5 Ways to Write Through Procrastination 10

When it’s time to write—whether you’re journaling or working on the next great American novel—do you procrastinate? Do you suddenly feel a burning need to fold laundry or phone that cousin you’ve been meaning to call?

I confess, I’ve been procrastinating. It’s been two weeks since my last post, but instead of creating great new content for WritingThroughLife, I have done just about everything else on my lengthy to-do list. I wrote several articles for other blogs (not mine), worked on my memoir, scanned documents for my files, and checked my email 50 times, never failing to respond promptly to clients and students. And yes, I watered the garden and folded laundry. I made sure I kept my commitments to everyone else, but whenever I’d sit down to write this post, I’d become suddenly fidgety and easily distracted by the slightest noise (or excuse). Sound familiar?

What is procrastination, why do we do it, and how do we deal with it?

Wickipedia describes procrastination as “the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time.” I’m not sure I agree with that definition. It implies that we put off doing things because, though they may be high-priority, we don’t enjoy them. But sometimes, we put off doing things we want to do, things that are important to us and we enjoy. And we don’t always procrastinate by accomplishing lower priority tasks. My current situation illustrates this point.

In her Psychology Today article, “Problem with Procrastination? Try this: Do Nothing,” Gretchen Rubin states that “working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.” To solve the problem of substituting one form of work for another, make the only alternative doing nothing. This rule, she says, was inspired by Raymond Chandler. “Chandler set aside at least four hours each day for writing; he didn’t force himself to write, but he didn’t let himself do anything else. He wouldn’t let himself read, write letters, write checks—nothing. He summed up: ‘Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write. b. you can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.'”

I don’t know about you, but the thought of doing nothing terrifies me. (Even lying on the lawn staring at the clouds qualifies as something.) And yet, in order to write this post, that is exactly what I did: I sat down at my desk and said, “It’s this or nothing.” And, though at first I still felt fidgety and easily distracted, I wrote. I didn’t write on my intended topic—Growing Up and Growing Old—which will have to wait for another day, because it occurred to me that you, also, may need some help dealing with procrastination.

So here it is:

  1. Set a specific time to write. Then, sit at your desk or wherever you’ve designated to write, and don’t do anything else. Don’t read, don’t check your email, don’t log on to FaceBook. Seriously.
  2. Write through your procrastination by writing about it. The saying, “The only way out is through,” is true. You can only move on by moving through an issue as deeply and fully as possible. As I have done here, write about the procrastination itself. Start by completing the following sentence: “I’m procrastinating because …” Explain your answer.
  3. If you don’t want to write on the subject of procrastination (perhaps it’s a tired topic for you), set your timer for 10 minutes and do absolutely nothing except stay awake. When the timer goes off, write about the experience.
  4. Writing is a form of exploration. By writing about barriers such as procrastination, you will explore and uncover universal human themes. Write about how these these themes apply to other aspects of your life, to others’ lives, and what you can  learn by digging deeper.
  5. Get your creative juices flowing by writing a fairy tale about a character who procrastinates.

Procrastination is a normal human trait. We all experience it at times. Next time you’re feeling that fidgety urge to do something other than write, try one or more of these ways to move on.

Add to the discussion. What works for you? Do you have ideas to offer others? Please leave a comment …


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10 thoughts on “5 Ways to Write Through Procrastination

  • Sharon Lippincott

    Amber, your post strikes a resonant chord. This affliction must be making the rounds. I wrote about something quite similar this past week on my blog. It’s not quite the same, because I did write, but what I wrote fell flat as my grandmother’s cakes when someone jostled the kitchen while they were baking. Do you suppose this has something to do with … burnout? May be a fertile journal topic for all of us.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Sharon, you make a good point. With 24/7 social networking, blogging, and interactions added to the writing tasks we set for ourselves, burnout may be a factor. And we no longer take “real” vacations—where we don’t take our work with us. When was the last time you took a vacation, completely unplugged, not working at least a few hours of that time? If you’re like me, it’s been years. Burnout is a great topic for a journaling blog post. 🙂

  • Diane Warner

    Dear Amber,
    Very timely topic for me to write about. In fact I just sent an email to a friend telling her about my desire to get a book published and my procrastination. Being independent is also one of my traits that I am struggling with. I do not like to conform or follow directions. Wish me luck.

    I did get a response today from an editor telling me how to submit my proposal.
    This is a beginning.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Diane, Sometimes we procrastinate because we’re not sure exactly how to start or because we have a steep learning curve in front of us and we’re hesitant to start the climb. I have a feeling (let me know if I’m wrong) that this might be part of your struggle. Learning how to submit a proposal is an example. Once you know each part of the process, you are free to move forward.

      I suggest journaling a list of everything you don’t know how to do that you know you need to learn in order to accomplish your task. Then next to each item, write about how you can go about learning it or getting help with it.

      Note those tasks you feel resistance to and write about that resistance. Where does it come from? What is there about that task that you don’t like? Can you get someone else to do it for you?

      Play with these ideas and see what happens. And yes, good luck with your publishing efforts! 🙂

  • Barbara Toboni

    Amber, great topic. I like the tip from Chandler. I try to set aside at least two hours on my writing days. The idea that I can just sit and not think about anything else is also beneficial. I think this quiet clears the way for our muse to appear.

  • patsy ann taylor

    My greatest writing fault: Procrastination. Thank you for addressing this time waster. And for the suggestions on writing it into submission.

  • Eunice Loecher

    Exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thank you. The only thing that works for me is going to one of my favorite coffee shops. Which now makes sense. I’m not distracted by everything at home. I sit and stare at my computer and eventually write.