Last week I shared Part I of this post about the many faces of procrastination, and the underlying reasons it shows up. It’s not necessarily “just” writer’s block or laziness, which are the common explanations I hear.
There are actually a number of variations on the theme of procrastination, and it’s usually driven by something deeper, like feeling stuck, being overwhelmed, being hooked by perfectionism, or wrestling with past creative wounds that need addressing — some of the examples I wrote about last week.
Let’s look at a few more of these writing-stoppers that show up as procrastination.
You’re creatively confused.
Creative confusion is one of the most fascinating causes for procrastination I’ve come across (perhaps because it’s one of my personal “favorites”). Creative confusion will have you spinning in circles, not sure which direction to go with your story, considering multiple ideas and perspectives, and feeling unable to decide among them. It’s as if everything suddenly has equal value and there’s no differentiating them.
Part of the issue here is empowerment. When you forget that you’re the architect of your story and that there’s not necessarily a “right” way to write it, it’s easy to get confused. Confusion can also be a smokescreen for the fear that you’ll get it “wrong.”
Antidotes: Make the shift into action by being willing to do the work of sorting through your ideas by putting them on paper and evaluating them as objectively as you can. One of the ways creative confusion keeps you stuck is that it all happens very quickly in your head. Get it down, and figure it out. And remember that you’re the one in charge. It can also be helpful to talk it through with a trusted coach or writing pal who has your story’s best interests at heart (not her ideas for what you “should” do).
You’re feeling apathetic about your book (or script).
Creative boredom or apathy is another one of these super tricksters that can keep you locked into procrastination. You don’t write because it feels like you’ve “just lost interest” in your story. Interestingly, this usually happens when you’ve just hit (or are about to hit) a major milestone with your story, or you’re about to tackle the next stage. What’s happening here is that a new level of fear is cropping up and putting the brakes on to minimize your risks of failure.
In other words, it ain’t about the story.
Antidotes: Keep on keeping on. The only way out is through. While there may be passages in your book that are need work, that’s a storytelling problem, not “time to give up on the whole project” problem. This is the place to commit to finishing, no matter what.
This is also a great time to remind yourself of your Why for the project — why you started writing it in the first place. Sometimes just tracking back to the Why will be enough to get you in action again.
You’re having trouble deciding which book to write.
This kind of procrastination turns up when you know you want to write or feel ready to write but you can’t decide which story to work on, or you decide on one, only to change your mind in short order, usually telling yourself it’s not good enough in some way, then look around for something else to work on, only to dismiss that one too. And the next one after that.
This kind of procrastination can also look like coming up with a bazillion ideas to work with but not being able to choose among them.
Antidotes: Check out my free downloadable guide about how to choose your next book (or script) using decision criteria and intuitive decision making skills. You can also try one of my favorite bits of Steven Pressfield’s wisdom, which is to “figure out what scares you the most, and do that first.”
(If, on the other hand, you’re totally drawing a blank for any ideas at all, try Elizabeth Gilbert’s approach of paying attention to your faintest whispers of curiosity and see where they lead you.)
You’ve fallen out of the habit of writing and each day that goes by, it gets harder to restart.
If your writing practice has fallen apart — for whatever reason — procrastination has taken hold and it’s just not getting any better. Each day you tell yourself you’re going to write, but find endless distractions around the house, get caught up in work (or TV or candy crush!), tasks to take care of, or toilets to clean. This is “garden variety” procrastination in my book, but it’s still a doozy.
Antidotes: Set a very small writing goal and meet it. Then do it again the next day. And the next. Keep going until you have the practice in place. Troubleshoot any obstacles that come up — like falling into reading email or getting sucked into other tasks — and find ways to streamline your path to your writing desk each day. If you set a goal, and you’re still procrastinating, make the goal smaller until you actually do it. Get accountability to help you with this if you need it. (Work with me 1:1 or join the Circle, for example.)
You’re dealing with big personal changes.
Look, sometimes big life events happen and the idea of tackling writing at the same time feels (and may even be) impossible. Major illnesses, weddings, new romances, births, deaths, break ups, divorces, moves, and job changes are life changes that can get in the way of writing and then morph into “regular” procrastination even once the dust has settled. It’s okay. It happens. But it’s helpful to know how to deal with it when a big part of your identity is tied into being a writer and you start losing your sense of self while it’s all happening, and then wonder who you are when it’s done.
Antidotes: Be patient with yourself during the upheaval, and give yourself a little time for re-entry. You may want to have a “maintenance practice” of writing morning pages in place during these times, even as a placeholder until you can get back to your book or script writing efforts. Have a plan in place for how and when you’ll reboot your writing once you’ve made it through the thick of the experience. If you find yourself still struggling with your identity after the fact, do some journaling or coaching work to help get you back in touch with yourself as a writer.
You’re an adrenaline addict.
One of the most fascinating parlor tricks I see writers engaging in is creating an endless series of non-writing emergencies, deadlines, and disasters that make it impossible to write. This is procrastination at its peak form, because it becomes inarguable. Whatever “it” is, has become such an emergency, that it has to be done right now. At this point, it actually does. But when a writer lives this way, chasing from disaster to disaster, writing always gets to stay (safely) at the bottom of the pile.
The trickiest trick of all is that the purveyor of these hijinks deep down revels in the sense of excitement and in being the rescuer of the situation from certain doom. It turns out, writers who do this to themselves are addicted to the rush of it all, and they’ll even design it so they “get” to write this way too (at the last minute, in a mad panicked rush).
This strategy does two things. It’s a brilliant way of getting off the hook for doing your best work, because you simply can’t, not with all those emergencies to take care of. It’s also very clever way of getting an adrenaline boost of energy to face the terror of writing.
Antidotes: Admit the addiction. Make a conscious choice to stop this behavior. Learn to pace yourself — with everything, including your writing — and get ruthless about cutting out anything and everything you don’t have to do. You don’t have to do everything and you don’t have to do it all perfectly. Cut some corners!
You’re just plain tired.
Maybe you’re not exhausted, but “just” tired. Maybe you haven’t reached the point of creative burnout, like I mentioned last week, but maybe you have other non-writing commitments that tax you. Some of these are avoidable (volunteering for committees) and some are not (having little kids or an aging parent), but either way you’re tired. This tiredness becomes an excellent excuse for procrastinating. “I’m tired,” you say. “I just don’t have it in me today to write. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Antidotes: I’ve always loved the quote from David Whyte on this subject, “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest? … The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” When it comes to the daily sort of tiredness that can leave us feeling run down (as opposed to massively burned out), writing regularly — even just in small amounts — is often the cure. Also, take a look at how you’re investing your precious life energy and see where there might be energy leaks you can shore up. Look for where you’re not feeling a “Hell, yes!” about the things you’ve committed to and think about letting them go. Work with a friend or coach to inventory your commitments and see what you can release for someone else to handle.
So… what did I leave out? What other ways have you seen procrastination show up?
Tell me in the comments section below.