2 Ways to Beat Writing Procrastination and Finish Your WIP

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Today's guest post is by Amina Cavallo. Amina is a writer and audiobook narrator who believes stories carry unique beauty. Her blog, Numawok Creative, launching Fall 2017, explores ways for writers to thrive and create meaningful stories. Download her free guide: “Jump Start Your Rough Draft with Character MVPs.”

We hear voices in our heads in the middle of the night. We see scenes in our minds like movies and are compelled to capture them on the page. We look around at the world and notice things, things other people might not see. Writing procrastination—well, that's just not in our vocabulary, right?

2 Ways to Beat Writing Procrastination and Finish Your WIP

We are lovers of stories. We gasp at expertly crafted sentences. We smile at innovative turns of phrase. We’re left breathless at the fierce beauty of a story well told.

We are writers. And writers write, right?

Well…

Sometimes, Writers Don’t Write

The thing is, sometimes writers don’t write. Sometimes life gets messy and we make sacrifices for those we love. The season shifts and we have to bump other things up on the priority list. But then there are those times when we’re just plain procrastinating.

Can you identify with this?

There are many reasons we end up putting off our writing: distraction, lack of discipline and laziness to name a few. But, often, there’s a little more to the story.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

I’ve been procrastinating writing for my work in progress (WIP) for the past 6 months. After much writing procrastination and reflection I finally asked, “What do I think is going to happen when I sit down and open up my laptop?”

“Nothing.”

I didn’t truly believe I’d be able to write anything.

And that got me thinking. I’ve written before. Why couldn’t I do it again?

Well, one factor was that I was stuck. I didn’t know how to tackle the next chunk of my WIP. So, in my mind, trying to sit down and write was a guaranteed failure.

But what was my definition of a successful writing session? What was my definition of progress? A lot of the time we measure success by the number of words we put on the page. Making progress equals more words.

Maybe that definition was part of the problem.

Progress Isn’t Always Increased Word Count

Yes, books need words, but we don’t need to accumulate words for the sake of word count. We writers need to change the way we think about work, about progress, about creating.

It’s not just about getting words on a page. That’s one part of the creative process, but not all of it. Another essential component is something we were great at when we were kids.

Daydreaming.

Yes, daydreaming. Earlier today, I decided to face my procrastination head on. So, what did I do? Believe it or not, I didn’t sit my butt down in my chair and strain my brain trying to come up with an idea. That sounds a lot like creative constipation.

What I actually did was look through my notes and refresh myself on my story. Then I took my dog on a walk. On this walk, I listened to my sister talk about a book she’s working on. Then, I took a long, hot shower.

Why am I telling you this? Not because I’m a fan of over-sharing, but because it gives you the freedom to change your definition of “progress.”

In the shower, I let different ideas float around in my mind. I remembered my biggest desire for my story—the most precious themes, characters, dynamics—but held my plot and the abundance of other story details loosely. I let it become fluid, taking nothing for granted. I toyed with things I’d considered fixed. I asked myself, “why not this?” “How about that?” “What happens if I modify this?”

And, lo and behold, after an hour of “not-writing,” I’d been more productive than I’d been for the last six months. Armed with some intriguing new dynamics, I now have fodder for my next writing session. I won’t have to strain or stare at the dreaded blinking curser. I’ll have things to play with.

Progress isn’t always words on a page. Progress can be looking at your story with fresh eyes. The new possibilities are inspiring. And inspiration is fuel—a necessary pre-requisite for forward motion.

Are You Stuck in a Rut?

The other huge reason why I was putting off my writing was because I was stuck in a mental rut.

We writers tend to contract a bad case of tunnel vision regarding how we think about our plot and how we think about our process. Let me explain:

In my WIP, I’ve been fixated on the notion that I have to write some sort of escape/chase/mad-dash-through-the-city scene. But do I?

Also, I actually have several scene ideas for the beginning of book 2 of the series. Why can’t I start writing those? Who says I have to finish book 1 before working on book 2?

