Tag: procrastination

“Tomorrow is the day”: Thoughts on Writer’s Block and Procrastination

Derrick Neese, Writing Consultant

I am going to write tomorrow. I mean it. Tomorrow is the day I’m starting my next big story and there is nothing that can stop me. And it will be the best story I’ve written—knock your socks off good—but, you know, tomorrow. Why not today? Because I’m a little tired right now, and there is a baseball game starting in an hour, and, well, tomorrow is the day I said I’d start. Tomorrow it is.

            My personal best streak of “tomorrow is the day” was a year. A year of guilt, anxiety, and frustration renewed each afternoon, starting the moment I told myself tomorrow is the day, a cycle of hopelessness that paralyzed my fingertips. Right before my monumental run, I’d set the goal of writing 2,000 words a day—even achieving it once or twice. Then I failed a few times and moved the goal post when stress replaced joy, shifting down to 1k, then a page, and finally, after all the satisfaction was sucked out, a year of nothing. But here I am today, writing in my office on a bit of a hot streak. So what changed?

All it took was writing one minute a day. This isn’t a gotcha moment. I’ve talked to a lot of writers, from teens who write fanfic on internet forums to famous authors with seven-figure book deals. The one thing I’ve noticed that we all share is anxiety for the next draft. This feeling is insidious, stomping out creativity for sport, chasing down the characters and storylines we have imagined and hiding them from our creative selves. We stop ourselves before we even start. To be a writer, you have to write, it’s as simple as that. Each morning I make my coffee, sit down at my desk with my phone far away in a distant land, and write for one minute. What happens is this: I never write for one minute, it’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told myself. Sometimes I end up with a few pages, others, a few sentences. The real magic comes from a lack. Lack of guilt, lack of fear, lack of writer’s block. All (mostly) gone. I am free to tell my stories now, to write my research papers, and above all, to just write.

            But the war for creativity doesn’t simply stop when I sit down, because the next clash starts during the drafting process. My creative and editorial brains are mortal enemies in my head, each fighting to have the lead role in my next story until tomorrow comes. So, I make a deal with my internal editor. Let me write today until all the words are down, I beg them. And then it’s all yours. I grant my creative self the opportunity to write freely in this moment, without judgment or fear, allowing the draft to be as bad as it can be. Often, it is really, really bad. And that’s okay. When I finish, I put it away until the characters call my name again, and then I hand over control to my editorial brain. They have been patiently waiting for this moment after all. I give them permission to revise critically (as opposed to judgmentally, which lends itself to a finality that does not exist in our drafts) until each sentence, word, and comma are where they want them to be. This is where craft meets creative. In this way, I stifle the battle between creator and editor, giving each the freedom they crave.

As writers, we must fight the good fight against tomorrow. We do this in the name of creativity and craft. Without them, we are lost before we begin, and therefore defending them is our primary focus. This is an unseen battle that permeates through the deepest crevices of our writerly minds. We must protect both creator and editor at all costs. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of tomorrow.

So, write for one minute a day, today.

Alternatives to Procrastinating

Jessica Winck, Assistant Director

Approaching the end of the semester can be a stressful time, and those of us who are inclined to procrastinate might feel especially anxious. I tend to believe that procrastination involves more than just actively avoiding work. It often relates to a writer’s sincere challenges with any of the following: understanding an assignment; feeling overwhelmed by the workload in college; worrying about whether s/he “has what it takes.” None of these is easy to deal with, and we know that avoiding work doesn’t help us in the long run. If you’re worried about procrastination, try some of these strategies:

Contact your instructor about any questions you have. This might sound obvious, but not everyone feels comfortable with this approach. What if my instructor will think I’m stupid, or that I’m not trying hard enough, or that I’m not good enough to be in this class? Meanwhile, confusion about an assignment prevents us from working on it. Email your instructor or ask to visit her or his office hours, which are set aside specifically for helping students address questions and concerns.

If you have a large assignment on your hands, consider breaking it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. How we see the task plays a large part in our approach to it. “Write a research paper” sounds like a scary and overwhelming task. Try talking to your instructor about how you can approach the assignment in parts. You can also go to the writing center and work with a consultant on setting some manageable goals for completing the assignment. These should be goals that you can reasonably meet in the amount of time you give yourself. You will get more done, and you will likely feel more confident about finishing the assignment.

Try setting a timer when you write. This might sound like an odd piece of advice, but it’s one I always stand by. I often use the Pomodoro method: write for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Write for another 25, then take another 5. Writers who struggle with procrastination might find this method especially helpful. Over time, you start to notice that some tasks don’t take as much time and energy as you imagined. Tasks become less intimidating and more manageable. Plus, you don’t have to focus on writing for an indeterminate amount of time. If you grow tired or you need a coffee break, you don’t have long to wait; but for the time being, you write. Also check out what Alex Clifton, a writing center consultant, wrote about some online resources that help you keep writing in pre-set blocks of time.

DSCN1660Write with a friend or a group. Working alongside others can be encouraging, and it also keeps you accountable. My colleague Meghan Hancock and I often meet for the specific purpose of writing and working. It’s a great arrangement because we have a shared understanding that we write when it’s time to write (and yes, we set a timer). Since your classmates are working on the same assignment, ask them to join you. Though the time you make is for writing and working, it also presents the opportunity to get to know more people and to feel supported at the same time. Contrary to some of the received wisdom out there that good writers work independently without any help, you actually don’t have to do all this alone.

On that note, make an appointment at the Writing Center. We will be happy to sit down and work with you wherever you are in the process of writing. Plus, having specific times set aside to talk with others about your writing helps you stay motivated.

There are many alternatives to procrastination, and I hope you try some of the ones here. Have a great rest of your semester!