Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 28, 2022

7 Foolproof Tricks to Outsmart Writing Procrastination

by Kris Maze

Writer’s Block can strike us all in the most inconvenient times, but today I want to offer seven tips to authors prone to procrastination. Some of us are like the tortoise and the hare—racing to the WIP finish line just to get side-tracked by the comforts or distractions of life, like the fabled rabbit’s nap.

Sitting in front of a blank screen can be painful and can make absolutely anything else feel more urgent. But what is more important than finishing your project and completing your writing goals?   

Procrastination is a natural response to an uncomfortable situation when we don’t want to complete work. We may choose to catch up on emails, watch a TV show instead, or alphabetize our bookshelf by color. These are not terrible things to do, just hurdles in the way of completing your next great novel. Whether you relate more to the rabbit or the tortoise, read on for tips to keep procrastination away.

1. Get into the habit.

One way to stay on track with your novel is to write each day or on a set schedule. There are many science-based reasons why writing daily can ease procrastination. Having a regular schedule can reduce Decision Making Fatigue, because your routine automates this part of your thinking. This streamlining declutters our mind and allows us to focus more on our writing task.

Not sure what Decision Making Fatigue is? It’s the result of the tens of thousands of decisions we make daily that wear down our ability to make more. This could be about what socks to wear or skipping them all together for flip-flops, but after making a constant stream of choices all day, the mind goes into overload and even simple choices become too hard.

Another way to reinforce this daily routine is with visual cues. Most people are wired to respond to visual cues, which may explain why we may be attracted to decorative signs that say things like ‘LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE’ (Guilty, by the way!) If you want to start a writing habit (or freshen up an old one) try leaving notes for yourself around the house. 

  • Put reminder sticky notes in the places that are most likely to distract you and keep you from writing. 
  • Add encouraging messages to your white board as you record your progress daily.
  • Tape a favorite writing quote to your monitor for inspiration.

 Let your inner encourager cheer on your writing and you will want to show up and write more.

Keeping a writing habit is essential for productive writers because it has many benefits. It frees up creative energy because of less decision making. It gets writing minds into crafting their novels faster because it trains their minds to work at that time. It makes their writing stronger as they flex their writing muscles more often. Take that, procrastination!

2. Plan your time.

Writing on a regular basis takes planning. Here are some tips for planning your writing sessions that may make them more productive. Use what works and skip what doesn’t, because everyone has a unique writing process.

Ivy Lee Method.

Using this time-honored method, writers can free up their mental energy and prioritize their to-do list daily.

This system requires a person to reflect at the end of their day. They write what they want to accomplish the next day, stopping at a maximum of six items. This forces the writer to decide which things are most important. If you have a doctor’s appointment or need to grocery shop, add it to the list. Be certain you write-a-page or 500-words type goal is also on your list. Items that did not happen go on the list the next day.

Keeping track of the daily tasks and minimizing them to only the six most important has been used in major corporations for over 100 years. It prioritizes the most important tasks and takes the takes away stress. We can use these productivity ideas for our writing as well.

Minimize Interruptions.

Honor your writing time. 

Turn off notifications. 

Wear noise cancelling headphones. 

Do whatever you need to do for your optimal writing time.

Build in wiggle time.

It make take a few minutes to settle in and get into your writing mode. Structure your time so you can spend most of it writing. The goal is to get more words on the page, right? Find a simple ritual that works for you and stick to it. Do you prefer any of these methods to begin writing?

  • Many authors begin their writing sessions by reviewing a page or two of what they wrote the day before. 
  • Some leave their work on a cliff hanger, one that they are excited about crafting the next day.
  • Other writers dive right in, knowing their first paragraph or two will probably get scrapped.
  • Pantsers play with their characters and listen to what they say should happen next.
  • Plotters find the next scene and build it from their notes.

3. Set false deadlines (and phone reminders!)

One way to trick your mind into working on your WIP is to set up a fake timeline before the real deadlines. When planning for a project, I like to give myself extra time. If I get bogged down with other work or life happens—as it does—I don’t have to stress as much.

Set up reminders on your phone. Mine give me a nudge the week and the day before I need to have a written work completed. This can be done in advance and are helpful ways I keep myself accountable for my writing goals. Saving time and to make your schedule more flexible is important when trying to write more productively.

4. Train your elephant.

This is a reference to a very interesting book called The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, by Jonathan Haidt, in which he extrapolates truths from major world philosophies and finds commonalities in how each applies similar life lessons. 

In his book, he illustrates the psychology behind motivation or why-we-do-the-things-we-do with an analogy. Haidt compares our brains to a rider on an elephant and he explains how our brains have two main functions, the fight or flight limbic system and the decision-making frontal cortex.

The elephant represents our more banal brain, full of powerful emotions. The second system is our frontal cortex in charge of sophisticated socially acceptable behaviors. The good and bad news is that creative folks tend to have very active elephants, which is great fodder for the exciting plot lines and romanticized characters, but without working with our rider our writing life can turn into a disastrous three-ring-circus on a bad day.

Making decisions helps train the elephant to work with you as you create your novel. The elephant has a tendency to go find peanut flavored cheese cake instead, so it’s takes time and repeated efforts to enable good teamwork. Training your elephant to work when you need to is an essential underpinning to defeating procrastination.   