And I skipped over several scenes in the beginning of book 1. Why can’t I go back and work on those?

Why was I so fixated on writing that specific chase scene? I don’t know. Sometimes we impose strange restrictions on ourselves that, when examined, aren’t necessary.

Was completing that scene actually required for making progress on my WIP? No, not at all. And once I realized that, I realized I did have ideas for what to write; just not in the order I’d initially thought.

So, the next time you find yourself procrastinating, try one or more of the following before moseyin’ on over to that blank page.

2 Ways to Beat Writing Procrastination and Actually Write

  1. Question assumptions.
  2. Challenge expectations.

Sometimes the expectations we put on ourselves come from within. Sometimes they come from trying to replicate what we see other writers doing.

Remember that everyone’s writing process is unique. Don’t get me wrong; learning from the techniques of others is valuable. In fact, it’s a great starting point for beginners.

But if we expect to fit into another’s mold, we tend to feel ashamed when we don’t get the same results.

Using other people's processes is just a starting point. We have to discover our own. If the process isn’t working, tweak it.

Have you put any unreasonable or unnecessary limitations on yourself? On your story?

What are your feelings about what you need to accomplish with this draft of your WIP? What do you believe about how you must accomplish this? Is there another way?

Allow Yourself to Daydream

In the shower, taking a bubble path, on a walk, on your commute.

While doodling, free writing, chatting with a friend. Whatever.

Realize that daydreaming is not a waste of time. It’s actually critical to the writing process.

Remember why you want to write this story.

Don’t worry; you’re not making any decisions here. Play with your story. Let it be fun!

What kind of assumptions have you been making? About your story? About your process? Let me know in the comments section!

PRACTICE

Think of your work in progress. Rather than writing a new scene, take fifteen minutes to free write about your story. Let your imagination wander, and jot down whatever comes to mind.

Some questions to get you started:

  • What assumptions have you made about your story?
  • Why have you planned the elements you've planned?
  • What would happen if you changed one thing about that plan?

When you're done, share the highlights in the comments. Did this free writing give you any new ideas? Did it affirm what you already know about your story?

Don't forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

This article is by a guest blogger. Would you like to write for The Write Practice? Check out our guest post guidelines.

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23 Comments

  1. Fernanda

    I want this book to be sort of everything I’ve live the past months. Something you can read and you can identify to. Something that reminds you a broken girl and how she moves on. But last night, a friend of mine asked me if I really wanted to move one from the boy that sort of inspired me to write this book. And I had no idea what to answer. I realized how much I tried to make a hero out my broken story but I just couldn’t move on by myself. And now, I’m procrastinating because I can’t write anything since that conversation.
    Then I stared at my draft and think on how I only have 13,000 words and I’m running out of plot. (At least that’s how I feel right now) And I’m stressed thinking how much I have to make for this book and how harder this is getting. I had no idea making a book would mean me actually interpreting my story. I thought I was just making a tragic love story. Now, I guess I want my book to feel real. For you to read it and think on how much I went through while reading it. I want this to feel made with love and tears and I think maybe I’ll finish this book happy at the end.

    Reply
    • Amina Cavallo

      I can totally relate to all the mixed emotions that come with writing a story. Though I haven’t written a story that has been so close to significant events or relationships in my own life. That is super brave! Just considering tackling it is a big step.

      It’s also great that you identified that it will require you interpreting your own story. And you know how you want your readers to feel and you know how you want it to end. If you keep those two things at the forefront of your mind as you write, it should help give you some direction.

      Also, you mentioned feeling like you’re running out of plot. What if you made a list of all the things you can remember feeling and doing throughout your relationship? Can you identify any turning points in your relationship? Big moments?

      Journaling about that relationship might inspire ideas for your plot. Good luck, Fernanda!

      Reply
  2. Azure Darkness Yugi

    I so needed this tip. Many times I said to myself “I’m going to write today.” but I always get sidetracked and think of other stories.

    Reply
    • crystal johnson

      I know, I’m a single mom and it’s hard to sit down and create.

