“Begin to weave and God will give you the thread.” Here’s how to stop procrastinating and start writing words that matter – even if you don’t have a needle yet.
“I am working on a thesis in, ironically, how to analyze a Shakespearean sonnet,” said Evan in response to Overcoming Procrastination for Writers. “The irony is that I’m writing about the most famous author who ever lived and yet I can’t stop procrastinating and start writing this thesis. I have a full-time job and I commute an hour to get to work. But the truth is that I can find time to write my thesis. It’s not my schedule that is stopping me from writing. I’ve always struggled with procrastination, and I really want to get over it.”
Evan added that he really wants to finish his dissertation and graduate with a MFA (a Master of Fine Arts), and is searching for tips on how to stop procrastinating and start writing. He also said he thinks I’m a “productive writer” who doesn’t struggle with procrastination. Wrong! If I was truly productive, I’d write two 1,500 word blog posts every day instead of four articles a week. That, to me, is productivity. So I too struggle with procrastination – but I do make a good living money as a writer. And I do have several tips on how to stop procrastinating and start writing.
Before I share my tips for how to stop procrastinating and start writing, I want you to promise me that you will walk away from your WiFi as soon as you read this post! If you seriously want to learn how to quit avoiding writing, you must start as soon as you finish reading my tips. This is how you discipline yourself to start writing: you promise mean people that you will write. And then you write.
Do we have a deal?
Then, let’s procrastinate no more.
How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing
“Keep working,” said Michael Crichton. “If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working.”
Writing is hard work, and the distractions are endless. But I do have “secret writing tips” on how to stop procrastinating for writers, and I do know how to start writing and keep writing until I’ve done my job. Because I want to keep getting paid.
1. Invest in your writing
I’ve been blogging since 2008, and a big part of my current journey as a writer is editing and revising my old blog posts. This has actually helped me learn how to stop procrastinating and start writing, because I love the feeling of cleaning up those old articles! I’m learning how to be a better writer, and it feels great.
And there, fellow scribes, is your first tip on how to stop procrastinating as a writer (and how to stay motivated to write): create a project that you actually want to write. Start writing something you’re excited about, passionately drooling over, fondling with both hands. I’m emotionally and financially invested in my writing, so I have to go to work every day. Evan is invested in his writing; he paid the college or university to teach him stuff about his MFA. If he doesn’t write his thesis he’ll lose his money and look like a complete idiot!
2. Pretend that last sentence is actually true: you’re a fool if you don’t write
It’s untrue to say that if Evan doesn’t write his thesis and do his dissertation, he’ll look like a fool. But what if it was true? What if he was being watched by the whole world? Judged? Criticized? I bet that would motivate him to stop procrastinating and start writing.
Think about your reasons for writing and your tendency to procrastinate. How would you feel if you had to admit to someone that you failed as a writer, that you couldn’t complete this magazine article or book or blog post that you want or need or have to write?
After you invest in your writing – after making it really, really important that you write – make it embarrassing or humiliating if you don’t write. Sometimes learning how to stop procrastinating and start writing is about playing mind games with the only person in the world you have any control over: you.
3. Establish writing routines
“When summer started, I loved the sudden freedom of no plans and commitments,” writes publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant in How to Beat Seasonally-Induced Writer’s Block. “Piano, voice lessons, soccer, field hockey, Girl Guides and my husband’s choir were all finished for the year. I began sleeping in a little more and allowed myself to start each day with a pleasant wander through email, Twitter and Facebook. Now, however, I’m actually looking forward to re-establishing my routines.”
This publication coach’s writing routines include back exercises and meditation, eating frogs, and following pomodoros. Don’t copy her routines because they won’t work help you learn how to stop procrastinating and start writing. Figure out what routines work for you and implement them.
4. Meet your Edgar (my best tip on how to stop procrastinating)
Ok, so I recently signed up for the social media scheduling tool called Meet Edgar. He’s expensive, and theoretically he feeds my blog posts into the social media world without my help. But in actuality, he needs me to queue up an image if I want pictures attached to my blog posts. Edgar doesn’t do this by himself. He also needs me to write a quick little intro for the Facebook feed, because Facebook isn’t fond of the automated social media feeds.
So every afternoon, my plan is to meet Edgar. I have to insert the images and Facebook intros for the next day’s lineup of blog posts. But I don’t allow myself to meet Edgar until I’ve written one new blog post and revised an old blog post. That’s how I’ve learned how to stop procrastinating and start writing two blog posts a day — I HAVE to get my work done or Edgar will allow all my icky crap spew all over the internet and I’ll be humiliated forever and aver amen.
What or who is your Edgar? Get one. He’ll help you beat that procrastination bug into a pulp.
5. Before you write one word, set your intention for your writing
This is another tip on how to stop procrastinating from publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant:
“Plan before you write,” she says. “This may be relatively simple. For example you might resolve to write for 20 minutes every day. Or perhaps you want to produce X number of words a day. The bottom line? Your goals need to be measurable. Don’t just resolve to ‘write more.’ Define exactly what that means — then create a chart that you fill in each day, so you are answerable. Goals must be measured or they’re not really goals — they’re just nice ideas.
Gray-Grant encourages writers to break their work into small, achievable chunks. This is an old rule of time-management and it works for writers, too. “For example, yesterday I went to a coffee shop and sketched out my plans for an exciting new product I’m going to announce next week,” she says. “I’d dithered about this job for weeks because it seemed so big and overwhelming. But then I figured out how I could split the project into sub-categories and sub-sub-categories and even sub-sub-sub-categories. In less than an hour, I finished the task I’d been procrastinating about for several months!”
6. Set yourself up for success as a writer
This is my last tip on how to stop procrastinating and start writing, so you might want to read slow because when you get to the end you have to go to work…
Create “perfect writing conditions” for yourself at the END of every writing stint. For example, you might stop writing in the in the middle of a sentence. So instead of finishing your writing day with “And then Even finally learned how to stop procrastinating and start writing, finished his Shakespearean thesis, and graduated with his MFA”…you’d write “And then Even finally learned how to stop procrastinating and start writing, finished his Shakespearean thesis, and ____________!!!”
Why? Because the incomplete sentence will encourage you to start writing when you open up that chapter in your Word or Pages document. Stop writing in the middle of a sentence so that when you start writing again, you’ll waste less time sharpening the pencils and putting your writer’s thinking cap on.
Fellow scribes, why are you reading about how to stop procrastinating and start writing, instead of actually working on your magazine article, blog post, book chapter, or Shakespearean thesis? Maybe you’re scared of something (such as successfully selling your nonfiction book proposal).
“Don’t wait until everything is just right,” says Mark Victor Hansen. “It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.”
Or maybe you simply have nothing to write about. Read Practical Writing Tips and Inspiration for When You Can’t Write.
Do you want write for a living? Join the Writers Work Community and get professional career training, writing tools, an online portfolio, and more. Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me!