My thanks to Megan McArdle, whose article in The Atlantic serves as inspiration for this post.
I do have a quibble with the article’s title. I do not believe writers are the worst procrastinators. Delaying for days or weeks doesn’t come close to the decades-long procrastination of a relative of mine. I’ll say no more.
I admit, though, that it does sometimes take me a while to get into writing mode. It is a bit of a mystery why I hesitate to do what I love. Why is it so hard to sit down and put on paper the scene I have set up so perfectly in my head?
After eight hours at work, I don’t want to spend my evening on the computer
I’m reading a terrific novel
The Westminster Dog Show is on television
There are pretty birds outside the window
I attribute some of my procrastination to allowing myself to be psyched out by the habits of other writers. Many writers have stated that they have a writing goal of 1,000 words per day. That translates to not one blank page to stare out and fill, but five pages. Another thing some writers do: get up at 5 a.m. and write for an hour or two before going to work. I don’t do that for the same reason I never pulled an all-nighter in college: I would be so exhausted I would do poorly on the exam (or these days I’d screw up at work) I had stayed up all night studying for. Plus I’d be a cranky girl.
It took a long while to convince myself I did not have to follow the 1,000 word-a-day rule or get up before sunrise. I thought if I didn’t do those things, I wasn’t a “real” writer. No one would take me seriously. I took myself seriously, I finally realized. That was enough.
One helpful tip I’ve picked up from writers is something I call the Egg Timer Assist. Set a timer for a short length of time (5, 10, 15, 30 minutes) and write until the timer rings. I often set my timer for fifteen minutes. Sometimes I set it for just five minutes. Want to know what happens when I use the Egg Timer Assist? I always keep writing after time is up.
Another trick I use to spark a writing session is to set a two-page-a-day goal. Writing long-hand on loose leaf paper, one written page (front and back) equals one typed page. I don’t write on every line; skipping lines means I can write faster and in larger script. Like with the egg timer, I often write more than two pages. Less means more.
In what ways do you procrastinate? How do you get by the inertia and get the work done? I’m always ready to try a new technique for writing and the dreaded cleaning of the closets.