      Reply
    • Amina Cavallo

      Glad it helped! Based on what you said about getting sidetracked and thinking of other stories, something I came across today might interested you. It doesn’t have to do with getting side-tracked, but with having many interests. http://www.accidentalcreative.com/podcasts/ac/podcast-everything-emilie-wapnick/

      Also, I don’t think it hurts to write many stories at the same time. It will take longer to finish them, but if that works for you, go for it! 🙂

      Reply
  3. retrogeegee

    Good post for where I am with the short story I am trying to write for the short story contest. My assumption is it is too difficult to take what I have learned through Writing Practice posts and apply that learning to a 1000 word story. Good writing is supposed to show not tell, but how do you show character shifts and plot changes in 1000 words? Isn’t 1000 words rather minimalistic for telling a story? My assumption is showing change takes dialog and time. If I did a straight first person telling of the story that would be quite possible but not using what I have learned. I know I have read some short stories that are mostly told rather than shown. Are there times when telling the story is acceptable? When given a certain word limit in a contest is there an acceptable level of telling and showing or are there some methods of showing that are handled with fewer words necessary than when showing? Or is all this some kind of trap that I have set for myself simply because showing rather than telling takes more thought?

    Reply
    • Amina Cavallo

      I’m glad my post was helpful! I love how you worked through your assumptions about short stories.

      It sounds like you really want to use what you’ve learned through the Write Practice to create a great short story. You want to build a great plot and show character change, and you want to SHOW it, not just write ABOUT it. But you’re not sure how.

      Well, I just thought of a little challenge for you! What if you just use the first draft to TELL the story? No pressure. No frills. No tying your brain in knots. And it doesn’t have to hit 1,000 words. In fact, maybe aim for 500.

      Then once you’ve got the kind of story you want, don’t go straight to the second draft. Think about the story you’ve told and do the daydream thing. Maybe keep it in the back of your mind for a day or two with the goal of considering different ways to show the changes the character undergoes. Maybe read other short stories (or not if you think that would be distracting or stressful).

      Jot down notes throughout the day. Maybe give yourself a deadline so this doesn’t go on forever. But when you feel you’ve gathered enough ideas, take them and use them to flesh out that second draft.

      Let me know how it goes!
      Social Media @numawokcreative and email = amina@numawokcreative.com

      Reply
  4. crystal johnson

    This is a great pick-me-up, I haven’t written anything since September. Now I’m ready. It’s crunch time.

    Reply
    • Amina Cavallo

      Awesome! So glad it motivated you. I’d love to hear about what you’re working on!

      Reply
      • crystal johnson

        I’m going to enter the summer writing contest

        Reply
          • crystal johnson

            Thanks

  5. Sebastian Halifax

    Most of my daydreams are about scenes and events that take place in future story arcs.

    Reply
    • Amina Cavallo

      That’s great! When it’s time to write those books, you’ll already have a lot to work with!

      Reply
  6. George McNeese

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been struggling with this notion recently. I want to create a short story series to post on my blog. The issue I have is that my stories are more of vignettes than actual stories. They really don’t have a lot of conflict. I wrote one story in the series, but have yet to start another.

    I know I’ve been looking at progress the wrong way. I look at word count. I look at whether the story is interesting to the reader. I look at whether or not the story is actually a story. I don’t allow myself to daydream. Perhaps I should.

    Reply
    • Amina Cavallo

      I’m so glad the post sparked some new thoughts for you!

      I checked out your site and was looking at your latest post about your writing. If your goal is to turn your vignettes into stories, I bet you there’s a way to channel that frustration and discouragement you’re feeling into them to accomplish that. Use you’re own journey to fuel the story’s conflict, if that makes sense. Maybe there’s a transformation from excitement to ambition to disillusionment? (Not that you’re disillusioned.)

      Maybe identify an emotion you’re feeling strongly at the moment and think about moving that further along the continuum (positively or negatively). For example, a lot of people in the US are feeling nervous and uncertain. Can you tap into that and add a character arc who either starts off feeling that but ends up finding a way to be confident or vice versa?

