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Three Words That Kill Writing Procrastination

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Your one precious hour of writing time, carved from the demands of your “real” life, has finally arrived. Your characters are poised, frozen in midair, waiting breathlessly for you to tell them what happens next. You scrunch into a comfortable position in your desk chair, poise your fingers over the keyboard, and…

Wait, is that smudge on the monitor? Better find a Kleenex and wipe that off, so it doesn’t distract you. And while you’re at it, grab a soda from the kitchen, just in case you get thirsty. Might as well bag the garbage while you’re there—which reminds you, when you get back to the computer, you better do a quick bit of research to see if you can find out when plastic garbage sacks were invented. And, what the heck, might as well check Facebook one last time while you’re at it. What’s it going to hurt, right? It’ll only take a sec.

The problem is that one “sec” leads to another, and, before you know it, you glance at the clock to find you’ve wasted fifty minutes of your writing time not writing.Much as we love writing, as soon we sit down and take one look at that intimidating blinking cursor, our tendency is to start procrastinating, usually with seemingly innocent minutiae that adds up before we know it. It’s a wicked cycle to defeat once it gets started. We get into the habit of thinking we need these procrastination techniques to “ease” us into writing or to “warm us up.” So we check our email, plan our grocery list, or straighten all the pictures in the room. Long-time crime writer Lawrence Block had to play one game of solitaire for every page he wrote.

At times, writing procrastination can seem like an incurable disease. Fortunately, however, I have an infallible solution, and it can be summed up in three little words:

Just start writing.

If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. As soon as you sit down at your computer, start typing. Don’t wait for the perfect moment of inspiration. Don’t wait for the right words. Start typing, even if all you come up with is utter garbage. An object in motion will stay in motion. Once those fingers start flying over the keyboard, they’re that much more likely to keep flying.On the other hand, once you start procrastinating by letting yourself do unimportant little tasks, you’re likely to keep right on procrastinating. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can get away with that one peek out the window to see if the sun is still shining (And then I’ll start writing!). Maybe you will only take one peek; but, then again, maybe you’ll end up staring at the clouds for the next ten minutes, instead of writing that much farther into your manuscript.

Procrastination is only a monster when we give it the opportunity to grow. Scare it away right at the start by awing it with the thunder of your furious typing!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Lol, I was wiping a smug off the screen just before I read this!

    It is so true, I time waste but convince myself it is necessary to my writing. I am in the process of reorganising my Internet activities, this way I will increase my writing time. Will I spend it writing? Probably not!

  2. Ugh, definitely needed this post. The last several days I’ve been procrastinating like crazy, instead of moving on in my book. Thanks for the kick in the pants ;) Off to write!

  3. I’m telling ya – those smudges are dangerous! Good luck with your reorganization.

  4. @Mia: Always happy to deliver a kick or two! *cracks whip*

  5. My goodness, have you been there when I was “supposed” to be writing. I am so glad I am not the only person who procrastinates. I really need to get better about ignoring the distractions.

    By the way, you are the winner of a book on my blog. Stop by when you get a chance.

  6. Yep, I was lurking in the corner, taking notes. ;) Thanks so much for the book! Looking forward to reading it.

  7. You’ve been watching me! Had just started with a blog post I’ve been procrastinating on when I saw this article on Twitter and just had to check it out.

    Duly chastised now. :)

    CD

  8. So true…and such good advice. I have this problem more with revising than drafting, but need to kick myself into gear and just get moving. It’s never as hard as I think it’s going to be once my fingers start moving. :-)

  9. It’s with the start of the writing where I procrastinate.

    No problems with the editing, editing, editing…

    Just getting those first pages going.

    Speaking of going…might be nice for a walk before I start a new project. :)

  10. Funny! Yes, I am guilty of this. I’ll stop writing just to check Facebook updates or read new notifications. Those things can wait—they’ll still be there when I get my writing done for the day, so I just need to get busy and do it.

  11. Yes such things as putting a word on a blog… temptation lies everywhere esp. with internet.
    But I don’t get soda nor is my chair comfortable.
    Procrastination is not just for writing, it seems easier because of the proximity, intimacy of it with writing but that phenomenon comes from using a computer.
    The damn thing makes it too easy , maybe if it was not internet connected, into a hut in the wild…
    Jc

  12. I totally do this, but usually at the end of a scene. I figure “this is a nice time to take a break,” but the break lasts the rest of the day. Now I’ll feel guilty enough that I’ll keep writing past the scene break! Seems like a weird thing to thank you for, but thanks!

  13. @Cecilia: Back to work! Chop, chop. ;)

    @Jamie: Exactly. It’s always those first few minutes that are the toughest. Something about facing that big blank screen is terrifying. But as soon as we get typing, things usually start to flow.

    @Marisa: I put a lot of stock in “creative lollygagging,” and mine usually takes the form of long walks. But never at writing time! :p

    @Lorna: Checking (and replying to) email became a real speed bump for me when I finally got wireless Internet a few years ago. I learned in a hurry that I needed to shut the Internet down before I started writing.

    @JC: I know some people who keep two different computers: one for Internet and leisure, the other for writing. Works if you can afford two computers!

