When American Crime writer Patricia Cornwell was asked if she procrastinates, here’s what she confessed:
“I most certainly procrastinate. I absolutely have days when I’ll find every excuse under the sun not to sit at that desk and write. The reason is: writing is hard. And if the characters are being uncooperative, I just move words around uselessly. At times like that, I wonder who stole my characters. Or, I think they’ve gone on vacation.”
Sounds familiar, right?
Well, a lot of people procrastinate. But for writers, the habit of procrastination is a peculiarly common occupational hazard.
It’s common for us writers to believe ‘procrastination is a part of the writing process,’ when in reality all we do is kill time.
For most of us, sitting down to write isn’t always the easiest task, no matter how much we love our stories. Good writing is carefully constructed. It’s a huge responsibility. It needs 100% of the attention, dedication, and a lot of thinking. Simply put, it’s a process that can be exhausting at times. And hence, procrastination wins out.
But here’s a piece of good news —writing procrastination is completely normal. Many famous authors were masters at procrastinating.
I’ve got you a few examples too:
- French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette used her French bulldog, Souci, to procrastinate writing.
- English Novelist Graham Greene would spend long periods of time by the side of the road looking aimlessly at license plates.
- American Novelist Alafair Burke says ‘If procrastination were a competitive sport, she would get lots of medals.’
And there are many more. Authors procrastinate because writing is difficult. And let’s be frank — it can be boring, time-consuming, and frustrating too — especially when you’ve hit the mental block.
So, what should authors do to boost their writing productivity and overcome procrastination habits?
Well, here’s a three-step solution:
I. Find the Cause or Source of Distraction
Before you can win procrastination, you must know what’s causing it. So, take a look at all the things that eat your time, distract you, and prevent you from following your writing routine.
It could be your sibling, a child, or your nosy neighbour. Or perhaps you’re working on a complicated project that’s not interesting to you anymore. It could be your mobile’s notifications or a song playing next door.
Whatever the case, you’ve to identify the cause and find what lies at the root of your procrastination habit.
Once you’ve identified your sources of distraction, cut them from your surrounding. Don’t self-handicap yourself with interruptions and distractions. Just follow the ‘find and remove’ strategy so that you’re left with zero excuses for not succeeding.
II. Divide Your Writing into Manageable Tasks
Well, that’s basic. It’s more like having a blueprint or an outline of your writing goals. I see a lot of writers who sit one day at their computers and type 5000+ words — which is great until exhaustion kicks in, and they cannot sit to write for the next ten days at least.
This isn’t the right approach. Instead, break your project into manageable tasks and go at it one day at a time. Sometimes the worst part about fiction writing is getting started. But once you have a plan – a sensible outline – it’s easy to put in some work every day.
III. Implement a Reward or Anti-Reward System
If you’re one of the writers who wait for the deadlines to kick-in to start the work, you should try the reward and anti-reward system. If you respond well to a healthy pressure, this will definitely work.
As for me, I’ve employed this tactic for years now. I break each project into manageable, mini-milestones, and add a specific deadline for each. Next to the deadline, I mention both the reward and punishment. So, If I accomplish the milestones on time, I reward myself and if I don’t, I take the risk of punishment.
I encourage you to implement this three-step anti-procrastination formula. It works as long as you’re honest with yourself.
At the end of the day, beating procrastination comes down to ‘finding the cause and removing it, and then implementing a system that can keep you motivated towards your goal.’
And in Charles Dickens’ words, ‘’My advice is, never do to-morrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him!”