      Also, regarding what you wrote about short stories in your post, these links are not necessarily about that, but might point you in the right direction. I listened to them a few months ago so I don’t know how relevant they are to your situation, but they might be interesting 🙂

      https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2016/08/22/short-stories-that-sell/
      https://diymfa.com/podcast/episode-141-susan-perabo

      Not sure if any of this helps, but hopefully it’s food for thought 🙂

      Reply
  7. Alison Smith

    To defeat procrastination, you just need to start something. Because if you sit and just think about it, nothing will change. So, for example, I had to write a narrative essay. I could not think of anything for a long time. I found many articles, such as this one https://www.essayvikings.com/blog/the-personal-narrative-essay-outline/. But still. But at some point I realized that you just need to start this and start writing, and the thought will come by itself. And so I forced myself to write my task.

    Reply
    • Amina Cavallo

      I totally agree that there comes a time when we just have to start writing, Alison. At the end of the day, it’s not thinking, but writing that is required. 🙂 I find it helps to give myself deadlines so the “thinking” doesn’t drag on forever. But I’ve found that if I build in space between writing sessions to play around with my story, it pays off with fresh and interesting ideas! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Dori Acuff

    Daydreams aren’t nothing really about the things I wiring about right now. They usually are about me and my grandchildren playing in the yard or me taking fishing. Or even taking back to the beach. So how is that going to help me with my writing my story. Sometimes I think I should write about them. Then I am like no that would be silly. Or would it?

    Reply
    • Amina Cavallo

      Hey Dori, I see what you mean! I like to think of this kind of daydreaming as “strategic daydreaming”. Meaning I’m intentionally thinking about all of the elements of the story I’m currently working on. I’m letting my mind wander within that context. But random daydreaming definitely is a great way to get new ideas!

      Reply
      • Dori Acuff

        Thank you for your comment BC you have only been that was. I know I probably not a very good writer right now. But I wrote almost every day. I guess it’s more like a dairy or Journal.
        I mean it’s mainly for me and my grandchildren so they can see everywhere I have been. BC I don’t know if I will be able to take them and see where I’ve been.
        I have cancer so I am traveling to see places that I might not be able too. I have a very good friend that drives a semi truck. And she took me to show me the places I have only dream.
        But I want to day thank you again for you input.
        Dori

        Reply
  9. Hannah Sheets

    After reading these posts, I feel as if I need to start by saying this.

    Hi, Im Hannah, and I am a negligent writer.

    Group: “Hi Hannah”.

    lol.

    Now, that being said, I have an albatross around my neck.

    It is a chapter book of short stories that I have been picking up and putting down for almost 7 years now. I have 14 chapters written and 12 to go. They are all life experiences, as I do not write fiction. Granted there is a bit of literary embellishment to the truths I tell for dramatic effect. I would be remiss of I didn’t divulge that information to you. All of these stories are extremely hard writes, edits, and reads for me. Every time I churn a chapter out it feels as if I have been gut punched, and I need a nap. And I usually approach the keyboard with a sense of dread when I know I have been called to release another demon from my soul. The calling usually comes for me late at night, and holds me into the wee hours of the morning as it’s prisoner. But alas, in order to free these howlish tales, I must continue.

    I have found that Disqus has helped me to channel it a bit due to the face my channel followers are hounding me to publish though. I do love this place so. But, long story short, I do have a neglected three eyed monster lurking within me begging to crawl through my fingers and seep into my hard drive.

    Reply
  10. HUMAYRA BUBLY

    To overcome tarrying, you simply need to begin something. Since on the off chance that you sit and simply consider it, nothing will change. Along these lines, for instance, I needed to compose a story article. I couldn’t consider anything for quite a while. I discovered many articles http://thedailydrudgereport.com , Yet, eventually I understood that you simply need to begin this and begin composing, and the idea will drop independent from anyone else. Thus I constrained myself to compose my undertaking.

    Reply

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