“The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write.”
—Unknown

How To Stop Procrastinating Before It’s Too Late

Every writer deals with procrastination. It’s one of our key traits. We put off the next chapter, the next article, and wait until our deadline is just a few days away. Then we frantically type away at the keyboard, hoping that we have enough time to edit it before it’s too late.

But why do we procrastinate?

the time is now

Photo by asja

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for this year is to procrastinate less. I’m probably the biggest procrastinator in my family. There’s always something I’d rather be doing, always a new way to organize my room, always a friend I haven’t e-mailed in forever. Why? Why do I put projects off? I only figured out the answer to this question a few days ago.

It turns out that there are multiple reasons why one might procrastinate. Here are three possibilities.

1. You’re Scared

You’re scared of rejection, of failure, of negative criticism. You might be hesitant to write because you’re not sure how people will react.

The truth is, there’s no point in not trying. You can’t please everyone in the world. If you tried to do that, you’d be stuck with an impossible feat that pulls you in a hundred different directions. That doesn’t make anyone happy, including yourself.

Put your brave face on and write what you’ve been meaning to write for a while now.

2. You’re Stuck

You’re out of ideas. That dreaded writer’s block has gotten the best of you again. You’re putting off opening that document because you know that all you’ll do is stare at it for ten minutes before going off to check Facebook.

I’ve put off writing posts I really did need to write for weeks because I had no idea what my topic was going to be. When I finally did sit down at my computer, I realized that I had dozens of ideas. I just had to look for them.

 3. You’re Bored

Your story is no longer interesting. You’ve squeezed all of the excitement out of your plot and now all you have is a dry sponge.

This has happened to me too many times to count.

This problem is actually quite easy to fix, though. Add a plot twist, a new character, a surprising secret that no one knew about your character until now. You’d be surprised how many chapters you can get out of that. All I added was one surprising secret about my minor character and suddenly the word count in my story has doubled!

Try it!

Do you procrastinate? If so, why? How do you handle it?

PRACTICE

Write what you’ve been putting off for a while now. (Come on, I know you have something). If you really and truly don’t have anything that you’ve been procrastinating, write about a character who is procrastinating an important project.

Write for fifteen minutes and post your practice in the comments. Be sure to comment on a few other practices, as well.

Have fun!

About The Magic Violinist

The Magic Violinist is a young author who writes mostly fantasy stories. She loves to play with her dog and spend time with her family. Oh, and she's homeschooled. You can visit her blog at themagicviolinist.blogspot.com. You can also follow The Magic Violinist on Twitter (@Magic_Violinist).

  • Melanie Ormand

    It is NEVER too late to start writing!

    • themagicviolinist

      How true! 😀

  • Being out of ideas is familiar to all writers. That look like …but that’s so easy to forget. We need just to open a dictionary and start reading the definitions. It helps me to wake up. Therefore my Lithuanian-English dictionary is with me wherever I go.

    • themagicviolinist

      What a fantastic idea! I’ll need to start using that. 😉

  • T.L. West

    Unfortunately procrastination is a major problem for me. Add in recent health issues, and getting myself to sit down to work on my book has been rather difficult. A couple of months ago I set a goal to write a minimum of 15 minutes a day, 6 days week. Up until two weeks ago, I was sticking with this plan. In fact, as I suspected would happen, once I sat down to write, I usually spent more than 15 minutes per session. I am not sure what changed, but I have not even attempted to write in days.

  • Kim Dixon

    Ok, here’s mine! I’d just like to sayy ‘No herb was harmed in this writing practice’.

    ‘I’m not getting any younger’ she sighed deeply, why was this such a big thing? It’s really simple, I was told that it just won’t work if you procrastinate every time, it’s just not natural. She looked at the book one more time, it was getting well worn, especially on this page.’Hmmm…take some calendula and put it here and rosemary, now, where was that supposed to go, oh yeh, under here and don’t forget lovage, we all know why that works! ‘ she stuffed plenty of that down her knickers and headed up the three flights of stairs. Time to get pregnant!

    • Oh my goodness, in her KNICKERS?? Won’t that be dreadfully uncomfortable?? The mind boggles. Herby baby, hehe. Made me giggle!

