There’s this thing we do when we have to take out the trash, scrub the bathtub, or visit the in-laws.
- “Right after this nap.”
- “Right after the game ends.”
- “Right after I hit 110 on this World of Warcraft toon.” (Currently sitting at level 1.)
It’s called procrastinate, and for good reason. No one wants to do chores because we don’t get anything out of them. (Unless you count a fresher smelling kitchen.) That’s why the allure of video games isn’t surprising: you kill something, you get a reward.
So why do we still procrastinate when it comes to something we want to do–like write?
I mean, we don’t hem and haw over whether to eat a cupcake or not.
- “Nah, I think I’ll eat it next week.”
- “Maybe after I eat this huge salad.”
- “I have to go work out first.” (Said no one ever in the face of cake.)
You do want to write, right? You do dream of sitting in your pajamas every day, writing for hours, chain-smoking and drinking scotch, right? Being a best-selling author, going on whirlwind book tours, speaking at international writing conferences, and being nominated for Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, right?
The problem with writing is, we’re not getting a sugar rush or anything else for that matter after putting in the time. Sure, you can fool yourself into thinking you’re getting a reward by actually giving yourself something when you’re done (a cupcake perhaps?), but that’s going to be costly both for your pocketbook and your waistline if that’s your only source of motivation.
What can you do instead? So glad you asked. Here are five ways to start (and keep) writing that don’t involve rewards.
1. Face your fears
You may think you’re not writing as much as you’d like (or at all) because you don’t have time:
- “I have to take the trash out.”
- “I have to scrub the bathtub this very second.”
- “I have to visit the in-laws this weekend.”
Or you don’t have a dedicated space:
- “I’d be able to write if I had an 18th century escritoire.”
- “I need to buy some post-it notes first.”
- “The kids will bother me more if I close the door.”
You may even think you need more time to let your ideas percolate before committing them to paper.
If you find yourself coming up with excuses as to why you don’t write, it’s because deep down you have some fear of the outcome. It could be fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of never having another creative idea, fear of missing out on something else, fear everyone will know you’re a fraud, fear you’ll be letting your family down, fear everyone will think you’re awesome, fear people will demand more from you, fear of overwhelming success.
Whatever it is, the only way you’re going to get over it is by acknowledging it.
Get yourself a journal (or any other notebook, napkin, junk mail envelope because that is not an excuse to not do this exercise) and write about why you’re not writing. Go ahead, start with all your excuses. Take your time. Come back to this exercise as often as you like. This process will suck and make you feel worse, but you have to do it. It’s like an infection festering deep inside that once it finally bursts through the skin like a big, fat pimple, it hurts like hell for a while. Then you slap some cream on it and wait while it heals.
I guarantee once you find the real reason behind why you’re not writing, you can overcome it.
(Hey look, you just wrote something!)
2. Once more with feeling
Now that you’ve cleared away those excuses and named your fears, it’s time to stop feeling bad about them. If you procrastinate instead of writing because you fear rejection, then what would it feel like to be accepted? Who do you want to feel acceptance from–your parents, a publishing company, your classmates at a high school reunion, a bookstore full of fans lining up to buy the fourth installment in your highly acclaimed detective series?
Whether you want to feel accomplished, light, energized, successful, or something completely different, meditate on it. Feel it. In your soul. Sit with your eyes closed and be in that moment. See yourself typing your last words of the day and hitting “Save.” You stretch back and feel __________.
What you’re doing right now is setting yourself up for success. You’re programming your mind and body to replicate those feelings every time you write. Trust me, it will be a much more enjoyable experience than the usual self-flagellation you would normally inflict because your subconscious used to associate writing with fear.
Practice how you want writing to feel every day. Before getting out of bed, before going to bed, before writing, or whenever you get a chance. Connect with it, and soon your subconscious will associate the new feeling with writing instead.
3. Be your own cheerleader
You should be feeling pretty psyched up to write by now. Further this excitement (or cement it in place) by telling yourself how excited you are to go home and write. I know you talk to yourself out loud anyway, and I bet most of what you say is pretty negative.
- “I can’t believe I just said that. I’m so stupid.”
- “What was I thinking eating that cupcake?”
- “I just wasted my whole weekend binge-watching Sherlock instead of writing. I’m such a loser.” (But really, who could blame you on that one?)
Let’s turn that around by using the power of crazy talk to inspire yourself.
Keep telling yourself, all day, every day, how excited you are to write and pretty soon you’ll be believing it. Now watch as the first thing you pick up when you get home is your laptop (much to the delight of your cat if she’s anything like mine).
4. Spare no details
Once you’ve identified how you want to feel, write about it.
Grab your journal or the back of your kid’s math homework (because who needs math when you’re a best-selling author?) and write out how you envision your perfect writing life. You can start with the moment your eyes open or the moment your butt hits the chair at your 18th century escritoire. You could be well into your millions or be about to accept an offer on a four-book deal. Spare no details.
Where do you live? What does your work space look like? Who is with you (no one? lucky you!)? How long do you write for? What are you writing? What do you do before you write? What do you do when you’re done? Do you drink a pot of tea and eat gingerbread scones while writing? What do they taste like? Are birds singing, is music playing, can you hear the winds howling around the eaves? How do you feel while you’re writing?
Use as much sensory detail as possible. And most importantly, use the feelings you identified in #2 as often as possible. Take as much time as you need for this exercise. Go back to it over the course of several days or whenever you have time, adding more and more detail.
This doesn’t have to be polished or perfect. You do not have to be poetic. No one is ever going to read this but you. But it must move you and it must call up your feeling du jour.
Now, every day for as long as it takes (days, weeks, months, years), reread what you wrote and reconnect to that feeling.
Alternatively, you can do this exercise as many times as you want, rewriting your perfect day of writing so you are in your dream space or your current digs, your ideal situation or your chaotic life.
(See what I did there? I just got you to write and you liked it.)
5. Write for low stakes
If you’re just starting to get into the writing game or you’re trying to build a habit, don’t crush it with some lofty goal like writing a novel every agent will fight over that will make you a million dollars so you’ll never have to work that boring desk job again.
Instead, find something you like to write for fun. Maybe it’s working on #4 above, maybe it’s using writing prompts. Maybe it’s writing World of Warcraft serial fan-fiction starring your own character. Whatever you choose, it should be something you do for yourself. It doesn’t mean no one else will never read it, but you aren’t placing any unreal expectations on it either. If you never shop that short story around, it won’t be the end of the world.
When I searched for images labeled “success,” this is what I got. This is what you should aspire to when just starting out. Be zany. Be creative. Be wild. Have fun.
That doesn’t mean you can never aspire to finish your novel. It means, you should wait until your subconscious associates writing with having fun and feeling (fill in the blank) and your habit becomes automatic and something you look forward to. Again, this could take days, weeks, months, years.
If you’ve followed along with these (very helpful) suggestions, you’ve probably noticed you got some writing done too. Yay you!
You didn’t procrastinate, it didn’t kill you, and your fears never actualized. I call that success.
If this post helped you in any way, drop me a comment. I’d love to hear about all your amazing success stories.