A while back, I read a post over at Storyline Blog called “You Don’t Have to Make Your Bed to Write Your Book. ” It spoke to me. It spoke to me so much it may as well have been a letter written and addressed directly to me, with my name and home address on the envelope.
Why? Because I’m a writer. Therefore, I’m a procrastinator.
I don’t procrastinate in all things. Just my writing. There’s always something to do first: Take a shower. Make more coffee. Call my friend. Pay a bill. Go to the grocery store. Clean the cat’s bowl.
Make the bed.
They’re all excuses, of course. But in that pivotal moment when I should be sitting down to write, all of those distractions seem like the most necessary things in the world.
Maybe procrastination isn’t your thing. Maybe you’re more into writing rituals. The circumstances are different, but the principle is the same: That you MUST accomplish ____________ before you can begin to write.
So what other lies do writers tell themselves?
- I’ll start after I finish this task.
- I’ll start tomorrow.
- I can’t write without (coffee / green tea / wine / instrumental jazz / my fleece sweater / a bowl full of green M&Ms)
- I need to feel inspired first.
- It’s not going to go well, so I shouldn’t even start.
- I don’t have enough time.
- Writing is a waste of time.
- My book isn’t important.
- I’ll never get published anyway.
I get it. I really do. I hate writing without something to drink, preferably something hot (dark roast, anyone?), and depending on what I’m writing, music can be very distracting. Sometimes it works, but most of the time, quiet is best. I’m also a neat freak who thrives on having a clean, organized environment. But with a husband and a cat (and a baby on the way), do you know how impossible it will be for me to make sure my physical environment stays perfect all the time?
Here’s the thing: My best writing days have never involved much preparation. My best writing days rarely start with a perfectly-made bed, a pristine kitchen, or the right amount of light coming in through the east window. They start with me blocking everything else out — the messiness, the to-do list, the morning news, the chocolate craving — and sitting down to write.
My most productive writing days are the ones that start when I don’t necessarily want them to. When I want to be sleeping in or reading or organizing the pantry instead. My most productive writing days happen when I don’t give myself a choice. When I say no to everything else until the writing is done.
So we’re writers. We procrastinate. We make excuses. We get lost in our heads. What are we supposed to do about it?
As long as you get your writing done, nothing. But if you struggle to start every day, or if you haven’t written a word in weeks, it’s time to stop hiding behind the rituals and excuses that are holding you back.
First, find the culprit. What’s keeping you from writing? Is it really just an unmade bed? Or is it discouragement or fear of failure? Go ahead and recognize the thing that’s keeping you from starting.
Second, start small. You don’t have to go from writing zero words per day to 5,000. And you certainly shouldn’t abandon your other responsibilities just to get more words down. All it takes is a few minutes each day, maybe at a set time so you can get into a habit. (If it helps, make sure you can’t see the unmade bed while you’re writing.)
Third, figure out where writing falls on your list of priorities. Maybe it’s not your job, so carving out six hours a day to write isn’t realistic. Or maybe you’d like to become a professional author, but time with your kids will always come first. When you know where writing falls on your priority list, it’ll be easier to set a time and a place for it.
Finally, be persistent. You’ll probably want to quit at some point (we all do), but don’t. Both the good days and the bad days will add up to a completed book (or blog post or screenplay or whatever else you want to write). And there will be plenty of time to make the bed once it’s finished.
I had to write this post for myself more than anyone else. When it comes to writing, I’m the Queen of Procrastination, and there’s always one more thing for me to do before I sit down to write.
But in the post that changed my perspective (read it here), I read a line I recall every time I’m tempted to put writing last. The author wrote, “An unmade bed has no negative measurable impact in eternity. An unfinished book probably does.”
It made me think twice. I don’t need a made bed, an organized office, or a clean kitchen to write my books. I don’t even need to feel fearless or inspired. I just need the will to do it.
And, as always, a little bit more coffee.
What lies, excuses, or rituals do you find yourself falling back on as a writer? Let me know in the comments below!