      • Kim

        Funny that… Shr did get pregnant, had a baby boy and called him Herby! 🙂

        • serenity8

          You crack me up, Kim. An outlandish sense of humor is a great asset for a writer and you’ve got that! But I must tell you that stuffing herbs in your knickers is not the way. You make a bath into a big cup of lovage tea and get in there with your beloved and make waves. Herby T. will probably be a Pisces, but Pisces is a very good sign. I should know. 😉

          • Kim

            LOL! Thanks Serenity! Yes, I’m married to a half Piscean half Arian (is that how you’d spell it?) which means he’s REALLY determined to.. er…procrastinate. 🙂

    • The Striped Sweater

      Oh, my.

    • themagicviolinist

      I was DEFINITELY not expecting that ending . . .

  • George McNeese

    There are days where I am better at avoiding procrastination than others. What helps me is if I write out a daily schedule. I’ll have it on my iPhone and can check off the tasks I completed. Having a schedule in front of me, I can carve out a time to write or read.

    • themagicviolinist

      Ah, schedules. I love lists. They help me so much!

  • That’s a great post. Would it be ok if I posted a comment tomorrow?

  • R.w. Foster

    You forgot two:

    4) You’re inherently lazy. This one is mine. As long as it’s fun, you’ll do it, but the moment it feels like work… Yeah, so I fight with this frequently. It’s very hard especially with the next one.

    5) The internet is so shiny. I go to my search engine of choice to look something up, or I go to tvtropes.org for inspiration (don’t judge me), and the next thing I know, 7 hours have passed, it’s bed time, & I haven’t added anything more to my story.

    As for solutions, I’ve tried many, like Cold Turkey and Blank Slate, but haven’t had any stick. Any ideas?

    • Time yourself? 15 mins writing, then 10 mins internet, then 15 mins writing?? or something…

      • R.w. Foster

        I tried that with Cold Turkey. That program shuts you off from accessing certain websites. I found myself wasting time with yahoo news because yahoo was my unblocked search provider.

    • themagicviolinist

      Sounds like your biggest problem is the internet. (That’s mine, too)! If you still need a search engine of some sort to look things up, try working on a really slow computer so it’ll drive you crazy to use the internet (I’m using a slow computer right now). Or maybe you can shut off the internet completely for a half hour. If you need to look something up, write a note in red to remind yourself to look it up once that half hour has passed.

      • R.w. Foster

        Gosh, no. A slow computer makes me violent. But, the blocking the internet thing would work. Thanks for that. It that solution had been a snake, it would have bit me.

  • Janey Egerton

    “Do you procrastinate?” you ask, dear Magic Violinist.

    “Yes, now and then,” is what I would say if I wanted to be dishonest, but the truth is that I am the person for whom that word was invented in the first place. Yes, I mean it. You wrote that you’re the biggest procrastinator in your family. Very clever. If you had written something like “in the world”, I wouldn’t have taken the time to read the rest of your post. I would have already been writing a comment telling you that I am the biggest procrastinator in the world. Yes, that’s the kind of procrastinatress I am.

    My biggest problem is that I try to deal with procrastination by procrastinating even more. Let me give you a few examples to illustrate why I mean by that. For instance, after years and years of waiting for the right moment to come, I decided to finally start writing my first novel last November. On the same day as I started writing my doctoral thesis on a topic completely unrelated to the art of creative writing or to anything that would constitute an interesting novel. I submitted the thesis ten days ago, nearly two months past my original deadline. I wonder if I had been able to meet my first deadline had I not started writing my novel at the same time. The answer is, “probably no”. I would have watched more TV. (Damn you, BBC iPlayer!)

    Joke aside, the answer is no because I need procrastination to carry on. My doctoral thesis comprises two hundred eighty pages on the defect mechanisms of digital circuits. I love the topic, but technical writing can be very boring. The methods have been implemented, the experiments have been performed and analysed, you have processed the feedback you got from fellow scientists. Of course you have to think about how to write things (and design graphs and tables) such that your readers (four professors and maybe your wife) will be able to understand your ideas on a topic they don’t really care about, but you know what you have to write about. It’s hardly a work of creativity. It’s more of a craft. So when I got that feeling that I had written words like “thus”, “hence”, “therefore” or phrases like, “let … hold for all i,” I knew it was time to stop and switch to the novel. And then I would work only on the novel for several days, rejoicing in the liberty to use contractions,

    metaphors and creative spelling (one of my characters has a Glesga brogue). But then I would run out of ideas and get back to the thesis.

