Five ways to procrastinate procrastination

Would love to write but my pet giraffe needs walking
Would love to write but my pet giraffe needs walking

I’m going to write a post on procrastination but first I need to make a cup of tea, check on a few emails, update my twitter feed, clean the bathroom and take my pet giraffe out for a walk. Oh and the keyboard could do with a bit of a polish.

Right. Sorted.  So here are five ways to get yourself started:

1: Set yourself small, achievable, immediate and visible goals.

Don’t make your molehills into mountains that you haven’t the resources to climb. Don’t panic about ‘finishing your novel’ or short story. Tell yourself you will write 100 words in the next half an hour. Make sure your aim is achievable for you at your current stage/ability or you will only dishearten yourself if you don’t achieve it. Your aims must be bitesized and easily digestible.

Don't let ambition overwhelm you
Don't let ambition overwhelm you

On her excellent writer’s resource site Debbie Ridpath Ohi invites you to sign up for a 1000 word a day or 500 word a day challenge. You can choose the goal that best suits you and she is open to setting up even smaller challenges to suit your circumstances.

Signing up for a group challenge makes you feel part of a common endeavour and strengthens your motivation, particularly if you share your experiences with others.  (Once you’ve finished your target wordcount!)

2. Use the Twitter Carrot Approach

(Instead of Twitter you can insert Facebook/Chocolate Cream Bun/Favourite TV show)

When you are avoiding a task, you often substitute it with one that seems vital/useful or is just plain fun. For me, of late, my displacement activity has been Twitter. It’s a wonderful way of networking and building up relationships with other writers and mothers, a reciprocal mine of valuable information, a venue for support and encouragement. But you can inadvertently fritter away precious writing time on this other ‘vital’ activities such as checking email, texting, checking facebook, looking out of the window and just getting a..(insert whatever it is you fancy).

No tweets until you've finished your homework!
No tweets until you've finished your homework!

After years of careful testing and validation (procrastinating again?) I have developed the Twitter Carrot Approach. I set myself a number of words after which I can have a set number of tweets or length of time on twitter. A tweet must not pass my fingertips until the set number of words is completed. In this instance you must again ensure that you goals are achievable or you will end up sad and lonely. (Cue violins). If you have been good and achieved your goal you can reward yourself with an activity of your choice. And if you’ve really been good you can find me on twitter @alisonwells)

3. Free yourself from self censure and fear

Guilt and fear are the antithesis of achievement and creativity. (Unless you want to write about a guilty and fearful person). You may fear that your work is not good enough, that you don’t have the skills, that what you have written is a heap of rubbish, that you will never sell as many books as Dan Brown. All of these may be true. Or not. And even if they are true right now, just by you being there and working through the crud you are improving inch by inch. (As an aside, I found out yesterday that the moon is literally inching away. It moves away from the earth by an inch every year.) I digress. I recently summed up my philosophy in a short, tweetable motto:

Intention, even ultimately unrealised is an optimistic orientation towards success

The fact that you have turned your head or hand towards writing, that you have it in your focus, that you are making an attempt, that you are sitting in the presence of your manuscript means that you are baby steps closer to realising your dream. The only way it will actually happen is if you jettison the guilt that you are not as far as you wanted to be, or that you should be doing more. This will only make you panic and stymie you. You need to accept where you are with it and move forward as best you can. Even if you feel you are going backwards, you have still learned something from the attempt. If you read one of your creations with horror you know you won’t go down that dark alleyway again.

Just keep stepping forward little by little and you will soon have come much further than you think.

Create a ritual that is about getting yourself in the zone

Create a ritual to get you started
Create a ritual to get you started

So much of our learned behaviour (and our memory) is cue dependent and is developed by way of association with other behaviours or triggers. Parents will know that routines can settle babies and reassure older children (and prevent murders on the school run). It can be difficult for us to switch from one aspect of our lives to another (especially if one of the aspects of our lives keeps running in and saying ‘Mummy….’ or twirls you around on your office chair). No, even when you get into your writing space, with the kids or whatever packed away (into a lockable holdall, sorry) it may take some time to settle back into your story or novel or to connect with your subconscious, its ideas and associations. (For more on how to get into your writing mind see this.)

Leo Babuata explains how a morning ritual can help you become a more productive writer. I would also suggest that you need to include some form or relaxation activity during the day where ideas have a chance to percolate. Recently my relentless sticking to an arduous early morning and evening writing routine left me drained and bereft of any new inspirations. Often a step out to hang the washing is all it takes to give me a breath of peace and perspective that gets the ideas swirling.

Whether it’s a cup of tea, a walk, a favourite notebook, a warm bottle of milk, putting on your lap blanket and your fingerless gloves, find out what guides you into your writing mode and settle yourself in to your writing session.

