HOME  |  ABOUT  |  ARCHIVES  |  SUBSCRIBE  |  SEARCH

A Seven-Step Program for Procrastinating Writers

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity. Andrew Marvell’s poem “To his Coy Mistress”

In the quote above the poet Andrew Marvell was contemplating time’s pressure in another context, using it as persuasive device to bring a lady round, but writers feel time’s weight for other reasons.

Image of Coffee & Donoughts

Step 1

In a recent Washington Post column on “The Writing Life,”

Image of Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers talked about a problem endemic to those who write.

After describing the shed in his backyard where he goes to craft his prose, Eggers said:

And here is where I spend seven or eight hours at a stretch. Seven or eight hours each time I try to write. Most of that time is spent stalling, which means that for every seven or eight hours I spend pretending to write – sitting in the writing position, looking at a screen – I get, on average, one hour of actual work done. It’s a terrible, unconscionable ratio.
Given Eggers’ record as a fairly prolific author and editor, I’m a little suspicious of his claimed 1:7 productivity ratio. Still, most of us who’ve tried to perpetrate writing have had experiences very like his.
When I was in my 20s and working for a magazine where I was expected to pump out a major article each month, I had a pretty fierce case of what some might call writer’s block. I enjoyed doing the research and so would prolong that job indefinitely, anything to put off the terrible moment when I found myself alone at a desk facing a blank page in a typewriter.
Step One

Eventually, I developed an elaborate ritual where I’d go to a McDonald’s or an old-fashioned coffee shop (this was the pre-Starbucks 1970s) and order myself a coffee and one donut. Then, and only then, could I begin to hand-write my first draft. The donut was both the reward and the signal to write. Out of desperation, I’d created a Pavlovian psychological trick that served to get my pen moving. Oddly, the bustle and hum of other people (and that donut) seemed somehow to free me up in a way that a quiet office with a shut door could not. And I was not the only young writer on that magazine who seemed to need a deadline to concentrate the mind.

Writers are famous for wasting time and worrying about it. Here’s Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the British poet and critic, in a typical lament confided to his journal at age 32:
Yesterday was my Birth Day. So completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruits of a month.—O Sorrow and Shame. . . . I have done nothing!
As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve realized that this problem does not belong to writers alone, though we do seem to suffer from the most acute cases. There’s a new book on my reading list called Procrastination: The Thief of Time (I’ll get to it some day), in which the editors collect the latest research by social scientists on this vital topic. Another useful piece is a 2003 Psychology Today interview with two experts titled “Procrastination: Ten Things To Know.”
In the years since my donut days I’ve learned a lot about wasting time, developed more elaborate systems for dealing with the problem, and – I like to think – become more efficient.
Step Two
Another key for me is to break down the vast sweep of that seemingly insurmountable blank page into more structured, smaller tasks. James Surowiecki, reviewing Procrastination, describes the problem this way:

But some of the philosophers in The Thief of Time have a more radical explanation for the gap between what we want to do and what we end up doing: the person who makes plans and the person who fails to carry them out are not really the same person: they’re different parts of what the game theorist Thomas Schelling called “the divided self.” Schelling proposes that we think of ourselves not as unified selves but as different beings, jostling, contending, and bargaining for control.

Jostling selves bargaining for control – that sure sounds like me. And here’s the solution according to Surowiecki:

Since open-ended tasks with distant deadlines are much easier to postpone than focused, short-term projects, dividing projects into smaller, more defined sections helps. That’s why David Allen, the author of the best-selling time-management book Getting Things Done, lays great emphasis on classification and definition: the vaguer the task, or the more abstract the thinking it requires, the less likely you are to finish it.

The horror, the horror

So for me, this means when blogging, a rigid three-posts-a-week plan. A man can get into the rhythm and the compulsion of three posts a week. Tuesday, Thursday, F
riday – a post will go up. Like the seasons, these days are fixed, unchangeable – or so my mind has come to believe.  Another crucial component: someone besides me is watching. Yes, I’m well aware that if I were to miss a blogging deadline, my blog partner Kaze would be on the line before the day was over, and while Kaze is pretty much a pussycat, I really don’t want to disappoint him.

