We’ve all been there: You start the day with fire in your belly and the very best of intentions.
Today’s the day! You’re going to write! You are ready to pen the next Great American Novel!
And then…You don’t write. The entire day passes in a blur, and instead of writing, you fill your day with work and laundry and traffic and figuring out what’s for dinner and clipping the dog’s nails.
You think about writing — that’s for sure. You even feel guilty about not writing, and it gnaws at you all evening as you binge the third episode of Stranger Things on Netflix for the second time because season three is going to be out soon and you want — no you need — to re-watch season two so you’re all caught up.
This is a classic case of procrastination, and even the most dedicated writers can fall prey to it. I find that I tend to procrastinate on my most important work because creating big important things takes a lot of guts and energy.
And sometimes we just don’t feel up to the task.
There are dozens of reasons why writers procrastinate, and I won’t be able to cover them all here. In fact, this is such a huge and important topic that I’ll be writing a short series to help you identify the root cause of your procrastination and beat it once and for all.
I have also developed an awesome mini-course that’s totally free. It’s called “Stop Procrastinating and Write the Damn Book.” It’s 5 lessons that are about 5 minutes long delivered to your inbox over the course of 5 days. You can sign up here.
So here’s Part I of this blog series: three of the most common causes of procrastination and how you can beat them once and for all. You can read part II here.
Reason 1: Lack of Motivation
Sounds like: I just can’t get motivated to write.
As a writing coach, this is what I used to dread hearing most of all. I dreaded it because I didn’t have a good way to combat it at the time. I just wanted to shake the poor unsuspecting soul who had confessed that he or she just didn’t have the motivation to actually get the writing done.
For a long time, I didn’t think that being “unmotivated” was a thing. (Just like right-wing politicians dealing with climate change, my knee-jerk reaction to any psychological phenomenon I didn’t like was to deny its very existence.)
But when I took the time to study motivation more extensively, I realized that a lack of motivation was a legitimate problem. And, like any legitimate problem, there is always a root cause and a solution.
I wrote extensively about mastering motivation only a few weeks ago, but in a nutshell, motivation is like a machine: If there is a piece missing, the machine won’t run. But if all the pieces are in place and they are well-lubricated, the machine will run perfectly all on its own.
The three “pieces” or components of motivation are:
- Specific action or criteria
If you do not have each of these components, you may feel that you lack the motivation to write. So how do you overcome this? You have to start by figuring out which component is missing. (There may be more than one.)
If you are lacking that fire in your belly — you just don’t want to write when you actually sit down at your computer — this is because you haven’t gotten clear on your “why.”
Why do you want to write a novel (or a short story or a book of poems)? Is it so you can hold your published book in your hands? Is it because there is a story inside of you that you need to get out?
Whatever your reason for writing, you need to identify and connect with it on such a deep level that you feel it in your whole body.
If you know your “why” and still feel unmotivated, it could be because you don’t have a specific action plan for writing. You know you need to write a lot to complete a book, but you haven’t taken the time to break down your big goal (completing a book) into smaller, more manageable goals.
You can do this by setting a daily word-count target or the goal of writing for a set amount of time each day. Make sure that whatever target you set for yourself is achievable — even if it seems low at the time. Starting with the goal of writing just 200 words per day is fine. Once you begin, you will likely write more than that, but in the beginning, it’s establishing the habit that counts.
The final component of motivation is follow-through, and the secret to follow-through is establishing an Accountability System. I have a recent podcast episode on creating a custom accountability system for yourself, or you can read the transcript here.
I also have an entire module in my free course dedicated to creating a custom accountability system broken down by personality type, so I won’t go through it in detail here.
I will say this: If you have set goals in the past (like a New Year’s resolution) and struggle to meet them, there is likely something missing from your accountability system.
A lot of people need outside accountability or some external consequence for not following through. (I suggest appointing an accountability partner to hold you to your goal.)
Reason 2: Distraction
Sounds like: Every time I sit down to write, I find something else to do.