    @Jenn: Oh, I’m always happy to supply guilt trips. :D

  14. Thanks for the timely reminder.

  15. You bet. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. OMG – yes this is totally me – I thought I could revise and watch West Side Story last night – 2 hours later I’d sung every song in the musical, checked twitter and facebook dozens of times and got no writing done. However, when the movie ended – I was able to get some done! Happens to the best of us huh?

    Thanks for the post ;o)

  17. Part of procrastination’s pull is that it’s so easy to come up with things that are easier to do. Sometimes “easy” wins out over “rewarding.”

  18. I clean my computer once a week and smudge proof it. Yes, geek runs strong in my blood. Because I know that I am easily distracted….ohhh look shiny.
    Yup it was a shiny :-), where was I? Oh yeah,cause I know my weakness it is set firmly in my head that when I start Word it’s time to write. Because of that I do all my chores, cooking,cleaning and get everything out of the way. Some days I don’t want to write when I have time to so those days are spent on character development and improvement. When I sit down to write I have a fresh pot of coffee made, a full cup, something to snack on and a small prayer before I start word. If I don…Oh look…SHINY!

  19. I’m big into preparation. Setting up to write by putting everything I’m going to need within in easy reach – and removing anything that might prove distracting – means I’m that much less likely to get sidetracked.

  20. Oh, I’m awful when it comes to things that make me procrastinate! It can be my daughter or my dog, or anything in between–blogs too! If I pause in my writing, especially if I’m really tired, I’ll stare out the window and have no idea how much time has passed!

    At a seminar I attended last year at one of my local Sisters in Crime groups (Kansas City is fortunate to have 2 groups), a guest author stated that when he sits down to write, he shuts off the internet (or writes on a machine that can’t get on the internet). In order to stay focused, he has a second document open for things related to research or general to-dos so if he thinks of something he needs to take care of, he just writes it in the second document and continues on writing. I haven’t found myself using this principle yet, but I’m sure it would be handy.

    Of course, how long can it really take to look something up on Wikipedia? ;p

  21. I think parents get extra kudos for avoiding procrastination. Little ones can be *very* distracting, not mention time-consuming! You go!

  22. I understand procrastination when it comes to Pap smears and dentists and cleaning toilets and paying bills.

    But why do we procrastinate doing something we love???

    Be right back. Just one more game of Bejeweled Blitz . . .

  23. It wouldn’t be because Bejeweled Blitz is just a smidge *easier* than writer, would it? ;)

  24. It’s funny how as soon as I sit down to write, I suddenly remember that the bathroom needs to be cleaned. Thanks for the post and the reminder. The monitor does NOT need to be cleaned and the bathtub can wait to be scrubbed.

  25. If there’s one good thing that can be said about cleaning the bathroom – probably the only thing – it’s that it can always wait!

  26. JUST DO IT! :)

  27. JUST DO IT! :)

  28. Yep, those three words sum it up pretty well too!

  29. BUSTED!!! Were you in my room last night watching me procrastinate? Is that where you got your inspiration to write this article from?!! :)

    http://www.tamiewrites.com

  30. You caught me! Where would I be if I couldn’t spy on hapless writers for inspiration?

  31. Anonymous says:

    The afternoon after I read your post I was sitting down to write and was very, very close from checking e-mail, Facebook, etc…. then I remembered this and forced myself to WRITE! Yes, it was crippled garbage, but it got a long-stalled story moving.

    Thanks!
    -whisper

  32. Anonymous says:

    GACK! Sorry, I mean, what I WROTE was crippled garbage, not your article! *sheepish* So sorry if that came across wrong. :)

    -whisper

  33. Congratulations! Now keep it up! (And, no worries, I knew what you meant. ;)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Thanks; I shall! (Oh good) :D
    -whisper

  35. You are brilliant — and this is a brilliant post. How have you found the time to be lurking behind EACH of our computers to know what we are doing instead of writing?

    Excuse me, I have to go clean the cat box, the bathtub, the veggie crispers in the bottom of the refrigerator.

    Then I’ll get to writing.

  36. I’d tell you my secret of omnipresent lurking… but then I’d have to kill you. ;)

    You must be stuck on a really difficult scene if those three icky jobs are taking precedence!

  37. Problem for me – is that most of my writing is non-fiction journalism and I can’t “just start writing” till those I need to interview CALL ME BACK! grrr. Me thinks I should get back to Fiction and leave the journalism to those with more patience than I.

    (She says as she procrastinates by reading blogs on procrastination…)

  38. Nothing more frustrating than waiting on other people – esp. if you’re a prompt person, and they’re not! Maybe you can just write fiction in the interim?

  39. Great post! Procrastination is something I seem to be an expert at, lol!

  40. This is one area that doesn’t seem to have any lack of experts!

  41. Anonymous says:

    But, I’m just getting to be really good at spider solitaire! And I just HAVE to watch Criminal Minds. And there’s this whole RPG game design I’m working on. And I CAN’T forget my cartoons…
    -sigh-
    I’m with you. I do feel infinitely better when I can say I’ve added another page to my novel.
    Nadine Liamson

  42. I guess it’s kind of like junk food. It sure tastes good while we’re eating it, but we don’t feel as nourished when we’re finished.

  43. Say your inner demon “Shut up and right” :D

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