Step Three
Things get more complicated when we talk about writing fiction. Nobody cares if I ever write a story, so I have no external reward, no Kaze waiting for the post to appear. The plan I follow here is one I’ve lifted from Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: either produce 1,000 words a day, or spend two hours a day doing hard, serious revision of previous drafts. It also helps if I pile on more structure. For example, a recent assignment to self: write a series of very short stories, no more than 500-750words each, all of them about being on the road. Anything that makes the big blank space seem smaller encourages writing.
Step Four
Social media is a black hole, so it must be handled the way you handle nuclear waste – very cautiously, following rigid rules. Every time I go into Facebook or Twitter, I set an absolute limit on how much time I can spend on this visit, usually 15 minutes. When that time is up, I exit. Otherwise, I’ve learned you can get sucked into surfing interesting thought lines across the Web and three hours can pass with very little to show for it.
Step Five
Another trick of the mind: it’s very helpful to keep track of how much time you’re spending on tasks – as if you’re a lawyer and charging a client by the quarter-hour. Since my day job now is a consultant, I’m used to keeping track of time in this way.  The simple trick is to treat your own personal writing – be it your poem, novel, story, blog post, or freelance work – in the same way.
Step Six
Keep a writing log, says Meggin McIntosh of the Writer’s Sherpa Blog. How many words you’ve written each day, how many days in a row you’ve written. The brain likes habit and when it notices that you’ve built a string of 10 consecutive days of 1,000 words on your novel, the odds on your doing 1,000 words on the 11th day go up. I like to call this channeling my compulsions.
Anthony Trollope

So let’s match up these techniques with that grandmaster of productivity, Anthony Trollope, the English novelist who cranked out 49 novels between 1847 and 1882 while holding a day job as a traveling postal inspector.

How did Trollope do it? Routine, habit, channeling his compulsions. Each day Trollope rose at 5:30 a.m. and wrote till 8:30 a.m. His metronomic goal, usually attained, was 250 words every 15 minutes.
Step Seven
And Trollope’s psychological trick, his advice to writers?
Let their work be to them as is his common work to the common laborer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,—as men have sat, or said that they have sat.
Few of us can be a Trollope, but we can use his methods to maximize our own production.
What tricks do you use?
Writer doing what writers do.
Are you a time-waster? Take Copyblogger’s test to see.
And thanks to Tatyana Gann, author of “How To Easily Remove Writer’s Block in 10 Steps,” for that nice photo of a writer looking out a window.

91 Responses to A Seven-Step Program for Procrastinating Writers

  1. Two suggestions for stealing another few minutes from the morning to devote to your work: 1. dispense with shaving; and 2. there's really no need to button your clothes.

    With warmest regards.

  2. Thanks, AT, well noticed.

  3. Fantastic. I am a Norwegian author who found this while procrastinating. Hugs. The bottom tip is now assimilated and my writing log now says: 24/1/2011: —

  4. A lovely article. I suppose was far from alone in feeling a little funny when I saw this pop up as a Twitter link and then put off reading it for 3 hours so that I could go back to worrying about the fact that I was still putting off writing today.

    Gads.

  5. THIS [WILL HOPEFULLY] INCREASE THE QUALITY OF MY LIFE BY TENFOLDS.

  6. My way of dealing with procras involves applying the old adage that your greatest weakness is also your greatest strength. So my greatest weakness, procrastination is how I make a living: consulting on workplace productivity and personal energy management. Hey, it works! :) Love the post. Helpful, specific, and great quotes. Thankyou.

  7. Thanks to all in this comment chain for your very nice words on this post. Sorry it took me a while to catch up with them.

  8. Pingback: Tweets that mention A Seven-Step Program for Procrastinating Writers | 317am.net -- Topsy.com

  9. I, too, found this on Twitter while procrastinating. Really appreciate the tips though. I think the writing log will be a helpful tool if I can manage to do it, and if I could shut off social media, or maybe the entire internet, I could definitely be more productive. :)

    • Alas, Shawna. We live in a world of social emdia and the Internet, and they can be useful at times. For example, you found this post. Thanks for the nice comment.

  10. Pingback: The Perils of Popularity: GRRM | 317am.net

  11. Pingback: Blogging 101: How To Write Boffo Headlines | 317am.net

  12. Pingback: The Grit Scale: An Aptitude Test for Writers | 317am.net

  13. Pingback: The REAP: New Stat Sweeps Blogosphere | 317am.net

  14. You really make it seem really easy along with your presentation but I find this
    topic to be really something which I believe I’d never understand.
    It seems too complicated and extremely vast for
    me. I am looking forward to your subsequent post, I’ll try to get the hold
    of it!