Distraction is another big culprit that stops a lot of very motivated and talented people from writing. (It’s also one of my biggest challenges.)
If this is you, it’s not your fault — at least not entirely. We live in a distracted world. There are billion-dollar companies that have built their entire worth on our collective susceptibility to distraction — companies like Facebook, Instagram, and King Digital (the maker of Candy Crush).
When you have such great fortunes riding on the ability to keep us distracted, the number-one goal of app developers and company leaders becomes getting us addicted to their platforms. They will pull out all the stops to do it — including manipulating us by playing on our fear and outrage.
It’s not easy to fight distraction when you have the brightest minds of Silicon Valley working against you. All of the advertising dollars riding on our distraction have created a monster. And the only way to defeat a monster is to cut off its head.
If digital distractions are your kryptonite, you have to take willpower out of the equation. That means turning off your Wi-Fi and putting your smartphone in Airplane Mode or on Do Not Disturb.
If you need the Internet for research, do your research before you sit down to write, or install a web plugin like StayFocusd, which allows you to block certain websites and social media.
If you find yourself getting distracted by other necessary but mundane household tasks (such as laundry, dishes, dog-grooming, or cabinet reorganizing), I suggest getting yourself out of the house entirely. Go to a coffee shop to write or to your local library. Alternatively, you can try setting a timer for a period when you are not allowed to lift your butt out of your desk chair.
Reason 3: Overwhelm
Sounds like: I just don’t know where to start.
Many people yearn to write a novel, but they just don’t know where to start. They usually get immense enjoyment from developing their characters and dreaming up the perfect plot, but they shut down when it’s time to start putting words on the page.
This feeling of overwhelm as it relates to writing is exacerbated by the fact that we all have so much on our plates already. I know many of you are working moms and dads who are also caring for your aging parents while trying to make space to write. Some of you are students working part-time jobs who are also trying to write a novel. I’m trying to build a house and a business and still find those glorious moments of quiet to write.
No matter what phase of life you’re in, you probably feel that you have more things to do than you would like. Add writing a book to that list, and it’s easy to feel paralyzed.
If you want to write a book but feel overwhelmed by the task at hand, you need a clear plan for how to proceed. As my father-in-law likes to say, “Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, life’s a cinch.”
Don’t think about all the words you have to write this year to have a completed manuscript. Focus on what you have to do today to carry you a little bit closer to your goal.
This goes back to the importance of having a writing plan with concrete daily targets you must meet. And when you set your daily word count goal, make sure that it’s realistic! I would always rather coach someone who could write 200 words every day than binge-write 2,000 words once a week. Creating a sustainable writing habit is key.
If you struggle with setting goals for yourself, my free course comes with “The Writing Plan That Actually Works.” (It’s actually three separate plans, and which plan you choose will depend on your book length or the genre you plan to write in. Each allows you to complete your book in 100 days or less, starting out writing only 500 words a day.)
Another thing that helps with overwhelm is to remember that you don’t actually need long glorious swaths of uninterrupted writing time — you just need a few minutes a day. I wrote my first novel in the 15-minute stretches between classes or as I was waiting for the bus to take me to work.
It can be done! I promise. You just need to create a writing habit.
Finally, I would suggest trying to get your writing done first thing in the morning rather than waiting until later in the day. When we are very busy, we tend to prioritize things that are urgent over things that are important. By writing before you do anything else, you are tapping into the power of first priorities. No matter what else life throws at you, you will feel satisfied all day knowing that you got your writing done.
These are three of the most common reasons for procrastination. (You can read the other three most common ones in Part II.)
If you are ready to kick your procrastination to the curb once and for all, I would highly encourage you to sign up for my free mini-course, “Stop Procrastinating and Write the Damn Book.” When you sign up, you’ll get five tiny video lessons delivered to your inbox over the course of five days. The first video is only six minutes long.
You’ll also get the resources you need to tackle these three causes of procrastination, including the Master Accountability System for Writers (broken down by your personality) and The Writing Plan That Actually Works.
Why are you procrastinating? Let me know in the comments!