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If you’d promised to become a more regular writer in 2022 and you’re already failing at your resolution, here’s how to stop putting off your writing…
It’s nearing the end of January, the time when New Year’s resolutions start to fade into the background.
Soon, they will become like the wallpaper on your walls or the tchotchkes sitting in your hallway cabinet – you’ll just stop seeing them, even though they’re still there. How quickly does this happen? In my imagination I picture a movie montage featuring pages of a calendar rapidly whipping by — there goes January, followed by February, followed by March.
Before we know it, it will be January 2023.
If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to stop postponing your writing, today’s post will help breathe new life into that plan. Here are five tips that will make a huge difference to your ability to achieve your writing goals.
1-Do your writing first. I urge my clients to always begin their day with writing. When they raise the inevitable concern about their inability to concentrate when their in-basket is full of email (or some other urgent task is looming), I give them two pieces of advice. First, if they’re spending only a small amount of time writing (say five to 15 minutes) why can’t other tasks wait for such a short amount of time? Second, why should the needs of others displace their own need for writing?
Here is where it’s important to understand the principle of doing the important before you do the urgent. Somehow, urgent things will always get done in time — because, well, they’re urgent. But the important stuff will just fall off the table unless you give it priority. Your writing is important. Treat it that way by doing it first.
2-Don’t think of writing as work. Many writers set themselves up for failure by creating monstrously large — and all but impossible — goals. They want a New York Times best-seller. Or they want their grumpy and highly dysfunctional boss to finally respect them. Or they intend to write a dissertation that will render them famous in their chosen field and put them on a guaranteed path to tenure. I’d be daunted too, if those were my writing goals.
Instead, ask yourself this: How can you make your writing more fun? What will help make it more enjoyable for you? What gets people moving is doing something they actually enjoy. Check out your work station. Does it make you smile? Is it welcoming enough? Consider your sound. Writing in absolute quiet is not a good plan for just about anyone. Instead, you want a low level of noise (about 70 decibels) that is indistinct. (See here for some suggestions.)
Finally, make sure your goals are small enough. Any time you encounter the least bit of resistance, cut your writing goal in half, all the way down to one minute if necessary. And if you think one minute isn’t enough, remind yourself that your goal is to create a long-term sustainable habit. After you have the habit established, then you can work on increasing your time.
3-Anticipate how writing will make you feel better. Many people I work with assume that writing is going to be nothing but sheer drudgery. No wonder they have a hard time motivating themselves! If you asked me to slap myself across the face, I’d procrastinate on that task for weeks. Why? I’d know it would hurt. Instead of talking yourself out of writing by visualizing how difficult, boring or tiresome it’s going to be, talk yourself into it by remembering the intense feeling of satisfaction you get when words go from your brain onto the page. Think about how proud you’re going to feel when you’ve finally accumulated 1,000, 10,000, 80,000 words (pick whichever length you like) for your project. Imagine yourself finding just the right word. Visualize polishing a sentence into perfect shape. We have the ability to shape what happens by expecting what’s going to happen. I’m not saying writing will always be perfectly lovely. I am saying that if you go into the process expecting a good result, you’re much more likely to get it.
4-If you slip, get back on track right away. No one is asking you to be a machine or a robot. You are a human being who will inevitably slip. Expect these slips to happen and develop a plan for dealing with them in advance. You don’t want one missed writing session to turn into 20 days of missed writing sessions. When you mess up, don’t beat yourself up for it. Instead, just resolve to get back to business the very next day. A recent study published in Nature magazine showed that tiny monetary rewards can help people re-establish exercise habits. Emphasis on the word tiny. The most successful intervention turned out to be giving people the equivalent of nine cents’ worth of reward points if they returned to the gym after missing a planned workout. You can program writing reminders to yourself on your own phone and then maybe pay yourself a small amount when you’re done. Do a little bit every day.
5-Make sure you have enough support. The best way to do just about anything is to do it with someone else. Writing is a lonely business — but you can make it much less lonely by having a cheerleader on the sidelines. Find a friend with whom you can write (separately and alone) but check in with this person every day to report on your mutual progress. And if you don’t have such a person, consider my Get It Done group, which would make you accountable to me — and to 50 other people around the world. Feelings of community are strong motivators for people who are anxious to accomplish their goals.
If you’re really determined to stop procrastinating about writing, take these five concrete steps and you’ll see the difference in less than a month.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week looked at when you need an agent. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
Have you figured out how to stop putting off your writing? How do you do it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Luci McKean, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a Jan. 18/22 comment on my blog. (Please send me your email address, Luci!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Feb. 28/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!