Procrastination in Writing

Writer’s block. That blank sheet of paper staring you in the face. It’s a student’s worst nightmare: THE RESEARCH PAPER.

This week I’ve been reliving all my procrastination behaviors from my student days: I’ve been putting off a research paper of sorts – a professional writing job that involved collecting, organizing, and commenting on some sources related to Bernard Shaw and feminism.

This is what it’s felt like: Carrying a cement block on my back. Living under a gray cloud. Dealing with a gloomy mood, a frozen brain, and fears that I’ll never get it done, it will be awful, and I’ll have nothing to say.

You’d think that by now – I’ve published six books, along with numerous articles in magazines, journals, and other media – it would get a little easier. Nope.

Worst of all is the guilt. I can’t enjoy anything because the dreaded task is hanging over my head.

Luckily there are strategies for getting out from under. Here’s what worked for me this week:

1.  Jump-starting my brain.

The unconscious mind will do a lot of the organizing and writing without our even knowing it if (and this is a big IF) we give it something to work with. Every day I’ve been reading and taking notes. Result: An unbelievably messy computer document (bad) that’s also an encouraging start to my writing project (good).

2.  Doing a little every day.

Small is Beautiful is the title of a collection of essays by E. F. Schumacher – and a great principle to live by, especially when a dreaded project is looming. If you commit to doing something to move the project forward every day (and, of course, follow through with your resolution), after a while it gets to be a habit, and the momentum is there when you need it.

3.  Doing it badly.

This is counterintuitive advice, but it works. Honest. Commit yourself to producing something awful. What always happens is that I discover a) The task isn’t so terrible after all, once I get myself going and b) I can improve it to make it something I’m proud of.

And that’s exactly what seems to be happening, to my immense relief. Try these tips for overcoming procrastination in writing.  They really work!


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