  15. Thanks in favor of sharing such a nice idea, piece of
    writing is nice, thats why i have read it completely

  16. Provides a free service provider web site compliance
    assessment to any service provider contacting us from anywhere in the USA.

  17. My recommendation to anybody with an exotic automobile is run……There are a number of nicely certified mechanics in Savannah.

  18. It’s not uncommon for spells to be mis-solid, and when they do they backfire upon the caster.

  19. Students be taught to make connections between Chemistry and
    different branches of science, together with on a regular basis life, which helps them enjoy the subject.

  20. Copyright © 2014 Onni Group of Companies Inc.

  21. The Canberra Instances have supplied the Franklin Charity House mission with promoting
    spots in the lead up to the Auction.

  22. Whatever the viral content material is, it must encourage folks to share with others so as many people as possible receive the content’s message.

  23. Stainless-steel is extraordinarily durable and will resist dents,
    scratches, and chips higher than most every other jewelry materials.
    The cost of chrome steel is sort of reasonably priced – way more so than jewelry pieces produced from different
    materials. Develop into a rep for Jewelry In Candles for only $29.ninety five!

  24. The expansion of wealth and the institution of cities throughout the
    Renaissance put an end to the medieval form of the theater, as everlasting theaters have been inbuilt many cities and the
    itinerant theater of the mediaval period fell from use.

  25. Widespread situations affecting the attention embody bacterial conjunctivitis, refractive
    errors, and eye strain. Bacteria causes bacterial conjunctivitis (or pink
    eye), which is highly contagious but easily handled.
    Eye pressure is caused by prolonged use of electronics
    or reading and is handled by resting the eyes.

  26. This essay remembers and pays homage to these public intellectuals of the early and late nineteenth century
    who dared to disagree with popular opinion and proceeded to
    debate the dangerous discourse of race and the fallacy of White supremacy.

  27. One concern with these audio system is the plastic housings that seem to
    be prone to cracking.

  28. When the British entered the war on four August 1914 they had solely a small skilled military by European standards.

  29. http://www.monogrambusinesscards.net/shopping_cart/product_id/b8fe351e7dbb115f19bc018dcf239f76.html Christ died for our sins. Dare we make his martyrdom meaningless by not committing them

  30. Open Supply Meditation is open, rational and logical.

  31. Lead Sharing within the real estate office: The workforce can share leads throughout the group.

  32. Keep away from know-it-all tour managers and
    hidden costs associated with typical DIY holidays.

  33. Thanks for taking a second to share your fantastic experience at Music of the Sea!

  34. Eh bien c’est la grande force de cette utility : connaissant la place de votre visiteur, votre
    App Store Locator vous permet maintenant de lui suggérer en 1
    clic le meilleur itinéraire pour se rendre à votre point de vente, le plus vite doable.

  35. Shipping within the US later this March, the Canon EOS
    80D will probably be priced at $1,199 (about £826,
    AU$1,675) for the physique by itself.

  36. Digit offer code, bet365 casino provide code watch
    on line casino royale on-line 2k prompt play casino evaluate
    our analysis full.

  37. Tak boleh berangan tidur sepanjang perjalanan di tengah kegelapan malam yang indah.

  38. More folks than ever are now utilizing the voice search
    systems integrated with these virtual assistants to search the online instead of
    traditional typing, which implies an apparent
    change of focus from written to spoken keywords in search engine optimization.

  39. Neither these tablets are clinically tested and confirmed for safe
    use nor are their chemical structure conducive for human consumption.

  40. All these chosen high quality software program is
    offered to us without the usual excessive popups or spyware and with out the low high quality software program.

  41. Will Ferrel’s humorous hit shows of how Ricky Bobby makes it
    to the very best of the cars racing globe, nonetheless subsequently loses it all after having a
    nasty collision, the narrative.

  42. The transaction value is often round Rs 5 to Rs 15 depending on the worth of the quantity transfered.

  43. The fictional typical family person employs some 80-100 gallons of water a day – obviously living off grid we
    are not going to utilize that-much water (and once water can be a limited source,
    it really is hard to observe folks leaving the drain operating).