    That’s how it works. At least for me. I think that procrastination is necessary. I have found out that it is not possible for my brain to concentrate on one single thing for too long. I need to take the time to miss what I have to do. And then I will return to it and enjoy it, not just do it. Now that I finished the thesis, I’m still procrastinating. Yesterday, for example, as I realised that I was not in the mood to write a certain scene that will probably not make it into the final draft (Sometimes you have to write scenes to get to know your characters.), I ended up customising my text editor for three hours. In my defence, I use Emacs as text editor. Customising it means having to write Lisp scripts, reading documentation, googling for implementation examples, and in the end you customise things that you hadn’t planned at all. (Now I have the date displayed on my menu bar and my initialisation file is three hundred lines longer.)

    I just can help it. I’m in a phase where my characters don’t want to do anything interesting. But I don’t lose my patience. I will keep doing other things that need to be done. One of these days my characters will start to talk to each other again while I’m showering. I will close my eyes, let the hot water relax my body, and watch my characters live their life. After the shower, I just have to write it down.

    Janey

    • I love ‘Procrastinatress’! Cool word. Well this gives me hope for this damn Service Improvement Project I have to do…maybe writing the one will push me to write the other?

    • themagicviolinist

      I agree with Kate: “Procrastinatress” is a wonderful word! 😀 And this whole comment you’ve just written? This would be a great excerpt from a book that from the POV of a procrastinator. Take this part for example: “My biggest problem is that I try to deal with procrastination by procrastinating even more.” What an intriguing and poetically written line.

      Good luck with everything! 😀

  • Evelyn Puerto

    As another commmenter said, just plain lazy

  • My problem is being scared. I have written the same chapter 3 different ways and I am still not happy with it. It never seems good enough somehow. Time for a change of direction!

    Lets try this:

    They say your eyes are a window to your soul. If that is
    true (and I believe it is) then Evangeline Loveheart’s soul was a frozen shard
    of blue ice.

    She was otherwise quite lovely to look at – tall, elegant
    and beautiful, with curly golden hair and soft ivory skin. She drifted about in
    long floaty outfits in layers and shoes with kitten heels that clicked softly
    as she walked. Of course, this wasn’t her real appearance. It was just a shell
    that she lived in, like a particularly fortune hermit crab.

    She had a calm, clear
    voice that could charm sweeties from the hands of babies, and the same voice
    when you crossed her, but with an edge of psychotic insanity. And those eyes –
    those EYES! –that could cut into you with the sharp precision of a surgeon’s
    scalpel.

    If you looked at her from the corner of your OWN eyes, you
    could see the tell-tale shimmer, like the heat rising off tarmac on a hot
    summer’s day, that told you she was a witch. That’s if you knew what to look
    for, and I did. Evangeline taught me herself.

    • That was beautiful! You managed to paint her so well with words. I was able to feel her presence while reading this.

      As for your Chapter 3, I hope that you have finished your first draft. I rewrote my Chapter 1 at least five times and spent a week on that before having completed the first draft. Only a lot later did I realise that the premises for the whole story didn’t add up, and now the beautifully crafted and re-crafter Chapter 1 is gone for ever 🙁

      • Thank you! And yes, it does occur to me that I might change the whole chapter AGAIN later. I’m just trying to find the best jumping off point for the rest of my novel!

        • Have you considered the possibility of forgetting the jumping off point for now, and just getting on with writing the rest of it? You can come back to your first chapter when you have a better idea of what you are jumping into?

          • I guess I could. I think I have been trying to make my protagonists the witch hunters, and I wanted to make the first chapter about them, but now I’m starting to think maybe my villainess is my protagonist. She certainly seems to want it all to be about her.

