No matter what kind of writer you are—fiction or non-fiction—you’re probably guilty of procrastinating somewhere along the way. Frustrating, isn’t it?
Maybe you’ve started five novels and haven’t completed one. You’ve written rough drafts of essays and haven’t published any. You have brilliant ideas for magazine articles, but your drafts are hidden in the deep, dark bowels of your computer.
And you want to finish something. Anything. “Enough of this!” you wail.
But how? Advice rolls in. Keep writing! It will come to you. You’ll know when it’s good. Just do it! You’ll know when it’s ready. Write 1000 words a day. Take a break.
You need solid information and steps to take, not vague generalities and a pat on the back.
Know why you’re procrastinating, what your writing challenges are, and find solutions.
If you know what’s holding you back, you can make changes and get ‘er done.
Fear of failure, success, exposure, rejection, humiliation … writers experience so many different kinds of fear. Add other emotions like frustration, impatience, shame, and dejection and you’re scratching the surface of a writer’s inner life.
But don’t wait for fear to go away. Sometimes—most of the time—you just have to keep going despite the fear. Fear won’t kill you, so don’t let it control you or stop you.
You can feel the fear and do it anyway.
How? Try it. Say “Hello fear, my old friend. Let’s have tea and get this done.” Substitute beer or wine if that’s your thing.
Fear can be reduced, though, by increasing knowledge. What are you afraid of? How much do you know about it? Start with Google and ask questions.
Let’s say you’re terrified of submitting an article to a magazine. By learning everything you can from brainstorming to editing and query letters, you gain knowledge. And fear isn’t friends with knowledge or the self-confidence that comes with it.
Don’t fight fear. Be friends. And do it anyway.
2. Writer’s block
So-called writer’s block often gets blamed for procrastination and unfinished writing. But what if you know how to bust out of it? Would you keep on writing and reach your goals?
Writer’s block isn’t a disease or condition you have no power over. But it helps to figure out what’s causing it.
For me personally, if I feel unable to write, it’s usually resolved by sitting down and writing. Yep. I just get to it. I start writing a bunch of BS and, sooner or later, what I really want starts flowing. Or I might do some copyediting on what I wrote the day before. An outline can help, too.
But it depends on what you’re writing. You might need to roll something around in your head for a few days. Or do some research, especially for non-fiction. But fiction needs it too.
I spent a huge chunk of time on research for my recent novel. If you’ve read it, and if you think I know all that off the top of my head—bless your heart. I studied towns, maps, homes, cars, hair styles, fashion, food, hurricanes, snakes, divorce laws, condoms, stress, psychological issues, medical procedures, and even men’s underwear. Heh.
I could see the story like a movie in my head, but I was missing certain specifics. How can I describe a Victorian house if I don’t know the difference between a balustrade and a finial, a turret and a tower?
When you’re sure of your facts, your fingers will fly. Sure, you might know enough for a rough draft. But knowing your subject matter like an expert is just one way to break through to the other side. Check out some other tips on writers block right here.
3. No time to write.
This is the most common excuse for not completing writing projects or even writing at all. And it’s bullshit. I would know, since I used to be guilty myself.
You have 24 hours in a day just like everyone else. Sure, you might have a day job, kids, health issues, a family, relatives, and events to attend like any writer. And maybe you don’t have much experience with time management.
If writing is truly important to you, stop procrastinating and make time to write. It’s called self-discipline.
You have no other choice. Set your hours and schedule and guard them carefully. Practice saying things like “No, I can’t. I’m working evenings.” Make no apologies, and don’t be defensive. It’s your life, after all. Own it.
Something has to go if you “don’t have time for writing.”
- TV, movies, video games, social media excess, participation in online forums (even writing forums)
- Chatting or texting with friends (if they don’t understand, they aren’t friends)
- Coffee shop hangouts, long lunches, dinner out, unnecessary shopping (shopping as fun)
- Getting involved in every little thing that interests you, volunteering time, helping others (help yourself first!). Watch out for pressure, especially when you believe in the cause.
- Hobbies or time-consuming activities that have nothing to do with writing. Yoga, the gym, or knitting might be something you must have for exercise or to reduce stress, but you can’t do everything.
A lot of the things you do are fun or productive and rewarding. But you said you don’t have time to write. Right? Something has to go. And nobody said it would be easy.
You don’t know what you don’t know = I don’t know squared. DK2.
So maybe you thought your NaNoWriMo novel was absolutely brilliant. But at your writer’s group meeting, eyes popped and jaws dropped when you said you’ll publish it. And you don’t understand why. You stare at the manuscript they ripped to shreds, and your eyes glaze over. What does this stuff mean? And what should you do?
If you don’t know what you don’t know, find out.
Look. I don’t know Japanese, and I know that. So if I’m visiting Japan, I should take time to learn some language basics.
But I don’t know what I don’t know about Japanese culture, manners, and customs. That’s DK2. Totally clueless.
DK2 isn’t a bad thing; it’s just a thing. But if you’re a writer, investigate. What haven’t you heard of or don’t know that you should?
You might not be aware of certain conventions of grammar or punctuation. Or it could be organization or structure, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction. Maybe you’ve never heard of POV or HEA or tropes or conflicts or subplots.
Learn about everything you don’t know and move from DK2 to conscious competency.
You can hire a coach or take classes, but just as good (possibly better) are articles and checklists you can find online. Writing non-fiction or blogging? Start here. Need to understand plot structure for novels? Start here.
If you’re a novelist, I heartily recommend C. S. Lakin at Live, Write, Thrive. Check out her resources page for free, super-useful stuff (dozens of articles) plus affordable books you can buy. I have The Twelve Key Pillars of Novel Construction and a few others, and they’re great. Everything she writes, in fact, is spot on. And her checklists are super for revisions, editing, and knowing if your novel is done.
Not sure about your grammar and punctuation skills? Grab a copy of The Fast Track to Polished Prose. Pay what you want. Get to work.
Learn what you don’t know, whether it’s a little or a lot. And build on it.
5. Success and peer or family pressure
The thought of becoming successful as a writer might be the culprit behind your unfinished projects.
Successful writers, after all, hold lofty positions. What if your novel is published and becomes a best seller and a movie? Voila! You’re famous overnight. Can you handle it? Will your family and friends handle it?
The same applies to non-fiction writing. Any level of success as a writer—and the attention that results—requires adjustments. And since lots of writers are introverts, we might not savor the idea of fans shouting their praises.
Success can also isolate you from family and friends. Not so much if they’re also creatives. But many of us come from ordinary, hard-working families with “normal” jobs. How dare we write cute little stories while they work their butts off in an office, a restaurant, or a construction site, slaves to the bosses that be?
I know a writer who thought her family would finally be supportive if she became successful, but with the publication of her third novel and sales going great, they’re worse than ever with criticism, snark, and sarcasm. They just don’t get it, or maybe they’re jealous. It’s come to the point that she’s considering not attending family holiday events this year, but she’s afraid that will make things worse.
My suggestion: the best defense is no defense. Don’t expect understanding or support from them, answer questions briefly with a smile, and change the subject.
Or pretend your writing is your sex life. You don’t talk about intimate details around the family dinner table, do you? Sure, you have a lover (your writing) and your family and friends know about it, but spare them the nitty gritty. Ya know?
Every situation is different, but this is your life, your writing, and whether you succeed or fail is your business. Sure, it’s great having loyal, loving supporters. But whether you do or don’t, you still have to finish your projects.
You’re a writer, so you can’t stop writing. But when are you going to stop procrastinating and finish your projects? What do you need to do?
What’s getting in the way of your writing? Have you overcome it? How?