Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Cons of Procrastination

We all do it, mes auteurs, whether it's at work, with our writing, or doing simple chores around the house. Why haven't you put together that Excel file that will literally take you ten minutes? Why have I spent three weeks avoiding a bucket of dirty paintbrushes instead of investing the necessary 30 minutes to clean them? Why didn't you write your 1,000 words today, but instead promised yourself you'd write 2,000 tomorrow? And why on Earth did I put off writing this post until eleven o'clock at night?

These questions are somewhat rhetorical, but if you're looking for actual answers, I encourage you to check out this blog post. (The blog as a whole is actually pretty interesting.) More importantly, however: how can you (we) stop procrastinating?

Acknowledge that you're procrastinating. The first step, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. In all seriousness: if you don't recognize that you're putting off something that's important to you (in this case, writing), you can't stop procrastinating and start getting work done. We're all expert rationalizers and justifiers. If you direct your energy at explaining away your lack of progress rather than—well, progressing—you're never going to get that short story or novel written.

Try to identify the cause of your procrastination. Ideally, you'd rush home every day from work to sit down at your computer/desk/notebook/&c and start typing/scribbling away. If you aren't, try to figure out why. Does work drain too much of your energy? Are you stuck on a scene you're not having much fun writing? Is your writing space depressing, distracting, or (worse) non-existent? Once you know why you're having trouble putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you'll hopefully be able to overcome the problem.

Set small, manageable goals and stick to them. If your goal is 1,000 (or 100!) words a day, write 1,000 (or 100!) words a day. Period. No excuses, no rationalizing, no justifying. Caveats: emergencies arise. Family is more important than writing. Sometimes you're not going to get those 1,000 (or 100!) words written. What does that mean? It means that tomorrow, you write 1,000 (or 100!) words. Keep moving forward and don't look back.

Periodically reward yourself for sticking to your goals. Whether you do it by scene, chapter, or word count, reward yourself when you achieve a major or meaningful milestone. It needn't be anything big, but the prospect of getting or doing something you truly enjoy as a reward for maintaining your writing schedule can work wonders. There's absolutely no need to "punish" yourself when you fall short; you just won't get your chocolate/iTunes/True Blood/&c fix. (Make sure you pick something you really want.)

That's all I've got for you today, mes auteurs, but if you have any tips for defeating procrastination, don't hesitate to share them in the comments!


  1. Timely post, since I'm procrastinating work on the WIP, telling myself it's because I need to go back and straighten out the timeline before I go further. No matter that I'm probably only about 15K words from the end, and so I wonder if I should fix things now or write straight through and fix it later. The result; very little writing.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. In support of procrastination, would I have learned what I have learned reading this blog if I had been working on my WIP? It is while we procrastinate we can discover special surprises that make us grow as a person as well as a writer. Of course, as with many of the joys of life, too much of a good thing can quickly turn into a bad thing.

    So my WIP is not my entire life but just an important part of my every day.
    I will not feel guilty.

  3. I am procrastinating both work and NaNoWriMo by reading this blog. I need to temporarily block my RSS feed.

  4. Great post! I'm definitely prone to procrastination. I'm pretty good about sticking to my daily word goal, but sometimes it takes me waaaay longer because I've let myself get distracted by pretty shiny things on the internet or near my desk. Great tips, though...I'll have to figure out exactly why I'm procrastinating the next time the urge arises :)

  5. Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?

  6. Great post. I should definitely add the "no procrastination" goal on my new year's resolution list for next year. =)

  7. My procrastination lately has been fear-based: I know in my head how I want the scene to feel, but dread that I will short of evoking that feeling when it comes time to put the words on paper (or screen, rather). The best way to combat it is just to remind myself that I can fix things in revision. As long as I get the major plot points down, I can fix the atmosphere later. Things don't have to come out perfectly in the first draft.

    It also helps me to set a weekly word quota rather than a daily one. That way, if I do fall a little short one day, I can make it up little by little for the rest of the week and come out even in the end. It's also less stressful than having to write twice as much one day due to writing nothing the day before.

  8. Luckily, my procrastination centers around household chores. I'll always pick writing over vacuuming. I just completed another ms last week, but my laundry basket is overflowing! I detest housework so much that I took a one day break after finishing my ms, then started on the next book. :)

  9. Acknowledge my procrastination. Check.
    Identify the cause. Check.
    Set goals... check.
    ...and stick to them. Crap.
    Periodically reward myself... ooh, check!
    ...for sticking to my goals. Crap!

    I'd feel so much better about myself if only you'd end your sentences earlier.

  10. I like the small, manageable goals suggestion. It's also helpful to give yourself permission to quit after you reach that goal. When you're not on a roll, it's draining to sit at the computer for hours on end without producing because your entire book still isn't finished. I am often guilty of this, but when I stop and get out of the house, I'm doing more for myself creatively by resting, and more importantly, experiencing life.

  11. great post, will the notes i took work? i love procrastinating we just arent working well for each other

  12. Why didn't you post this on day four of nanowrimo?! Thanks for the pep talk-time to get back to writing.

  13. Maybe the issue is that we can't stop procrastinating until we understand our time preferences and what those say about us as people. I actually just wrote an essay on that subject called "Thinking and doing: Procrastination and the life of the mind," which I pretentiously label an essay instead of a blog post mostly because of its length.

    I think the real way one "defeats" procrastination is through doing things that one basically likes on a day-to-day basis, as discussed in the essay.

  14. Acknowledging you're procrastinating is half the battle. I found myself "researching" and what I was really doing was... finding ways to avoid writing.
    I don't plot. I tried, and I throw the plot in the trash half way though, because it makes me procrastinate. I find ways and excuses to do other things, telling myself I have to do this because I'm stuck.
    I'm not stuck. I know exactly what I need to write, where the story should go, but it's not happening, because I try not to leave the constraints I've imposed on my creativity.
    So I don't plot. I don't outline, or only very roughly. It helps me write, rather than find excuses not to write.

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