    • themagicviolinist

      I think you’ve nailed it. The opening line is perfect, you paint a picture EASILY, and you’ve intrigued me. 🙂 Wonderful!

      • Thank you so much, TMV!!! I’m happy you enjoyed it!

  • Juliana Austen

    Procrastination? What if it is more than that? A crisis in the writing life? Am I a writer? I find it so hard to sit down and enter that other world, record it, live it – I wonder is this what I am meant to do? If I am forcing myself to write, the ideas are not there that world is closed to me, should I cut my losses? Find another creative outlet? Stop beating myself up and enjoy this life I am living? I have given it my best shot – taken time off to pursue my dream of writing but that driving need, that obsession that it seems to me marks the true writer is just not there. It has been a painful revelation but liberating for all that. Good luck everyone – pursue the dream!

    • themagicviolinist

      Never doubt that you are a writer. If you write–no matter what you write–you ARE a writer (to steal Jeff Goins’s words). 😉

  • kathunsworth

    Love it Joe I do it that often, but my problem is I have too many ideas and keep coming up with new ones. My daughter told me that I seem to never finish anything. Whoa a slap in the face from my ten year old. NOW I am focusing on one project and writing down all the mad ideas to store for later. Great post to keep me on track thank you.

    • Janey Egerton

      That happens to me, too. That’s why I’ve ended up writing short stories no one will probably ever read. But I tell myself that writing those shorts is practice, and practice is always welcome. Besides, you never know when those written-down ideas will come in handy.

    • Debra johnson

      this is me, right down to the quick. I counted last nite( as I procrastinated writing) and I have 10+ stories that do not have the end to them. Some of them I wrote back i 2006. (I wrote the dates on them). Any way, I tend to put off til tomorrow because I will start a piece and know the direction, be it horror si fi romance ad it suddenly go another way and I quit. I tell myself it it wont stay in the original genre that I started it wont be good. or I have failed some how when it suddenly takes a left turn when I wanted it to go right. Does that make sense? And if so how do I fix it if there is a fix it for it.

    • themagicviolinist

      Sometimes somebody pointing out your flaws is the best way to focus on fixing them (It’s worked for me). Kudos to you for attacking the problem! 😀

  • David

    I bought a book once called “Overcoming Procrastination” – I never got around to reading it – HONEST TRUTH. I did start to read it but it was a bunch of psycho-babble and I lost interest almost immediately.

    As far as writing goes though, I’m only really beginning to toy with the idea of writing something, a blog, a book, an article. But I haven’t got the slightest clue how to begin.

    • R.w. Foster

      Out on a limb here, but I’d start with a letter. 😉 I’m kidding. I couldn’t resist.

      Serious note, though: What do you read? That’s what you’d be best at writing. Then, decide if you like a rigid plan, or if you like to stream write. If you’re a fan of rigid, outline. Fair warning though, as you write, you will deviate from your outline. Don’t let it bother you, though. Just re-write your outline as soon as you can. Then, write.

      Are you a scheduler? Then schedule time to write. Are you a person that prefers to let the whim take you? Do that. Set yourself a goal: Maybe write for 15 minutes a day. Maybe write 250 words a day. Fair warning, though: once you start, you probably won’t want to stop. That’s one of the greatest things about being a writer; the not wanting to stop when you’re flowing. And, hey, if nothing else is urgent, keep going.

      Have fun, man. Good luck. And, welcome to the world of writing.

    • themagicviolinist

      That’s too funny! I wonder how many people bought that book and never read it . . . Trying to write a book for procrastinators to read sounds like a tough job to me.

      There are lots of fun prompts out there to help you start a book or a blog. I found a good blogging prompt I really liked that could work well as a beginning post. Here’s a link to the one I did: http://themagicviolinist.blogspot.com/2013/06/abcs-of-my-awesome-life.html

      Good luck! 😀

  • thanhk. information great

    • themagicviolinist

      No problem!

