Overcoming Procrastination for Writers – 5 Ways to Start Writing

Is your novel, query letter, or book proposal waiting for you to read this article on overcoming procrastination for writers? These five ways to start writing will help you stay focused and productive, and achieve your writing goals.

Before the tips, a quip:

“Procrastination is the fear of success,” says American motivational speaker Denis Waitley. “People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy, carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the ‘someday I’ll’ philosophy.”

Are you afraid of success? I’ve been struggling with procrastination – a publisher has requested three sample chapters of See Jane Soar and I’m taking longer that I should. But, I it’s not because I fear success. I’d just rather work on my paid assignments, because I know that book contracts are few and far between!

If procrastion has plagued you for ages, read Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now. And, here are five ways to get your writing going…

Overcoming Procrastination for Writers – 5 Ways to Start Writing

1. Remember Anne Lamott’s quip and tip about perfectionism. “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor,” she said. “It will keep you insane your whole life.” Your writing won’t be perfect, fellow scribes…but it will be done, and it will be yours. I created a new way to write and format my See Jane Soar sample chapters, and am a little nervous that the publisher won’t like them. But, I’m also happy that I’m writing them the way I want! To overcome procrastination, forget about being perfect. Instead, write the way your heart and head dictates – and stop trying to be perfect!

2. Write for one hour. This is my favorite way to overcome procrastination: divide up my day and write in one-hour chunks. And, when I really don’t want to work on something (like my sample chapters because there’s no guarantee of publication), I set up a reward of wine, women, and song. After I reach my one-hour writing goal, I can par-tay!

3. Review what you’ve accomplished so far. To get into the zone (or awaken the writer’s muse), I re-read and revise the sample chapters I’ve already written. If I haven’t written anything yet, I read my book proposal or my published articles. If you want to start writing, you need to savor your past accomplishments. Use them as a springboard to future writing success!

4. Treat procrastination like a bad habit. Is your procrastination due to fear of success, or is it just a bad life habit? Regardless, if you treat it like a bad habit, and know that you can rid yourself of that habit because you want to be a successful writer. Breaking your bad habit doesn’t take as long as you think – it could be as simple as scheduling one-hour time slots to write (it worked for me). For more info, read 8 Tips for Breaking Bad Writing Habits.

5. Become aware of your “busywork.” You know when you’re procrastinating, fellow scribes. Instead of engaging in the stuff that keeps you from writing (busywork), sit still for a moment. Why are you so reluctant to write your novel, query letter, or book proposal? I struggle to write my sample chapters because I fear the publisher won’t offer a contract and my work will be for nothing. But when I really think about it, those sample chapters — whether or not the publisher accepts them — are improving my writing skills and taking me one step further in my writing career. Plus, I can use what I’ve written elsewhere. Realizing that helps me overcome procrastination and stay motivated to write.

Bonus Tip for Overcoming Procrastination for Writers: Plan a surprise attack, and tackle your novel or article when it’s least expecting it! (This is a famous writing quotation, which I can’t locate). I usually work on my sample chapters at the end of my day…but today, I’m beginning my day with them. Refreshing. Motivating!

If you need another nudge, read Tips for Staying Motivated to Write From Successful Writers.

What have I missed? If you have any questions or thoughts on overcoming procrastination to start writing, please comment below…

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12 thoughts on “Overcoming Procrastination for Writers – 5 Ways to Start Writing”

  1. Chris from Voltmeter Gauge

    One of the best ways to accomplish your goals in life is to motivate yourself to take action. Useful habits can increase your effectiveness immensely. One of the best traits to develop is the Do It Now habit. This can get you started on a task even when you don’t feel like working.

    You probably should start with small, everyday tasks. After you have developed this habit using easy tasks, you can gradually increase the difficulty of these tasks. But remember, after giving the Do It Now command, you must always carry through with immediate action.

  2. Regarding distractions and motivation: I think that finding what works for you is crucial in overcoming writing procrastination!

