It’s happened to all of us. That lingering feeling that you really should be writing, but for some inexplicable reason you just can’t get started. You keep telling yourself that you’ll just take a quick break, and then come right back to it, but the next thing you know an hour has passed and you haven’t written a single word.
Or, you are diligently sitting at your computer, ready to write, but you can’t seem to get started. The cursor blinks mockingly at you as you try to come up with something – anything – to say. Hours go by and you still haven’t written a word.
Whether you aren’t writing due to procrastination or writer’s block, the result is the same. And it can be hard to break free from the shame brought on by the blank page. But don’t worry – you’re not alone! In this post, I’ll share some tips on how to overcome procrastination and writer’s block. So read on and start writing!
What Is Procrastination and Why Do We Do It?
Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing something that needs to be done. For authors, that means putting off working on their book. Whether you’re a first-time author struggling to get that Freshman manuscript completed, or a veteran with several books under your belt, procrastination can set in and defer, delay, or derail your dream.
Why do we procrastinate? Some think it is a matter of poor time management skills. However, research indicates that procrastination is really a matter of avoiding negative emotions than it is about time management. In other words, there is something about that book that makes you uncomfortable, and so you avoid writing it.
So, if all those time-management tips that you’ve been trying – the to-do lists, getting up earlier, rearranging your time, Pomodoro technique, and so forth – aren’t helping, perhaps you need to look at what you are avoiding instead.
What is it about this book that makes your blood run cold, your heart beat faster, and your muscles freeze like you’re a deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming car?
If you are procrastinating, the emotion you are unconsciously trying to avoid could be one of several, however the two that most authors experience is fear or past trauma. Let’s dig a little deeper into each one.
There is something about writing a book that brings up fear for so many people.
- Fear of failure: What if I spend all this time working on the book and it doesn’t sell?
- Fear of the unknown: I have no idea what I’m doing!
- Fear of not being good enough: What if my best isn’t good enough and I write a shoddy book?
I’m not going to sugarcoat things: All of those fears could come true. However, I’m here to tell you that you will survive. I’ve written a book that I love, and it just won’t sell. When I published my first book, I had no idea what I was doing, and it shows. And, although I don’t think my books are shoddy, there are plenty of reviewers on Amazon that would beg to differ. But I still write books and I try to learn from my mistakes and improve with each given book.
Do I still make mistakes? Of course! But those mistakes have not maimed or killed me. And for every person that hates what I’ve published, I can point to several more who love what I created and wish I would publish more often.
So how do you stop fear from making you procrastinate? First, understand that what you fear about writing your book is not something life-threatening. If it comes true, it may sting your ego a bit, but you’ll survive. Then feel the fear and do it anyway. Eventually, the fear will subside, and your book will get written. Then you can hire an editor or book coach to help you polish up that manuscript so that your fears don’t come to fruition.
Past Trauma Remembered
Sometimes, especially when working on a memoir, but also with fiction and other works of nonfiction, a past trauma will well up. There is just something about what you are writing that reminds you of a previous painful experience.
This cause of procrastination is a little harder to unravel than fear avoidance, and it can be more stressful to resolve. However, once resolved it can lift a burden that has been affecting other areas of your life, as well. Here are two signs that your book is triggering a past trauma or painful experience:
You have a strong emotional reaction to a character or situation in your book.
In fact, you may be avoiding writing scenes with that character or writing about that particular situation. There is something about that character or situation that reminds you of something unpleasant you experienced before.
Working on your book exhausts you emotionally.
Yes, writing a book can be tiring because it uses up brain energy. But if you’re exhausted—and you haven’t been burning the candle at both ends nor writing into the wee hours of the morning—then there may be a past trauma at work here.
If you believe that your book is triggering pain from your past, seeking the help of a therapist is a good idea. More than likely, your book is merely an obvious symptom, and you are probably suffering from this experience in other areas of your life, as well.
The Link Between Procrastination and Writer’s Block
I’ve heard a lot of excuses about why potential and even veteran authors don’t start or finish their books. In fact, I’ve been there and done that (and, if I’m honest, I’m probably doing that right now!). The excuses are usually round-about ways to “explain” their procrastination, but the danger is that sometimes chronic procrastination becomes Writer’s Block.
What’s the difference? Procrastination is putting off until a later time, something that could be done now. Writer’s Block is when you finally sit your butt in the seat and still can’t come up with the words to fill the page.
The causes of procrastination and writer’s block are different for each person, and just because you struggle with one does not mean you are suffering from the other. However, because they both lead to the same outcome – your book unwritten or unfinished – they can be easily comingled.
The Consequences Authors Face with These Two Struggles
Procrastination and writer’s block are two of the biggest problems writers face, and they can have serious consequences for authors. Here are just a few that undermine your mental health, your professional reputation, or the growth of your business.
The Cycle of Guilt & Frustration
It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re struggling with procrastination or writer’s block. You may feel like you’re stuck in a never-ending cycle of guilt and frustration. You may feel guilty that you aren’t doing what you said you would do, or that you are somehow letting someone down by not completing this project.
The thing about guilt is that it feeds upon itself. The more you feel guilty about not writing your book, the more guilty you will feel about not writing your book!
