How to Outsmart Procrastination
Here are some valuable tips for getting the words on the page.One of the primary challenges facing authors who self-publish is that there aren’t external deadlines imposed by publishers, agents, or editors. There is a lot of freedom that comes with being able to set your own publishing schedule, but with that freedom comes the requirement of managing your time. Here are some tips for getting those ideas on the page.
Stop planning, start writingFiguring out what time management looks like for you and your writing process is essential for cutting back on or eliminating procrastination. In most instances, you aren’t just going to get handed a lot of time and told to write whenever you want. Most writers must carve writing time into an already busy schedule filled with work, family, social, and other obligations. One of the most seductive forms of procrastination is to get stuck thinking about what you are going to write but not actually writing anything. Obviously, outlining and planning can be a vital part of writing, but it’s important to not let planning become procrastination. The key to finishing a book is to start writing.
Disorganization can be a great friend of procrastination. Try to make it as simple as possible for yourself when it comes to writing. Writing time is limited, so don’t waste it looking for your computer charger or finding your favorite pen. By keeping an organized writing space, whether it’s an office, a desk, or a folder full of your notes, you’ll be helping future you get work onto the page. Similarly, when it’s time to write, try to limit distraction—especially if you know you can easily get pulled away. If you find yourself getting distracted, put your cellphone on airplane mode, close your email and web browsers, and tell your family you need some uninterrupted writing time. Experiment with setting a timer for just 20 minutes and see how much writing you can do during that short period of uninterrupted time.
The best writers are those who are also active readers. Not only does reading make you a better literary citizen but it also can help you to hone your craft as a writer. Try to use the reading time that you have to your advantage for your writing. Select books to read that are comparison titles for your work in progress, or nonfiction books that are about a particular time period, place, or other important detail you’re including in the book. By selecting leisure reads that connect back to your creative work, you’ll help yourself to keep thinking of these themes even when you’re not actively writing. Using your reading time strategically can help make you a more productive writer and help you to make the most of the writing time you have.
Lower your expectations
Chasing perfection in early drafts can be another type of procrastination, but the great thing about first drafts is that nobody but you has to read them. Instead of focusing on trying to write the perfect sentence, paragraph, or chapter, focus on just writing. Try to avoid letting yourself get stuck staring at a blank page or worrying about getting the “right” words down. Lower the expectations you have for yourself and concentrate on just putting some words onto the page. Once you’ve got a draft, you can go back in to edit. If you find yourself procrastinating, remember that this story you are working on is important, and only you can write it. Try to avoid comparing yourself and your writing process with any other writers. This kind of toxic comparison generally only encourages procrastination and discourages writing.
Set an editorial calendar
Without a publisher dictating when a book must be finished, it’s easy for self-publishing writers to procrastinate. To break yourself of a procrastination cycle, it’s important to create your own editorial calendar. This means setting deadlines for when different aspects of your book will be completed. Try to avoid just setting one big deadline; instead, create measurable, smaller deadlines leading up to that to keep yourself on track. Work backwards from your release date to determine when you’ll need to complete getting the book laid out, finalizing a cover design, sending the book to a copy editor, and so on.
Develop writing routines
If your goal is to write and publish books, you’re going to want to create a writing routine for yourself. This can be highly structured or more free-flowing, depending on your personal style and goals. There is no right or wrong way to have a writing routine. Although many authors swear by the idea of “morning pages” popularized by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, writing first thing in the morning doesn’t work for everyone’s schedule. Experiment. Figure out what works for you. I wrote my first three novels (one traditionally published and two self-published) while I still had a day job, and my writing routine was to write during my commute on the N.Y.C. subway. I would then take my lunch break at a bubble tea shop two blocks away from my office and write the whole time.
Every author’s writing routine is going to look different. You don’t even have to write daily; you just need to come up with something consistent that works for you. When it comes to avoiding procrastination, it’s far better to come up with a writing routine that is sustainable for you than one that is going to burn you out. Whether it’s because of writer’s block, a busy schedule, or disorganization, every author can be tempted by procrastination. Where there’s laundry to fold, dishes to wash, errands to run, or TikTok to scroll, there will always be something to keep you from putting words on the page. The key to finishing books successfully is to cut out as many distractions as possible, avoid perfectionism, set reasonable writing deadlines, and stick to them. If writing is what fulfills you, if you have a burning desire to tell stories, then you must avoid the temptation of procrastination to prioritize your writing life.
Sassafras Lowrey writes fiction and nonfiction and was the recipient of the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for emerging LGBTQ writers.