  • The Striped Sweater

    Up the cracked driveway to the half crumbling house, that’s where you’ll see it. In through the double doors with a whoosh and a splash–what splashed?–and up the stairs to the sofaworkoutartstudio. One wall is red and another blue. There are paint cans dribbling in the corner. Papers, some in neat stacks, swirl into drifts on the floor, and there are at least two cats underfoot. A white wedding dress is swinging from the chandelier, apparently hung there to dry mid-washing. The half-finished hem sways in the breeze flowing in through the open screen. Chocolate crumbs and a bottle of half-drunk port adorn the table. There’s a card game ready to play. This is the house of imagination.

    • Kim

      Clever! Excellent practice!

      • The Striped Sweater

        Thanks, Kim.

    • themagicviolinist

      I loved the description! 😀

      • The Striped Sweater

        Thank you, violinist.

  • martygav

    I think I procrastinate because what I am about to do does not feel like fun, or pleasurable….call it boring, or hard, and it’s all the same to me.

    How I get around it, and get going, is I just show up. Physically. Put butt in chair, and get going, and I reduce the anticipated pain or aughhh in that, by telling myself its more important that I show up and produce than it is for me to be good, because, once I have put some stuff down, I can always go back and fix it up later.

    • themagicviolinist

      Things that aren’t very fun tend to get put off. ;P I have to learn to get it done early, otherwise it takes forever to finish it all, putting off the fun stuff!

  • Kim

    Has anyone heard of Dramatica?

    • serenity8

      That sounds like a prescription drug with side effects, Kim. Can cause scene stealing, belting out Sound of Music in grocery checkout lines, and delirium that causes you to move to Hollywood to become a star. I’d check with your doctor before taking it.

      • Kim

        He, he, he! (Gosh it’s really hard to write down laughter isn’t it?) Ha, ha, ha! (Without it sounding like Father Christmas)… I like it Serenity! I did check with my doctor but he’s got a bit part next week, some screen play about a guy who spends his whole life procrastinating so he’s a bit busy he thinks…

  • Kim Dixon

    Worth checking out… http://dramatica.com/
    Apologies if I’m duplicating!

    • themagicviolinist

      I’ll have to check it out! 😀

      • Kim

        Let me know what you think…

  • Anne

    Thanks! I don’t have writer’s block very often, but when I do, it’s tough.

    • themagicviolinist

      Writer’s block is the worst. ;P

  • serenity8

    Procrastination: a five syllable word that means a tendency to chase one’s own tail when they should be getting on with the uh… tale. It’s about going into mental hyperdrive to explore new worlds because being stuck on the last world with chores and deadlines was not fun. Procrastination may be futile, but that is not going to stop us from trying. Procrastinators quote/misquote Star Trek a lot. We have many hobbies and are willing to pick up a new one right now for lack of a graceful ending to our writing practice. We know all the verses to Caspar the Friendly Ghost & you don’t even have to dare us to sing them. And we know the Canadian National Anthem even though we are not Canadian. Oh, Canada! I’ve always wanted to visit. Now seems like a good time…

    • Kim

      How did I miss this post? Bloody funny! I like the Star Trek bit and the Caspar bit… Oh sod it… I like it all… Now where did I put my guitar, oh yeh, I sold it… You have a fan Serenity.

    • themagicviolinist

      This is hilarious! 😀

  • Diane

    “Procrastinator!” my husband huffs, as he whisks past to worship the golf gods. “You’ll never get that thing written.” He rolls his eyes. I freeze, drop-jawed, stunned by the sudden lump in my belly and the flash of anger. Who does he think he is? Sure, over the past year I have garnered notebooks of, well, notes and scratches of outlines, snippets of character information, backstories, ideas of beginnings, plus a shoebox stuffed with overheard comments, interesting words, and questions that float in my head, but no first draft yet. I’ve gobbled books on plot/structure/openings/you name it, and I know the time is close to commit what I’ve learned to paper. Soon. I feel it. I’ve only been gathering stuff for a year! So, I ask you: is that such a long time?
    It is?
    You mean the husband is…gulp, right?

  • Evelyn Chew

    Your post totally hit the nail on the head 🙂

  • Mohd Mujahed

    Wow Magic Violinist this was an awsome article.Also check out the similar one at: http://graduatescorner.com/index.php/2015/11/12/how-to-stop-procrastinating-by-doing-the-assignments-and-work-in-time/