    Like with anything — writing novels, pitching agents or editors, blogging, writing poetry — the key to success is trying differnt things, giving them a good chance, and then sticking with what works.

    And ditching what doesn’t work!

    Thanks for your comments, dirtywhitecandy and Everything Counts 🙂

  3. I’ve written a lot of novels to contract, and even though have a dedicated work ethic I find I am often tempted to do something other than the work I am meant to be doing! I find it helps to distract the part of my brain that is finding the work difficult – so I listen to music while I’m writing and that gets me into the mood to give my hands something to do while my ears are amused. Place hands on keyboard, turn the volume up and away you go! Also I keep some inspirational books to hand which will put me back in teh mood for writing – sometimes these are fiction in the genre that I’m writing, or they may be William Goldman’s books on screenwriting, which make me feel able to tackle my problems.
    In short – motivation is a tricky thing to manage it and sometimes some distractions help.

  4. Since I detest having stuff in my in-box, I usually don’t procrastinate. I LOVE the feeling of checking things off my to-do list and decluttering my inbox!

    I found a similar article on Zen Habits, called “10 Ways to Give Yourself a Procrasination Innoculation” by Karen Leland. Here’s a great tip for ending writing procrastination from her list:

    “Take advantage of your power hours. Are you an early riser who tackles your morning to-do list with all the gusto of a bear eating honey? Perhaps you’re a night-owl and crank through your most pressing projects at 11:00 p.m.?

    Either way, knowing and taking advantage of your natural energy patterns will help you steer clear of procrastination by using your power times to tackle the projects you find most challenging.”

    When I was working on my sample chapters, I actually switched up my writing hours. Sometimes I’d write during my “power hours”; other times, I’d write after supper, when I’m least alert.

    I think it’s good to tackle chapters or articles when they least expect it 🙂 (that’s a popular writing quote, but I can’t find the source or the exact quip).
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..7 Tips for Writing for Publication =-.

  5. Laurie,

    Sorry it took so long to comment. I didn’t really mean to put this off for so long. 😉

    I suffer from procrastination. Darn it. For some reason I seem to work better when the pressure is on??!!! What the heck is that all about. And every time, when I finally finish the project I’m all, “Why did I wait so long? I’ll never do THAT again!” Yeah, right.

    .-= Tumblemoose´s last blog post ..Book ‘em, Dano – Ten fully arrest-able query gaffs =-.

  6. I’ve been thinking the same thing for about six months now! On the one hand, I’d love a book contract. On the other…it’s such a huge commitment!

    But, Laura, even if an agent or publishing house accepts your book proposal and offers you a contract (I’m drooling here), you can always say no if the terms aren’t right or if your life isn’t conducive to taking on such a huge writing project. You’re only locked in until you sign on the dotted line…
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..7 Tips for Writing for Publication =-.

  7. Maybe not fear of success, but fear of the responsibility of having to actually write the rest of the manuscript you’re pitching? I think it may depend on the type of writing you do (i.e. you typically pitch non-fiction books before you write them, whereas you try to sell fiction books after they’re already written), but I’m definitely procrastinating on a non-fiction project because I know I will have to stick with it once I send out the proposal! This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s scary to take on such a large project, for sure.

  8. I was going to post a comment to this earlier.. but I kept putting it off…

    Seriously – procrastination is a HUGE problem of mine, and not just in my writing life. Fear of success? I hadn’t thought of that one. I always assumed it was fear of failure/rejection – but you may be onto something there.
    .-= Julee´s last blog post ..Information overload =-.

  9. For me, having a good outline is very important. When I have trouble writing, it’s usually because I’m not clear on exactly what I want to write.

  10. These are great Laurie. I just thought of another that I read somewhere – treat your writing like a job. You wouldn’t not show up for work so show up at your computer to write each day (choose a time slot).

    Oh, another idea just came to me – treat it like a date – focus on what you love about writing and your passion will inpsire you on.
    .-= Gini Grey´s last blog post ..Faith =-.

  11. “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.”
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..5 Stages of Leaving an Abusive Relationship – Tina Turner =-.