Dealing With Procrastination

Hello writers! This week I’m answering a question from one of my subscribers about procrastination: “Do you have any advice about dealing with procrastination while writing? I get these amazing story ideas but I end up not writing at all and surfing the net instead.” Here’s my answer:

First impression: You need to block yourself out of the damn internet.

Listen, I’ve been writing for years. I’ve completed stories, I’ve published, I did an MFA. I’m 100% clear that I love writing fiction, that I want to do it forever, and that it gives my life meaning that nothing else can.

But even I get distracted by the fucking internet. It’s a drug, and not just metaphorically. The science increasingly shows that devices hijack our brains and emotions, making us more anxious, depressed, and lonely. Which, of course, only makes us want to use them more in order to distract ourselves from the crappy emotions that they created in the first place.

So. Here’s what I’ll suggest:

Step #1: Power OFF your phone

Don’t just put it on silent. Completely shut the fucker down. Then go HIDE it. Put it in a closet at the other end of the house, put it in the trunk of your car, put it in the attic in a box of old clothes. Get it out of your sight.

Step #2: Block the internet on your computer

Yup, the whole damn internet. You might have to pay for an app. It’s worth it. Last I checked selective blockers like Social Control are free, but if you want to block access to the entire internet you’ll need an app like Freedom or Cold Turkey, which cost money. At least a few of them have a free trial, though. And you might find something else with a little research.

If you write with GoogleDocs, find another way. If you want remote access to your work, you can always use Word on your desktop, then upload it to GoogleDocs when you’re done with your writing session.

Step #3: Don’t be put off by the intense feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and boredom that ensue from completing steps #1 and #2

That’s the good stuff. Writing can cure it; the internet will only exacerbate it. You might need to start with small, manageable chunks of time and work your way up. Power off your phone and block the internet for 15 or 30 minutes and write. Next time, try 45 minutes. And so on.

Step #4: Write

I mean, really, what else are you going to do now? For me, once the quick entertainment of the internet and my phone is gone, writing is the next most interesting thing to do with my time.

Step #5: Make note of how you feel after writing

Better? Don’t just observe how you feel immediately after your writing session. Notice how you feel that night, the next morning, the next day. Take actual notes. Do you feel like you’ve accomplished something? Do you feel lighter? More creative? More excited about life? Intrigued? You might also have some ambivalent or negative feelings. That’s fine–make note of those, too.

This part is really important. What you’re trying to do, over time, is to accumulate good memories and associations related to writing. That way, the next time you feel the urge to procrastinate (and that little voice in your head is saying–But INTERNET!) you have some experience to draw on. You can say, Wait a minute. Last time I turned off the internet and wrote I felt really good.

I’d actually suggest doing the same thing with your internet use. You’ll probably find that the more you turn it off, the more you are aware of how it affects you when you do use it (and how you feel afterwards–that one’s big). Get real with yourself about what it’s actually doing to your emotions and thought process. Not just the highs, but the lows, too.

Step #6: Repeat

Over and over again.

Hope this helps!