  44. For the very best assist, select Nurse Mates clogs with a again or an athletic-fashion shoe that suits your foot arch
    and width.

  45. Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your
    articles? I mean, what you say is important and everything.
    Nevertheless imagine if you added some great visuals or videos to
    give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and video clips, this site could certainly be one of
    the greatest in its field. Terrific blog!

  46. Hello everyone, it’s my first pay a quick visit at this web
    site, and piece of writing is really fruitful designed for me, keep up posting such posts.

  47. Se para poucos se trata apenas de uma bolha e também um esquema
    porque os usuários antigos ganhem em cima dos novos, outros enxergam no noção
    a teoria mais perigosa da web ” e também um potencial para revolucionar sistema financeiro e também fabricar uma economia paralela,
    gerida para e também por pessoas.

  48. They do not generate income when you painlessly get
    rid of herpes from the comfort of your house!

  49. ขายยาสอด ขายยาเหน็บ ยาทำแท้ง
    ติดต่อได้ 24 ชม.
    http://www.ขายยาสอด.com
    0988190748
    0988191257
    ID line : 0988190748

  50. Hi there, You’ve done an excellent job.
    I’ll certainly digg it and personally recommend to my friends.
    I’m confident they’ll be benefited from this web site.

  51. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Zac Efron and their Baywatch crew strike a pose in the first
    official photo.

  52. Gives web-based address record processing and advancement services.

  53. The strap is a cheap-feeling, plastic agfair –
    similar to the kind of watch you might buuy
    at a novelty retailer.

    My blog – glasses major

  54. Though impression that is minor is made by Kidman since the
    love awareness, a brooding Sail delivers star quality while the stock-car racing driver who
    must learn to control a thing that’s out of control.

  55. Featuring The Rock”, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson, and the hot,
    reckless heartthrob Zac Efron as Mitch and Matt respectively, Baywatch is about two lifeguards who set
    out to uncover a devious plot in order to save their Baywatch Bay.

  56. 脱毛サロンを選ぶ時は、脱毛費用の無駄を省くためにもお支払い金額を比較してください。脱毛サロンによって大幅に料金が違うので、安いところを探しましょう。この時、お得なキャンペーンも必ず確認してください。

  57. Realizaram-se, ainda, muitas viagens pelo núcleo da cidade com um veículo privado e, também, nos coletivos públicos,
    registrando com fotografias os perigos e também os
    transtornos para motoristas e também passageiros pelas ruas de Ouro Preto.

  58. Thank you for being my own teacher on this theme. I enjoyed your own article quite definitely and most of all liked the way in which you handled the areas I widely known as controversial.
    You are always incredibly kind to readers really like me and let me in my living.
    Thank you.

  59. Priced at ₤ 5,694 per night for rentals or as much as $20,000 (₤ 13,898)
    for a 12-hour shoot, it absolutely is on the greatest end of the Airbnb
    scale.

  60. Great post, I conceive people should acquire a lot from this weblog its real user pleasant.
    So much good info on here :D .

  61. My brother recommended I would possibly like this website.
    He used to be totally right. This put up actually made my day.
    You cann’t consider just how a lot time I had spent for this information!
    Thank you!

  62. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to
    this fantastic blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for
    bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to fresh updates and will share this website with my Facebook group.

    Talk soon!

  63. If you would like to take much from this piece of writing then you
    have to apply these methods to your won weblog.

  64. En effet, cet appareil doit être adapté à vos besoins et nous n’avons pas tous les mêmes.

  65. virtual wifi router cannot connect
    download virtual wifi router beta
    virtual wifi router version 2

    You would certainly find some dead spots, even all of the city.

    They are bulky, mechanical, for something more to not work right.

    First, buy a local sim that has voice and data,
    then stick that into your iPhone.

    virtual wifi router compatibility
    virtual wifi router download windows xp
    virtual wifi router connected but no internet access

  66. Certains modèles peuvent même être qualifiés d’aspirateur robot haut
    de gamme du fait qu’ils offrent différents programmes de fonctionnement,
    un moteur silencieux mais aussi des systèmes de vidange et nettoyage des brosses automatique ;
    vous n’aurez véritablement rien à faire, hormis le mettre en route ou programmer
    à l’avance sa mise en route !

