It’s the writer’s enemy, the thief of pages. It can derail the most dedicated, and sneak up on even seasoned writers. Its mere mention can send shudders of shame and loathing through the creative heart. But we need to talk about it. Are you sure you should stop procrastinating?
Think about it for a sec. Procrastination isn’t the real problem. Our big problem is that we procrastinate too much, or at the wrong time. If you could sort and order all the files on your hard drive, but still feed yourself and finish your daily word quota on your work-in-progress, would you consider that to be a bad day? What destroys a day is to realize you haven’t gotten anything else done, *only* procrastination. That feels like poo.
So I have a radical suggestion, especially if you’ve tried everything else and still feel frustrated: Procrastinate first!
Stop Trying to Stop Procrastinating
When you decide to cut a certain food, say, cinnamon rolls, out of your diet, what happens? Every other tv commercial flashes an image of cinnamon rolls. Do cinnamon toaster pastries count? But cinnamon tea is okay because it’s not a cinnamon roll. Cinnamon roll. Cinnamon roll.
Suddenly, you’re thinking more about cinnamon rolls than you have in the last seven years combined. All paths lead to cinnamon rolls.
Try to avoid sugar, alcohol, old episodes of Star Trek–anything–and you’ll find yourself obsessed. In short, when we attempt to be super strict with our habits, we often end up even more tempted. And then comes what one researcher dubbed the “What-the-Hell Effect”. This phenomenon explains why, when we cave in and eat one cinnamon roll, we end up polishing off the entire pan. Or why we finish an entire season of Star Trek instead of watching just one. Or why we goof off for the whole afternoon instead of working on our WIP.
Instead of grounding yourself and going for another round on the carousel of shame, guilt, and regret, step off the all-or-nothing ride and take a deep breath. Don’t stop procrastinating. Enjoy it.
Why You Need Procrastination
The truth is, we need procrastination. When we’re relaxed, it allows our brains the creative space they require to work on ideas. In fact, if you’re feeling creative burnout, I’ll bet you’ve also been very busy. With no time to piddle around, your creative content engine has slowed way, way down.
Give yourself the freedom and the permission to procrastinate. But instead of using it to avoid your work, get it out of the way before you start writing.
Get Really Honest
Make a list of all the things you like to do *while* procrastinating. For me, the only time I want to clean the house is when I’m procrastinating on a writing project. I also like to watch the PBS Masterpiece productions of Jane Austen classics, anything by the Bronte girls, and anything Sherlock Holmes. I like to take long meandering walks with the dog, when I can pause for sniff breaks every twenty yards without hurrying him back home. (He’s getting old; I want him to have all the sniffs he likes :’-( ) Gluten warning: I like to bake bread. I like to read. Some days, I like a nap.
List all the distractions, both good and bad. Then, go over your list. Cross out the things that make you feel awful, like watching trailers on YouTube. If your procrastination activity is something you accidentally spend an hour doing it and it brings zero value or positivity to your life, cross it off the list. But highlight or asterisk the things that make you happy. If you discover something that makes you feel wistful when you read it, and a little knot of joy forms in your center, note it.
Using your list, plan at least one of your happy procrastinations into your day–TODAY! Set the timer and let yourself daydream and goof off for 15 minutes before you start writing. When the timer alarm sounds, reset it and write for fifteen minutes. And when that time is up, you can keep writing or you can leave your writing space and do something else.
Do this for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. Are you satisfied with your progress? Are you surprised by how much you’ve accomplished, or bummed that you haven’t reached your goals? Make some adjustments. Your goals might be too big for the time you’ve allowed. Set big, scary, ambitious goals but don’t forget to chunk them down into manageable steps. You know you’ve gotten the size right when it’s still a challenge but the phase you’re in excites you. If your next steps make you want to jump back into bed and forget anything exists besides your cozy den, your cuppa, and your borrowed library book, take some time to really reassess.
Another thing that drives me to procrastinate on ridiculous time-wasters is dread. I’ll lie to myself, too, so I have to get really honest. If I’m avoiding my WIP because of dread, I have to find out why. Am I bored? Is the scene illogical or a bad fit for my characters–they’re behaving in unrealistic ways? If something’s not working in your project, your subconscious can be exceedingly obnoxious. It will throw a wrench in the works to warn you, and it’s not afraid to use everything in its arsenal–including procrastination.
Get to the bottom of it. Then you can be brave and fix the problem in your WIP, and get back to really enjoying sweet, sweet procrastination.
NOW YOU: Do you feel like you need to stop procrastinating? Do you make bargains with yourself?
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