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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How to break the cycle of procrastination. This is the last issue of my Write Question video series. Starting soon, I’m going to switch to a quarterly video that’s longer and more polished, covering important issues relating to writing. Hope to see you then!
How do you break the cycle of procrastination? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach.
I have a question from Felix Ujor, a writer based in Warri, Delta State, Nigeria. Here’s what he’s asked by email…
“I’m a freelance writer and I always push my writing time away with one excuse or another. How can I break this vicious cycle?”
Thanks for your question, Felix. In a separate email, you told me you were the father of two boys and I can only imagine how difficult it must be to deal with the pressure of supporting a family, combined with having a habit of procrastinating.
Under other circumstances, I’d suggest you do what works for the vast majority of procrastinators: Make the job so small that it ceases to create any resistance for you. For example, I tell many people I work with that they shouldn’t write for any more than 15 minutes per day. And if that requirement still causes them grief, then I suggest they cut it in half. And if that’s still a problem, half again. All the way down to just one minute.
What can you possibly accomplish in one minute? You can build a writing habit. I remember helping one PhD student finish her 100,000-word dissertation starting with just one minute of writing a day.
But in your case, Felix, I know you need to earn a living to help support those two boys. So here’s what I suggest: Make a plan for yourself dividing your work into the smallest, least intimidating categories possible.
For example, let’s say you’ve been assigned a 650-word story that’s going to require you to do an hour’s worth of reading, find a source and conduct an interview and then, write.
You’re probably looking at all this work as just one job – a scary one – the last thing in the world that you feel like doing.
But, instead, I suggest you look at it as SIX or more jobs.
- First, you have to find the reading.
- Second, you need to read this material.
- Third, you need to find the source and arrange an interview.
- Fourth, you need to conduct the interview.
- Fifth, you need to write the 650 words.
- Sixth, you need to edit those words.
I’d also throw in a seventh step of mindmapping, which you should always do before writing. Mindmapping is really fun and will make the act of writing so much easier for you. You can find a link explaining how to do it in the show-notes.
So, instead of seeing a big amorphous work monster looming in front of you, see a bunch of small, very doable jobs that you can knock off in an hour or less each. And give yourself a small reward each time you do one of them.
The rewards needn’t be expensive. Think about treating yourself to a specialty tea or coffee. Or watching a video on YouTube. Or taking a walk in a beautiful park or neighborhood. Or spending time with a good friend.
One other trick I suggest is that you get yourself away from the Internet while you’re working on your freelance writing. The lure of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all those other social media sites can distract the most determined person. And if you’re not able to do this by yourself, then use some software to help. If you’re on a Windows device, investigate Freedom, and if you’re on a Mac, look into Self-Control. Both pieces of software will keep you off of social media when you’re supposed to be writing. See links in the show-notes.
Finally, let me wrap up with the words of the American writer and aphorist, Mason Cooley: “Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder.”
Felix, procrastination is a terrible burden for many writers. Make it a priority to deal with it as quickly as you can.
Viewers, this is the last issue of my Write Question video series. Starting soon, I’m going to switch to a quarterly video that’s longer and more polished, covering important issues relating to writing. Hope to see you then!
And, if you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.