Writing for a living presents many challenges, most of which stem from the writer. We could say that external challenges are why you haven’t finished your screenplay, or why that manuscript is still sitting there without an ending, but let’s be real. Typically the reason we don’t get things done is not because of time, traffic, our day job, our kids, or anything else we tell ourselves.
In reality, the things that propel us forward or pull us back are typically found in our own minds and our own actions. Motivation, anxiety, desire, and fear all mold our attitude toward our work, and have a strong impact on our achievement. Desire for success motivates us to work hard, but desire for The Office reruns on Netflix and an afternoon nap can easily derail us.
Anxiety can turn a day of potential into hours of wasted opportunity. Fear of failure and fear of success can do a number on our creativity and bring our motivation to a screeching halt. All of these factors impact your productivity as a writer, but what I want to talk about today is good old fashioned procrastination. Sometimes it’s like something in you sees good progress and says “Hey, slow down.” It’s that “I’ll do it later.” That “The deadline isn’t until tomorrow.”
Right now, it’s 4:00 in the afternoon and I have (3) product descriptions, (4) pages of website content, (1) business bio, and a blog post to write. What am I doing? Writing a post about procrastination. Why? Because I realized something that I wanted to share with my fellow writers. So, I told you what all I have to do today. Now let me tell you what I’ve done.
I discussed with my client what their needs are for their product descriptions so that I can deliver quality work to exceed their expectations. I wrote some website content and sent a sample to the client to ensure that my work is meeting with their vision before I invest in a completed order and then put more time into revisions. I wrote half of a business bio. I wrote about 500 words of an outline for a book I have been occasionally working on. On one hand, I have done a lot. On the other, I haven’t completed very much. So here’s a question to ask, if you work all day and get many jobs half-done but complete nothing, should you give yourself a pat on the back for putting in so much work or a scolding for not staying on point and completing a task. Well, that is precisely the question that brings me to my point about procrastination and the life of the writer.
Procrastination has been the downfall of many a writer who never gave themselves a chance because they never took that necessary step. However, sometimes, putting a project off is not so much a failure of productivity, but a creative tactic. Hear me out. (Fun story: it’s now 1:30 in the morning. I didn’t finish my blog post about unfinished writing projects this afternoon.) In my case, I completed all of my work for the day but I didn’t exactly take a straight-line approach. Many would argue that starting multiple projects before finishing one is inefficient, and they may be right, but let’s look at mental fatigue and quality of work.
I argue that sometimes, taking a break from a project and working on another one is a way to keep your mind fresh and your creativity level high. As for me, I write such a wide range of material and styles, that when I get stuck, it’s easy and beneficial to jump to something completely different for a little bit. For example, let’s say I’ve been writing in-depth about a company’s accounts receivable invoicing structure and my eyes are starting to bleed. I could take a Netflix break, or I could say “How about a little narrative fiction ?” I’m still writing. I’m still working. When I hit a block with this one, then I jump to a different project with my mind ready to tackle something new, and at the end of the day, my work is done and, I argue, with better quality than if I had forced myself to push through the mental fatigue just to reach a finish line. Ultimately, what’s important is understanding the difference between procrastinating and working on your own creative timeline to maximize quality rather than speed. In the end, it’s all about moving forward. Don’t sit on the couch and watch life pass by, but remember that your path is yours and it doesn’t have to be a straight line. As long as you keep moving, you will end up far from where you started and just maybe where you only dreamed you could be.