When you don’t keep a promise, even if that promise is to yourself and no one else knows about it, you run the risk of lowering your sense of self-worth. You may recriminate yourself for not writing that book, and it only gets worse the longer you make no progress toward your publishing goal.
If you have an agreement with a publisher to complete your book project by a certain date, procrastination and Writer’s Block can be deadly to your professional reputation. If that deadline isn’t met, not only are you putting someone else’s business in trouble, but you are showing yourself to be untrustworthy. And that reputation can spread to other publishers, cutting you off from future opportunities.
Negative Business Impact
Sometimes, your business will stand to gain from your published work during a limited timeframe. If you don’t publish within that window, your business will lose potential sales of the book and the authority-building benefits good book sales would have brought.
How To Overcome Procrastination
So how do you overcome procrastination and get your writing done? The first step is to identify the root cause of your procrastination. There are several ways to do this. Here are a few suggestions:
Journal About Your Feelings As They Relate To Your Book
If you journal every day, answering the questions, “How do I feel about writing my book?” or “Why did I procrastinate writing my book today?” you may find a pattern that points to the root cause.
Conduct a Procrastination Self-Analysis
Take some time to answer these questions honestly:
- Am I trying to avoid something? In other words, does working on my book cause me to feel an emotion I’m uncomfortable with?
- Am I aiming for perfection with my book? Perfection is near impossible—even books published by the big publishers come out with typos! So, if you’re procrastinating because you fear you won’t get it perfect, you’re tilting at windmills.
- Am I unclear about what I want to say in my book? Vagueness is a big cause of procrastination. The cure is to write an outline!
- Am I just plain tired? Have you been getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthfully? Is your plate too full? When you don’t have enough energy to get you through the day because you are trying to do too much, that will cause you to procrastinate.
Hire a Coach or Therapist
Having someone who is not your spouse or best friend, who can provide outside perspective on your experiences, can do wonders for getting back to writing your book. They may see the root cause of your procrastination clearly, while you are still in a fog.
Once you know what’s holding you back, you can start taking steps to overcome it, using the correct remedy rather than spinning your wheels with a cure that won’t work for you.
Tips for Beating Writer’s Block
It’s frustrating when you have an idea for a great book but can’t seem to get the words out. You spend hours staring at a blank screen or page and end up with nothing to show for it. I’ve been there. Public Speaking Super Powers took me eight years to complete, and some of that time was spent wondering how to say what I wanted to say, rather than actually writing it down.
After that experience and working with authors who were struggling to get their books done, I realized that simple procrastination wasn’t at work. It was Writer’s Block. So, I started researching the topic and what I found was, to me, horrifying. Half the information tried to convince readers that Writer’s Block didn’t exist and was all in their head – in fact, I found many that shamed writers for experiencing a block. The other half contained superficial drivel that might help some people if the cause of their block was also superficial.
And as I dug into the scholarly research done on Writer’s Block, a pattern began to emerge. There is no one cause of Writer’s Block. In fact, I identified six types of causes! Often an author has two or more types of causes working in concert with each other, making it very hard to get back to writing. And, if you are trying to fix your Writer’s Block with a solution meant for a cause you don’t have, it isn’t going to work.
Therefore, my biggest tip for beating Writer’s Block is to understand its root cause. In fact, I developed a free online assessment you can take to get you pointed in the right direction. This assessment will help you identify your primary cause, which will be one of these six:
These are mindset issues, such as Impostor Syndrome and lack of confidence.
These are emotional issues such as grief and depression.
These are things in your environment, from odors to noise to clutter, that can prevent you from writing productively.
This is when your physical health, be it insufficient sleep, poor diet, or medications, cause you to have difficulty writing.
These happen when something in the writing process is not working correctly, which can be caused by skill gaps or even subconscious awareness of moving your story in the wrong direction.
These plague authors when they lose touch with their connection to the Divine.
The key is to understand the cause so that you use the right solution. Taking a walk, which is a common Writer’s Block tip, only works for a couple of the six causes. If those aren’t causing your block, you’ll remain blocked.
It’s hard to find the time to write when you have a day job, family, and other obligations. You’re not alone. Most people struggle with finding enough time to get everything done. But if you aren’t moving forward on your book for months at a time, those everyday reasons are probably not the true source of your problems.
Procrastination can be defined as the avoidance of a task or work that you need or want to get done. This might manifest itself in different ways – for example, putting off starting a project until the very last minute, taking on too many tasks at once so that you don’t have time to focus on any one of them, or spending hours aimlessly browsing the internet instead of working. Writer’s block is a specific type of procrastination where you find it difficult or impossible to start writing, often because you feel overwhelmed or paralyzed by fear of not being able to write well.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to turn things around. I hope this article has provided some useful insights that you can apply in your own life and writing. And if you still find yourself struggling with procrastination or writer’s block, I’ve got you covered. Simply take my quick and easy writer’s block assessment to find out what the main cause of your block might be.
Still Feeling Blocked?
Don’t just try one tip after another hoping something will get your creative juices flowing again. Get to the root of your writer’s block. Find out what’s causing your block so that you can use the right remedy to cure it.