One afternoon, the miraculous happens. You have time to write! Maybe your spouse took the kids to swimming class, or an obligation was canceled due to weather. Whatever the case may be, you have one full hour. Perfect! Time get one closer to finishing your novel.
But, just five minutes of social media first …
And you get sucked in. Soon, your hour dwindles away, and your unfinished manuscript is left to gather virtual dust. You're not alone. So many of us give into procrastination. The good news is, you can overcome it.
First, we need to understand why we do it:
Procrastination is easy
Let’s face it. Writing is hard, but procrastination is easy. Our brain likes to keep us in the comfortable familiarly that it’s used to. So when you attempt something new, like trying to write a book, your brain tries to shift you back into the world it knows, not as a method to sabotage you, but as a way to keep you safe.
Fear of failure
Deep down you may want to finish your book and release it into the world, but if you fear criticism or failure, you may be subconsciously taking action (or inaction) to not finish your manuscript. Each time you put off writing, you postpone your novel’s completion. An unfinished novel will never get a 1 star review, but it will never get a 5 star review either, so don't give into fear.
Nothing kills a project like perfectionism. While you want to put your best work out there, you need to know when something is ready. If you constantly place unreasonable pressures on yourself, writing will no longer be enjoyable, and you'll never finish that novel.
The big picture is overwhelming
You may sit down and ask yourself, “How will I ever finish an 80,000+ word manuscript!” After all, you’ll need to come up with characters, a plot, a world. And then organize it in a way that will keep readers engaged. Characters will need compelling dialogue, and oh, watch out for those plot holes. When a project is as complex as a novel, it’s very easy to talk ourselves out of it. This is a big reason why so many writers quit long before they finish.
Yikes! So how do you win?
At the end of each day, no matter how large or small your accomplishments are, I want you to celebrate. Pick a way that’s meaningful to you. For me, I love slowing down, reading a good book with a glass of chocolate milk (or wine). Or sometimes, I take a walk outside and just savor the nature around me. Regardless of how you celebrate, always make sure that you acknowledge that you achieved something, and that will motivate you to continue.
Recognize and accept fear
It is natural and okay to be afraid, especially when it comes to writing and releasing a book. You may have heard that you need to push outside of your comfort zone to achieve anything. Personally, I think that’s half true. If you go too far beyond your comfort zone, I believe it can create a lot of anxiety. It’d be like deciding to run a marathon before you’ve trained. I suggest engaging in actions that are almost out of your comfort zone and build up from there. For example, if you are terrified of sharing your writing, first post your work anonymously online for others to critique (scribophile.com is excellent). Once you’ve become comfortable with that, try a local writing group, where you can discuss your work with peers. Keep building up your comfort level, and soon you’ll be pitching to agents.
By that, I don’t mean ditch quality. Always do your best work possible. But be aware if you you find yourself overthinking or focusing on minute details that aren’t really that important. Feedback from a writer’s group can help you determine if something is “done” and when it’s time to move on.
Break down large goals into smaller steps
Writing an entire novel is daunting if you don't break it into steps. So focus on the parts. Make a goal of finishing a chapter, a scene, a paragraph. I also highly recommend creating an outline of your novel first so you have a clear direction to follow.
If you adopt these practices, you’ll begin to develop a new mindset: that you are truly in control of your success and can overcome procrastination. Of course, this will be a gradual change, and, most likely, you’ll have moments where you revert back to old ways. And that’s okay. It happens. Overtime, you'll find minimizing procrastination becomes easier, and you'll finally hold that completed manuscript in your hands.
Do you have a great tip you'd like to share with other writers as to how you overcome procrastination? Let everyone know in the comments.