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Beat Writers Procrastination with a Simple Flip

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

You’re at your desk early. But an hour later, your writing outline remains undone. Meanwhile, you’ve emptied your email box … sorted your pencils and pens … separated paper clips from the rubber bands in the desk drawer.

You’ve just succumbed to a wave of writer’s procrastination.

The condition is different than writer’s block. Your writer’s block is a lapse in creativity or motivation that leaves you staring at a blinking cursor with nothing to show for your time.

In contrast, writer’s procrastination is a deliberate delay. Oh, you stay busy. You may even have lots of tidy little accomplishments to show for your efforts. But you postpone writing tasks and avoid the tough stuff.

Procrastination has a short-term benefit: you get a reprieve from hard work.

But long-term, your writing life doesn’t respond well to procrastination. At best, your productivity plummets. At worst, you miss deadlines. Neither is optimum for a writer.

7 reasons for writer's procrastination with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #WritingLife #WritersBlock

Look at a few procrastination examples for writers

Some writers procrastinate more than others. I could take space here to dissect our different susceptibilities to delay, but that would only put off the inevitable: writing. Instead, let’s jump to the heart of the matter by identifying what it looks like to postpone a writing task. You know you procrastinate when you ….

Why do you and I self-sabotage? You’re not lazy. Look at the research you’ve gathered … your color-coded grocery list … your list of email templates to try out. You invested sweat equity to complete those tasks. You’re willing to work hard.

Find what triggers your writers procrastination

It’s not about your work ethic. It’s about your mood. So says Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem,” says Dr. Pychyl. “Not a time management problem.” He backs up the assertion with a study conducted in partnership with Dr. Fuschia Sirios of the University of Sheffield, England. Procrastination, they conclude, is what happens when you focus on managing your negative moods rather than completing a task.

In other words, your attention is riveted on keeping yourself in a positive mindset. Some of those pesky writing tasks can get in the way of all those fuzzy feels. It’s best to simply avoid them so you can stay in a good mood, right? The problem is you can’t seem to get any writing done.

But there’s good news for all the hardworking writers out there who put off a writing task.

Identify the task you’re trying to avoid

In his book The Productivity Project, productivity guru Chris Bailey explains how to reverse procrastination. Shift your focus from your shortcomings like perfectionism, fear of failure, fear of criticism, and decision fatigue. Instead, zero in on the tasks themselves — and how they impact your attitude.

There are at least 7 reasons a task is so unappealing that you avoid it, Bailey explains.

  1. The task is boring: you’re not interested in the topic you’re writing about.
  2. The task is frustrating: your progress is thwarted. Maybe you cannot move forward with your writing project because you don’t have the research you need. Or maybe you have not heard back from subject experts.
  3. The task is difficult: your writing project is complicated or emotionally draining or fraught with detail. You don’t know where to start … you don’t understand the subject matter … you feel out of your league.
  4. The task is ambiguous: you lack clarity about your topic. Are you writing about laying a wood floor or are you writing about choosing a flooring material? You procrastinate because you’re not sure of your project’s premise.
  5. The task is unstructured: you’re not clear about the project’s format. Is it an article … a fundraising appeal … an eBook? You put off working on the project because you’re not sure how to structure it.
  6. The task is unrewarding: you lack motivation. You’re not sure you’ll get paid for the project. Or you’re not sure anyone will read it. Why write when you don’t see an incentive?
  7. The task is not meaningful: you doubt the project’s significance. You don’t want to spill writing blood on a project that has little to no staying power.
  8. The next time you find yourself not writing but doing something else instead, figure out why. Go through the laundry list. Ask yourself, “Is this task boring … frustrating … difficult … ambiguous … unstructured … unrewarding … unmeaningful?” This way, you can identify the trigger that makes you procrastinate.

The next time you find yourself not writing – but doing something else instead – figure out why. Go through the laundry list. Ask yourself, “Is this task boring … frustrating … difficult … ambiguous ... unstructured … unrewarding … unmeaningful?” You can identify the trigger that makes you procrastinate.

Flip writer’s procrastination with a bigger, better offer

Then give yourself a different reason to complete the task. Chris Bailey calls this, “flipping the triggers.” Or in the words of Brown University’s Dr. Judson Brewer, give your brain a “Bigger Better Offer,” or “B.B.O.” For instance, when a task is …

  1. Boring: find and interesting fact about your topic and use it as an article slant.
  2. Frustrating: find a different set of experts or a different set of data on which to base your article, rather than waiting for others to respond.
  3. Difficult: write about your topic from a layman’s point of view or a child’s point of view.
  4. Ambiguous: write out the main idea for your piece. It may take two or three or ten tries, but once you draft a topic sentence, you’ll be able to move forward with your piece.
  5. Unstructured: gather your information and write a quick, 3-point outline.
  6. Unrewarding: revisit the terms of your assignment. If you are writing on spec, then move onto a different project and come back to this one another time.
  7. Not meaningful: look at the project from different angles. What would make the subject matter meaningful to you? Get past your writers procrastination by choosing a more meaningful slant.

Flip your triggers to beat writer’s procrastination

Don’t blindly accept the lie that you’re procrastinating because you’re undisciplined or lazy. There’s a good chance that your pause in writing is an indication that you’re not fully invested in the project. Ask, “Why? What’s my mood or what am I trying to avoid?”

Use writers procrastination to your advantage. Answer the “Why?” question, and then flip your answer. Pretty soon, you’ll be out of the rut … and words will flow once again.

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