Keeping Your Butt In The Chair: How To Beat Procrastination-itis And Keep Motivated

I don’t know about you all, but while I love writing and feel lucky to be able to be able to pursue my dream of writing and publication, I’m not one of those people who “has to write.” I can procrastinate till the cows come home and then some.  There are a million other things I can find to do besides writing. “Gotta check my e-mail.” “Ooohh, there’s an NCIS marathon on TV.” “Must log into Twitter constantly to find out what’s happening with my friends and other cool tweeps.” NCIS

It’s not that I don’t want to write. I do. It’s just that writing is damn hard work sometimes, and on the days the muse decides she’s your mortal enemy, it can be frustrating, want-to-tear-out-your-hair-and-bang-your-head-on-the-keyboard impossibly hard work.  I am here to tell you first hand that the image of a writer smiling away happily at the keyboard, typing away, with the words flowing smoothly from brain to fingertips to screen all day is inaccurate. Oh, those days do exist, and are to be treasured, but they are rare and elusive, like an endangered species. If you want to write only when you feel like it, when conditions are “perfect”, and you  feel “inspired by the muse” you will never finish a book. Writing takes determination, hard work, discipline, and writing even when you don’t feel like it. So here are some tips that have worked for me for those times when I need to write but am “not in the mood.”

  • Realize that the point is to write and get words down on the page. Forget about making it perfect the first time around. Nora once famously said, “You can fix a bad page, but not a blank one.”

    La Nora

    Truer words were never spoken. This is a piece of advice I’ve really taken to heart. I need to stop letting doubts and insecurities get in the way. And let’s get real. If it’s good enough for La Nora, it’s certainly good enough for little old me, lol.  It’s ok that what you’re writing is utter rubbish. The goal is to get the words down, and you can worry about fixing it up and making it all pretty and perfect later. That’s what editing and revisions are for.  For me, if I was forced to make it “perfect” the first go-round, I’d end up in a downward spiral and write myself into a paralytic and very negative headspace. Not good. I have to trust that no matter how horrible I think the writing is at the first draft stage, I’ll be able to fix it and make it good. Also, if you are one of those lucky people who can churn out perfect first drafts, the rest of us probably don’t want to know because we’d feel compelled to hate your guts. 😉

  • Find out what writing routine works best for you.  I find that for me, I work best in short concentrated bursts, with small manageable writing goals each day.  I have set a goal of 500-1k every day.  That I can do, whereas if I have to write 2,3,4 thousand words a day, it seems monumental, and overwhelming. Some people work best with huge long stretches of time and they can knock out thousands of words each session. I don’t happen to be one of them. I found a system that works for me, which is crucial. Know thyself.  You will use your writing time much more effectively if you find your rhythm and schedule your writing routine  accordingly.
  • Find a support network. One of the best things that’s ever happened to my writing and word count is finding fellow writers on Twitter.  I found a lovely group of ladies to “sprint” with.  We get together and set a goal of 500 words in 30 minutes.  There’s also the longer version “1k1hour” but the shorter 30 minute “sprints” work perfectly for me.  Writing can be a lonely business sometimes since it’s just you at your keyboard typing away. It can be very comforting to reach out and have a support of other writers who know and understand what you’re going through. They are there to cheer you on and celebrate when you have a good day and there to sympathize, encourage, and commiserate when you have a bad writing day where you can barely eek out a hundred coherent words.  By sprinting, I have folks out there who are holding me accountable for that half hour to keep my butt glued to the chair and to do my best to make and surpass the 500 word goal. The point isn’t whether or not you get the 500 words, the point is that you’re writing. And speaking of accountability……
  • Find incentives and rewards that work for you to keep you accountable. Whether it be  that bowl of ice cream, watching the TV show you DVR’ed, or finally getting to read that book you’ve been dying to dive into, having a reward to look forward to after a job well done can be incredibly motivating. For example, I used this technique when reading Tessa Dare’s A Lady By Midnight.

A Lady By Midnight

  • If I made my daily 500-1k word goal for the day, I got to read five chapters. If I didn’t, no ALBM. I have to tell you, it was sheer torture having to put down the book every day, but it was incredibly effective in getting me to make sure I got my writing done for the day.

