Are you procrastinating in your writing career?
I vowed to end my procrastination on the day I received an email message from an editor who’s the boss of a magazine I write for. “Sorry. Wish you’d sent the query to me yesterday; I’ve just contracted someone else.”
I *loved* that idea. It was a great idea, because it lent itself to a series of articles. And I’d had it lying on my desk for a couple of weeks. Why didn’t I write a proposal for it and send it instead of procrastinating? It would have taken ten minutes, maximum, and that was precisely the reason I left it. “Won’t take a moment, I’ll do it later,” I thought.
Procrastination can cripple your career. If you’re a creative small business owner — and yes, writers are creative small business owners — it can send you out of business.
I have a friend who’s an excellent copywriter, but she’s a hopeless business person. Rather than send out an invoice as soon as she’s completed a project, she lets them pile up. She lost several thousand dollars last year when a company suddenly folded with her latest invoices unpaid. (A couple were unsent.)
There are any number of reasons why people procrastinate. Most boil down to anxiety and perfectionism. Once you recognize these two demons for what they are, you can manage them with a few simple tools.
Let’s see how.
=> One: Lighten up
I don’t expect all my writing projects to be fun. In fact some of my copywriting work would be boring and frustrating if I allowed myself to feel that way. How interesting are industrial pumps, concrete reinforcing mesh, or dog worming products, after all?
Nevertheless, it’s possible to have fun with ALL your creative projects if you’re determined that it will be fun for you.
How do you make it fun? Here’s how:
* Develop a intense focus on your current work. Just focus on it, to the exclusion of everything else. Attention is the secret.
* Relax. Get up and stretch every half hour if you’re sitting at the computer. While you’re working, deliberately relax all areas of tension you find in your body. Tension builds up and causes stress.
=> Two: Accept creative anxiety
Creative work comes with built-in anxiety. However, it’s possible to reframe it. What if you told yourself that you’re not anxious, you’re excited?
Take several deep breaths, close your eyes, and completely relax. That is, see where you are tense in your body, and let go of any muscular tension in those areas.
Smile. Not a big, fake grin — aim for a small, contented smile.
Now tell yourself that you’ll just do today’s work today. If you’re working on a long project, like a novel, tell yourself that you can quit after five minutes, if you wish. You can put up with anything for five minutes.
You’ll be amazed that your fear will dissolve. What’s left is genuine excitement.
=> Three: Drop perfectionism
The truism: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”, is nonsense. Who’s the judge?
Just do your work. Be satisfied if you get words on paper or on the computer screen.
Your first attempts at anything will be crappy. That’s fine. Crappy is excellent for a first draft.
Just get something on paper.
=> Four: Do it YOUR way, not the way it “should” be done, or the way anyone else does it
Everyone has their own way of working. Someone else’s way will not be your way. Do it their way until you find the best way for you.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a novel. There are dozens of ways to write a novel. You can just start writing, and write your first draft straight through. You can use various forms of outlining, like using index cards.
You do it your way. Chisel it into stone if you wish. Write it on antique vellum. Write at midnight, during your lunch hour, at 3am.
Whatever way you choose, do it YOUR way.
=> Five: Ask yourself what your intention is
Intention is everything. Before you begin a task, always ask yourself what your intention is. Write your intention down.
Unspoken, unacknowledged and unrealistic intentions lead to procrastination.
For example, if you’re writing a magazine article, what’s your intention? It could be to get 400 words written in the next couple of hours. OK, write that down as your intention.
Without that written intention, unacknowledged, amorphous intentions floating around in your head could include —
* to make a dollar a word for this article;
* to become famous;
* to prove to my family that I can write; etc.
Who knows what’s floating through your mind?
Nail your intention. Write it down. It relieves your anxiety, because your written intention is always realistic. Hopes, desires and other clutter floating around in your consciousness builds anxiety.
There you go. Now you know how to use five methods to eliminate procrastination forever.