Making Friends With Procrastination

7-secrets (1)I’ve read a lot about procrastination over the last eight years. Some might even say that I’ve turned researching productivity and procrastination into a form of procrastination, but they would be deeply unfair and must be ignored… Ah-hem.

I’ve tried lots of techniques and many of them have been helpful. Some of my more successful experiments include setting a timer for 20 minutes, using Freedom to shut off the internet, and making a lovely chart with crosses on every day I hit my word count.

I’ve written about tools for beating procrastination on Novelicious, and have had countless conversations with my writer friends about how we need to ‘just get on with it’, or how we’ve discovered that writing in the morning, or in the evening, or in a cafe, or while using headphones or whatever, is the solution.

However, this weekend, while gearing up to get back to work after a week off, I started reading this book by Hillary Rettig. In it, she suggests something that I hadn’t ever really considered. That my tendency to procrastinate wasn’t some terrible flaw in my personality. That it wasn’t a symptom of my inherent laziness, but more a reasonable response to fear.

I’ve known for a long time that writing fiction goes hand in hand with anxiety. I’ve read enough to know that this fear is a perfectly normal side effect of doing creative work. After all, when we write, we reveal parts of ourselves: Of course we’re afraid!

If you’re like me, you will also be able to add fear of failure (perfectionism), fear of success (exposure, getting ‘above myself’, not being liked, upsetting other people), fear of letting other people down or of not ‘fulfilling my potential’.

Hilary explains that our tendency to procrastinate is a way of protecting ourselves from that fear. Then, because we do really want to write (or have a deadline), our procrastination increases that fear. We respond by berating ourselves (‘why are you being so lazy? I can’t believe you’ve wasted all morning reading blogs AGAIN, you’re so useless, you’ll never make it as a writer’ etc etc). Which, and this was the light bulb moment for me, INCREASES THE ANXIETY! *slaps self in forehead*

Yes, you need to be self-disciplined in order to get stuff done, but Hilary suggests that bullying yourself, being this nasty, is not the best way. Who knew?! Plus, she makes the very excellent point that your procrastination is part of you, so it’s not helpful to demonise it.

Rather than automatically heading into a shame spiral when you find yourself procrastinating or ‘not in the mood’ to write, she suggests treating it as a problem to be solved. These kinds of techniques (skipping ahead to another scene or chapter, writing around the problem in a separate document) are things that I’d already discovered and use, but I realised that I do so with a sense of desperation and panic. A sense of ‘if I don’t get something done, I’ll have failed again and I’m so rubbish  and lazy etc etc’.

The big change I’m going to make (or try to make, I don’t expect it to be easy to break the habit), is to be kinder to myself. To stop using bullying tactics to get my word count done. To say ‘it’s okay that you don’t feel like facing the blank page and that you really want to watch Supernatural/browse eBay for three hours/take a nap, that’s because what you’re trying to do is scary and difficult.’

In short, I want to speak more kindly to myself. If nothing else, it’ll make my working hours more pleasant…

How about you, dear reader? Do you suffer from procrastination when you’re trying to write? Do you ever bully or berate yourself and do you think it’s necessary?