beating writer’s procrastination? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

14 Comments

  1. Janice Horton

    Hi Grace! Thanks so much for featuring me and my writer’s procrastination on your wonderful blog site. You’ll be pleased to hear that I managed 1500 words on my work in progress today after following your recommendations. Yay!!

    Reply
    • Sheryl Browne

      Well done, Janice! I’m going to start following Grace’s/your tips right now, this instant. It’s either that or walk around with my eyes closed – not counducive to good writing! Thanks! 🙂 xx

      Reply
      • Grace Marshall

        Ha I would think walking round with eyes closed might get quite painful too Sheryl! Thanks for stopping by to comment – have fun trying out the tips and happy writing!

        Reply
  2. Anneli

    Excellent suggestions, Janice. Now to implement them. That’s the hard part for me.

    Reply
    • Grace Marshall

      The more you do it, the easier it gets – try it, and let us know how you get on Anneli!

      Reply
  3. Linn B Halton

    Great suggestions and Janice is really throwing herself into her new regime by the sound of it! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks for stopping by to comment Linn! I’m really pleased to hear how it’s helping Janice and others too.

      Reply
  4. Kit Domino

    Great tips. Having to be extra disciplined at the moment so have put these into practice. So far so good and getting lots done. Thanks, ladies.

    Reply
    • Grace Marshall

      Fantastic Kit, well done you! Happy writing, and thank you for your comment.

      Reply
  5. Bonnie Trachtenberg

    Boy can I relate! I’ll do anything to keep from sitting down to write, and it’s true, by the time I do all the things I think I need to do, I’m mentally exhausted! Something that works for me though, is sitting down to write before I do anything else and reading over whatever I wrote the day before. It eases me into it and before I know it, I’ve gotten some work done! It’s easier to do all the other things later when clear thinking isn’t as crucial!

    Reply
    • Grace Marshall

      Absolutely, make the most of your prime thinking time, plus the feeling of achievement gives you motivation for the rest of the day too – much better than the nagging feeling of “I should be writing…” Keep up the great work Bonnie and thank you very much for your comment.

      Reply
  6. Amanda @Writing Cozy Mysteries

    I love the idea of a tangent log! It’s definitely unique, but I tried it this morning. I usually get about seven-ish pages cranked out when I start getting tired, bored, or all of the above, but this morning, the page count jumped to fifteen–a pretty significant difference for me!

    Thank you so much for this post. It was a huge help.

    -Amanda @ Writing Cozy Mysteries
    http://www.writingcozymysteries.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • Grace Marshall

      That’s brilliant Amanda. Great work, glad the tangent log helped!

      Reply

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  1. Friday Reads: Productivity for Writers | Critical Margins - [...] the thing that you can actually manage – your attention, rather than time itself. And here’s how to beat writer’s…
  2. Procrastination unpicked, with Grace Marshall | Head Trash - [...] How to beat writers’ procrastination [...]

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About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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