5. Make motivational tasks last, (and watch out for avoidance tasks!)

Have you ever heard of doing the harder thing first when you look over your to-do list? I may have to disagree with that conventional wisdom. Although accomplishing the harder task frees up the writer, by getting the dreaded task out of the way, there are some considerations.

  1. Look over your to-do list first (Maybe you have your six item list in front of you? Perfect!) Are any of those tasks non-writing related? Don’t do them (yet.) Get the writing done first. The marketing and email responses can wait an hour or two most of the time.
  2. Are some of the urgent tasks things you enjoy? If you like creating visuals for social media and need to feed your Twitter, do this as a reward after finishing your writing sprints.
  3. Do you have a big, cumbersome project that would take you from writing? You could probably accomplish a writing session without cleaning the top drawer of your desk. This is an example of an avoidance task. It’s procrastination. 

Find what motivates you and follow up your writing sessions with that. It is that simple and that frustrating. (And perhaps a little influenced by the elephant taking a joy ride through an interesting thread of posts!) Keep showing up for your writing, but don’t forget to keep the focus on getting the words on the page.

6. Break the project into bite-sized pieces

Writing a novel has many layers and having an easy-to-understand map of your process can help you manage the stages. It is overwhelming to think about marketing, editing, and social media when you are working on a first or second draft. Take time to pencil out a plan, then break down your goals into pieces. Maybe you have a daily word count, or a scene to complete, but however you break it down, it should contain these elements:

  • Can be measured
  • Can accomplish the mini goals in a day.
  • Can be put in a checklist, spreadsheet, or notebook.

Track your work in manageable chunks and that feeling of accomplishment will keep you from procrastinating as well.

7. Prioritize your health.      

Taking care of oneself will improve your ability to choose to write over procrastination. It makes sense that feeling your best will lead you to better writing sessions. When we get enough sleep, eat a proper diet, and maintain at least a moderate exercise routine, we get many benefits. 

  • Increased energy
  • Lowered anxiety
  • Improved outlook and mood

Take care of you and let the muse take care of the rest. Keep writing!

Has procrastination ever been a problem for you? Have you ever been in an interesting or tricky situation due to avoiding something you normally love to do? Do you relate more to the tortoise or the hare? Let us know in the comments, I look forward to hearing from you.

* * * * * *

About Kris


Kris Maze is an author and Spanish teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her YA sci-fi and horror stories and keep up with her author events at her website which is currently getting some new fun features!

Pssst! And here is the newest news: Kris Maze also writes horror, thriller, and mystery under the pen name Krissy Knoxx. Krissy Knoxx.com is currently under construction, but check soon for fun updates and several new projects.

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her family.

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10 comments on “7 Foolproof Tricks to Outsmart Writing Procrastination”

  1. The last two really resonate for me - break the project into bite-sized pieces and prioritize your health. I desperately need to implement both those things for success and I'm not inherently good at either one!

  2. Procrastination has most definitely been a problem for me in the past. Deadlines helped, but it was too easy to get too ambitious and pile on more. In retrospect, I was trying to go full on hare when I'm more the tortoise. All your tips are helpful, I especially like building in wiggle time, false deadlines, and training your elephant.

    Incidentally, I recently realized how much I overly supervised my own creative process--trying to control the elephant rather train it to work with me. I managed to publish a number of novels and stories, but the supervision became worse and worse until it reached a crisis point. Now, I'm in the process of reconnecting with the elephant.

    Thanks for a very helpful post!

    1. Hi Dale,
      I'm glad the tips were helpful, especially the elephant and rider analogy. It is the synergy of the two that keep us moving forward in all aspects, not just our creative lives. I found it interesting, too, that trying to control the elephant just drains our energy.

      Thanks for comments!
      From a fellow hare,
      Kris

  3. I've definitely had issues with procrastination this past year. I've tried many "tricks" to get back on track. I regularly use the make a list the night before. The most effective procrastination buster I've found is focusing on my health which includes getting enough sleep. I shoot myself in my own foot when reaching the end of a manuscript or project by working late into the night. But when I'm tired this "rider" loses all control over my "elephant."

    1. Hi Lynette,
      How did the nightly list work for you? I started limiting mine to 6 and was kind of amazing how it de-stressed me.

      Staying up late, or my worse occasional habit, getting up in the middle of the night and working. It seems like a good deal to work, since it usually makes me tired, but it can turn my sleep on end for days.

      Elephant craziness ensures, for sure. 🙂

      Kris

  4. Woohoo! Love that Krissy Knoxx is making her debut! I love this post, Kris. I especially love that you lean on some older techniques. They've proven themselves. Many modern techniques build on these... and I haven't seen much good added. I do a variation of planning the next day's tasks each night. It helps so much. Sadly, I still prioritize other things over writing (website building, for example!!!) but I'm doing better at managing both.

    1. Cool, Deleyna!
      It gets tough to manage multiple tasks, family, and our writing careers.
      I'm glad you found some nuggets of knowledge.

      Kris
      A.K.A. Krissy Knoxx. 🙂

  5. Excellent article, Kris! I wish I'd read this one sooner. I really appreciated the how to avoid avoidance behavior. LOL. My graphics work will often take me away from the writing. Thanks to you I will start using it as a reward task.

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