5. Remember its nice once you get down

It's nice once you get down - honest
It's nice once you get down - honest

Growing up on the Irish Atlantic seaboard (despite being in the Gulf Stream) a decision to swim in the sea was accompanied by a feeling of trepidation and inertia. It was always so cold as we gingerly edged our way out into the waves. We could feel goosebumps forming on our skin. But once we threw aside our caution and got our shoulders under and took a few strokes it wasn’t so bad. After a while the feeling of being in the water was delicious and I have wonderful memories of diving under the clear water, being completely immersed in otherworldliness and peace.

Once back on the shore, the pleasure of heating up again was wonderful and the satisfaction of having been out for the swim was immense. We felt refreshed and ebullient and always assured the reluctant that ‘its nice once you get down.’

You know you want to write. You know how good it feels when you start to get words on the page, when you create a fabulous phrase or a cracking character. You know how you tingle when you read something you have written and know that ‘This is really good’. And if and when you get published and someone tells you that your writing is wonderful or moved them or changed them in some way it feels great. Remember all those feelings, recreate them in your mind, then you will know why you have to just get down to writing, as fast as you possibly can.

Procrastinating postscript.

I was going to write ‘Ten ways to procrastinate procrastination’ but I realised that by doing that I would be procrastinating writing my novel. And in reading this, you may be putting off something you may be supposed to be doing. So if it’s writing you’re into, start now. Write 200 words of heartfelt gobbledygook and then another 200. After that you can have a biscuit or one tweet. And once you’ve done your 1000 words, come back to the comments and let me know how good it feels. Don’t take too long.

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13 thoughts on “Five ways to procrastinate procrastination

  1. Rissa Watkins

    Okay done! I finished an article that was due today. Great post. Procrastination is something I really struggle with as a freelance writer. Ironically enough, working on the novel is one of my procrastination methods when I should be writing articles. Thank you for the push!

    1. alisonwells

      Hi Rissa,

      Yes I think we always move towards the path of least resistance and shy away from stuff we feel we have to do, or that we haven’t quite got a handle on. It’s similar to decision making though, sometimes we put off making decisions because we lack knowledge or expertise. Sometimes as writers we may also be feeling our way along in the dark, so we either need to inform or educate ourselves in our weak area or just jump in and learn as we go – feel the fear and move through it. Easily said I know!

  2. Pingback: Der Link am Mittag: Prokrastination prokrastinieren »

  3. Hello! I’m here via Nicola’s blog and just wanted to say ‘hi’ to a fellow mother-of-four and writer!

    Like Rissa, I tend to procrastinate writing articles by working on the novel and I also procrastinate working on the novel by, well, reading blogs etc…!

    But I see it all as part of one organic process that ultimately makes me a better writer!

    1. alisonwells

      Hello all you lovely people,

      Thanks to all of you visiting from the blogoffee event and Hi to Winslow (I love that new word!) I am just back from a night away with my youngest at mother and baby conference with the wonderful Irish organisation Cuidiu (which means caring support) (closely affiliated with the English National Childbirth Trust). Just returned late last night so am getting a chance to look through your interesting blogs. Your comments and feedback are wonderful to get. We did a workshop at the conference which examined whether we were doing the thing we loved in our daily lives and were happy with our progress. The feedback you give me both here and on twitter made the answer for me a definate Yes. I am a writer, am writing, among writing friends and enjoying the whole experience tremendously.

  4. You are such an inspiration. Beautiful writing and thinking in your posts.
    Wanted to let you know that in teaching teens I bring in a ‘word of the day’ each time and yesterday’s word was PERENDINATE. It means putting off till the day AFTER tomorrow.

  5. Hi Alison
    I came across your site via Nicola’s blogoffee yesterday – I hope you saw the comment I posted there about Bog Body.
    You write so beautifully! I think that short stories are probably more challenging than novels (to write, that is).
    I’d definitely not see writing a novel as a step up in the world – just something different.

    Anyway, I logged in to comment on this particular post – to say I love the description and analogy of swimmng in the sea.

    I’d be interested in seeing other stories of yours- and/or, a novel, if you do write (or have written) one.

  6. Hi Alison! I’m just now getting a chance to drop by after Nicola’s blog party. Love your post- and I couldn’t agree more about the importance of a writing ritual.

  7. janflora

    It really does feel wonderful once you get down. Another fab post…coming from a professional procrastinator. I will work on those 200 words once I tweet this post 🙂 Following you now too!

  8. Ah – procrastination!

    I’ve been putting off thinking about it but your post reminded me once again that it is a point that I have to deal with. 😀

    I’ve written a couple of articles about this myself. My struggle is being consistent in my killing of procrastination!

    1. alisonwells

      Hi Glynis and Kathryn,

      Very happy to receive your witty comments, you seem to be procrastination experts! Know your enemy, eh? I certainly do. Looking forward to checking out your sites/details further and seeing if you can offer me any advice.

  9. What a valuable post! I am so close yet so far, I must try harder. I will now follow your rules and see how I go. First I must pop to the village store, walk the vineyards and have coffee with a girlfriend but I will do it. ;0

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