  67. If you would like to get much from this post then you have to apply
    such methods to your won weblog.

  68. Pour ceux qui ne souhaitent pas nettoyer les éléments à la
    principal, les pièces peuvent être placées dans un lave-vaisselle sans les endommager.

  69. Metabolic abnormalities, such as high insulin levels, also play a role in female adult acne.

  70. ACE Cash Express does not perform typical credit checks
    on their prospects, making qualifying for a money advance from them simple even for those with lower than perfect credit score.

  71. Hey very cool website!! Guy .. Excellent .. Superb ..
    I’ll bookmark your website and take the feeds also?
    I’m happy to seek out so many useful info here in the post, we’d like develop extra strategies in this regard, thank
    you for sharing. . . . . .

  72. Rencia Luxurious Transport are one of Finest choice luxurious chauffeur transportation service in Orlando ,
    Florida that specializes in VIP transportation.

  73. L’espace de rangement pour les accessoires, dans une boîte à element, dans le bol ou, mieux,
    dans le socle, a son significance that’s également lors du choix de votre robot multifonction.

  74. Condo neighborhood associations generally charge dues and membership fees.

    Also if you can keep a binder that will hold all the information including brochures and online printouts, this will help you to stay organized.

    Chances are you won’t walk into parties and many social gatherings to you may sometimes need
    to force the issue with others.

  75. 青ひげを薄くするためにメンズクリニックでひげ脱毛している男性も増えています。でもサロンに行かなくても自宅で青ひげの対策をすることは可能です。その方法には家庭用の脱毛器とひげを抑えるローションなどを使います。そもそもヒゲには成長のサイクルがありますから、一旦エステでヒゲ脱毛しただけで完了ということはありません。時間をかけて脱毛していく必要があります。ひげ脱毛したいという男性のなかには他の体毛も対策したいと考えている人もいるでしょうから、家庭用の脱毛器を買ってヒゲといっしょにすね毛などを脱毛してもいいでしょう。ローションでムダ毛対策するのも有効です。お風呂上りや髭を剃ったあとに塗ることで、ヒゲ自体が柔らかくなったり、濃い髭を薄くすることが可能です。

  76. Não podemos permitir que a vida passe por nós sem que a vivamos com energia e estímulos que nos transmitam felicidade.

  77. Read over the phases of the moons and so hte fluctuation of the
    planets. Ensure that you commit alchemist elixirs as said
    by wildlife.

    Also visit my homepage – selfhelpworks – Audrey
    -

  78. Hi there mates, how is everything, and what you want to say concerning this article,
    in my view its in fact amazing in favor of me.

  79. The discovery of this subtype of immune cells, called CD8αα+ T cells, opens a new avenue of research study to establish a vaccine
    to treat and prevent herpes simplex infection type 2,
    or HSV-2.

  80. always i used to read smaller posts which as well clear their
    motive, and that is also happening with this post which I am reading at this
    time.

  81. Aprender sozinho não é fácil, além do que poderá adquirir vícios que
    depois serão difíceis de serem tirados, poderá sofrer quedas desnecessárias machucando-se, não terá noção
    das técnicas adequadas à boa condução da bicicleta.

  82. Comecei a tomar Goji Life depois que vi
    em várias revistas e weblog falando sobre os
    venefícios.

  83. A sexta entre as atrizes pornô mas ricas do mundo possui 3 milhões de dólares de patrimônio.

  84. Il est doté d’une bande anti-collision qui se
    trouve sur l’avant de l’aspirateur robot.

  85. I’ve been exploring for a little bit for any high quality articles or weblog posts on this sort of space .
    Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this web site.
    Studying this information So i’m satisfied to convey that
    I’ve an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I discovered
    just what I needed. I most surely will make certain to do not omit this website and give it a look
    on a continuing basis.

  86. La tondeuse nez Panasonic ER-GN30-K503 permet de supprimer d’une
    façon simple et très rapide tous.

  87. I’m amazed, I must say. Rarely do I come across
    a blog that’s both equally educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail
    on the head. The issue is an issue that too few
    people are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I came across this during my hunt for something concerning this.

  88. Hi colleagues, its enormous post regarding teachingand fully explained, keep it up all
    the time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>