So, there you have it. My ideas and tips for how to stop procrastinating and keep writing when it gets hard. A quick caveat: these are just my tips and what works for me. Feel free to use, discard, adapt, and disregard this advice as you wish. The point is to get the words on the page, and whatever techniques work for you are the right ones. Everyone is different and what works for me may not necessarily work for you.  What’s important is to find what works for you, and keep at it!

What techniques do you use when the muse refuses to cooperate? And have you ever had those wonderful writing days when the words flow and you churn out pages and pages and pages? Do share!

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14 thoughts on “Keeping Your Butt In The Chair: How To Beat Procrastination-itis And Keep Motivated

  1. Love this blog, Lisa!! Thanks for sharing your ideas and tips for how to keep the muse alive.

    Most days I get inspired when I can’t get to my WIP and then when I can, the muse is MIA. Grrrr!!! That’s so difficult. But I’ll turn on Pandora and some awesome Baroque music, which gets my literary juices flowing anda then open the book. I may not FEEL like writing but once I start I’m in HEAVEN.

    I don’t have a DVR (hubby isn’t interested but I just found HuluPlus on my Roku. I hope this will be a way to catch up on shows I miss. Learning to balance everything that’s going on in my life is what slows me down right now. So I’m really interested in trying your shorter sprints!!!

    • Thanks Kathy! 🙂

      I think putting on some music can be a great way to get inspired. For me though, I think quiet works better. Music, tv, radio, etc in the background is too distracting for me.

      Good luck with sprinting. If you do try it, would love to know how it worked out for you! 🙂

  2. I’m not a writer, but I think the non-procrastination lessons work in other areas of our lives. I am a list maker. I have to do lists for major projects as well as things I jot down on sticky notes or paper. And I love the Evernote app on my phone (which syncs to my PC and laptop). Breaking things down into smaller steps always makes them appear less daunting. And the less daunting things seem, the easier it is to work up the motivation.

    • Hi Kelly! Thanks so much for coming by. I think you are so right that these tips can work for tasks other than writing. And I think you are right on about breaking down a big project into smaller more managable chunks. If I tell myself you have to write an 80-90k novel, that is way too daunting. But taking it 500-1k at a time? Much more doable and much less scary! lol

  3. Well, I have no aspirations to get published, but I have this problem sometimes when I write reviews, Lisa. Believe it or not, when I can’t think of what to say, I take a shower. For some reason, my head is clear and I can almost always figure out what I’m trying to say…so I immediately write it down when I step out. LOL!

  4. Ha, who wouldn’t be motivated to reach their goal if you knew you have a TD novel just waiting for you? Heh. 😀

    I’m not a writer either, but I remember college days when I had deadlines, and I almost always would end up doing essays at the very last minute. My best works were written when the clock was ticking, pressure was high and I knew it had to get done or -well, no other option. Funnily enough, I do get started on research and reading as soon as I’d be assigned something; that part I loooove, but couldn’t squeeze anything up until the very last minute. Heh.

    I also live by lists. I have lists for everything, partly because my memory is always failing me, but also because it brings me so much joy to see a long list of things literally crossed out and noted.

    To be inspired though (and really, as for everything in my life), I turn to music. Sometimes it’s the words that move me, and sometimes it’s the melody, but if I need to be in a certain mood, I find the songs I need and guaranteed I’m feeling all the feels. 🙂

    • Hi Diana! 🙂 Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!!!

      Yes, a Tessa Dare novel is very powerful motivation indeed, lol.

      I totally had those days in college when I’d procrastinate and pull all nighters to turn a paper in. I think the panic and adrenaline definitely gave me an added push. But trying to avoid that this time around. 😉 hee

      Music is very inspiring for me too!!! It’s so powerful when you find a song or piece of music that really speaks to you on a deep personal level.

  5. Lisa, thanks for writing about this topic. It’s so good to hear that I’m not alone in fending off the procrastination faeries! I also find that setting small, manageable goals is the best way to keep myself writing consistently.

  6. NCIS is very distracting. It is like a drug. I am not kidding. One can go from hating it to being obsessed with it after only two episodes. (;

    It is difficult to simply shut the TV off. I wonder if there is a 12 step program.

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