Have you ever noticed the moment you sit down to work on your manuscript is also the exact same moment your kitchen needs a deep clean? You may even tell yourself, “I’ll be able to focus better on my writing once the dishes are put away” or “once the laundry is done” or “once I finally install that bookshelf” or, or, or… If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s called procrastination, and it’s just one symptom of a larger phenomenon called self-sabotage. Read on to learn more about writer procrastination and how to overcome it.
What Causes Writer Procrastination?
Writer procrastination is a form of self-sabotage, a psychological phenomenon where we keep ourselves from our own goals. Non-fiction writers are particularly susceptible to it because writing is such a vulnerable activity. Think about it: You are daring to put your expertise out into the world. That takes an incredible amount of courage! If you don’t have your mental (and physical) health in check, self-doubt can lurk behind every corner.
Overwhelm: “Where Do I Begin?”
One of the biggest causes of writer procrastination is not knowing where to start. You know you have a story to tell. Maybe it comes out in spurts—an idea hits you at the supermarket, or a recurring problem at work has you thinking “You know, I really should include this in my book.” You sit down to hash it all out and all those ideas flood your mind at once. Overwhelm and anxiety start to set in, and suddenly even the most mundane household chores start to look attractive.
Check out these five ways to handle emotional overwhelm as an author.
It’s Not Your Fault
We’ll say it once and for all: the overwhelm you’re feeling is not your fault. Writing a book is—like everything else—a practice. You wouldn’t prepare for a marathon by running 26 miles every day. So why would you try to write 50,000 words in a day? It’s tempting as a writer to hyper-focus on the end goal without establishing a routine to get yourself there. Take a breather. You’re not in this alone!
Kick writer procrastination to the curb with Getting Started for Authors, our six-month program including strategy and writing sessions with experienced writers and publishers.
Let’s Bust the Recluse Myth
An extreme response to writer procrastination is the belief that you have to isolate yourself in the woods for six months in order to complete your manuscript. While there’s little doubt that writing is typically a solitary activity, you by no means have to pause your entire life to complete your manuscript.
If there’s one thing Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, and Emily Dickinson have in common, it’s not that they secluded themselves; it’s the fact that they created writing environments and routines that worked for them. After all, James Baldwin wrote Go Tell It On the Mountain in a busy cafe in Paris! It’s less important where you write and more important to establish a routine of writing. When you dedicate weekly uninterrupted time for your writing, your inner genius will start pouring out.
How Do I Start Writing My Book?
So, how do you start writing that book? In the words of Desmond Tutu: “One bite at a time.” To overcome writer procrastination and get this book written, we’re going to go back to data and basic algebra. Ready?
1. Figure Out Your Writing Rate
Let’s do a freewriting exercise. Take out your notebook and a timer and write about your topic (whether that’s leadership, the prison industrial complex, or cake-making). Write for exactly 30 minutes. As with any freewriting exercise, this is not about saying the right thing. Just let the words flow out of you and have fun with it!
Once your timer goes off, perform a word count on your work. Then double that number, write it on a sticky note, and stick it on your bathroom mirror. This is how many words you are able to write in an hour.
2. Establish a Writing Schedule Using Simple Math
You’ll need the following pieces of information:
- How many words are you trying to write? If you aren’t sure, consider that the average non-fiction book has 50,000 words. (This number is purely a guidepost—your book doesn’t necessarily have to be this long, and in fact, shorter books sell better!)
- How many months do you have to get the book written? Let’s say you have 10 months to write the book. If you don’t have an external deadline, you’ll want to create one for yourself. (See section below on Creating Your Own Accountability).
- Do the math: 50,000 words in 10 months comes out to 5,000 words per month you’ll need to write. That might look like 10 sessions of 500 words each, or whatever works best for you.
- Do the math one more time: Use the writing rate you calculated from the freewriting exercise above to figure out how many hours you personally need to write 500 words. Write this number on a sticky note and post it on your bathroom mirror next to the first sticky note.
Boom! You’ve just set a tangible goal and concrete timeline. When writer procrastination strikes, look at these two sticky notes as a reminder that you can do this thing!
3. Create Your Own Accountability
If you’re a new author, this may surprise you: Marketing your book is just as important as finishing your manuscript. More importantly, the marketing should start on day 1—perhaps before you’ve even started writing. As part of the marketing process, you’ll provide an estimated book launch date to your networks. This step is crucial, not only to generate awareness about your upcoming book but because it creates internal accountability. Knowing you have people eagerly waiting to read what you have to say will help keep you on track.
Double your book sales over the next 30 days with our free 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge.