How To Overcome Procrastination

By Jennifer Blanchard

How are those New Year’s Goals going? Have you given some time to thinking about what you want in 2009?

One thing many of you probably have in mind for this year is overcoming your procrastination. So this is one post out of many to come in the months following that will begin to explore what procrastination is, why it happens to you and how you can overcome it.

Personal development blogger and author, Steve Pavlina, explains in his article, Overcoming Procrastination, that there are 4 root causes of procrastination:

    1. Thinking you absolutely have to do something–“When you tell yourself that you have to do something, you’re implying that you’re being forced to do it, so you’ll automatically feel a sense of resentment and rebellion,” Pavlina says. “Procrastination kicks in as a defense mechanism to keep you away from this pain. If the task you are putting off has a real deadline, then when the deadline gets very close, the sense of pain associated with the task becomes overridden by the much greater sense of pain if you don’t get started immediately.”Pavlina says that the best way to overcome this mental block is to realize and accept that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. “Even though there may be serious consequences, you are always free to choose,” he says. “No one is forcing you to run your business the way you do. All the decisions you’ve made along the way have brought you to where you are today. If you don’t like where you’ve ended up, you’re free to start making different decisions, and new results will follow.”Overcome it: Choose projects to undertake in 2009 that you want to undertake. Choose something that inspires you or something that you’re really passionate about. (And if you’re having a difficult time figuring out what you want, do what I do, pretend today is your last day on earth–what would you regret not having done? These are the things you need to be pursuing now!)
    2. Thinking of the project as a whole–“Thinking of a task as one big whole that you have to complete will virtually ensure that you put it off,” Pavlina says. “When you focus on the idea of finishing a task where you can’t even clearly envision all the steps that will lead to completion, you create a feeling of overwhelm. You then associate this painful feeling to the task and delay as long as possible. If you say to yourself, ‘I’ve got to do my taxes today,’ or ‘I must complete this report,’ you’re very likely to feel overwhelmed and put the task off.”

Overcome it: Focus on one small piece of the overall task at a time. By doing this, you’ll complete the task in steps, which will make it easier for you to keep motivated.

  1. Being a perfectionist–Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons people procrastinate. They get so worried and worked up about wanting something to be perfect that they end up not even working on it for fear it will come out flawed.”Thinking that you must do the job perfectly the first try will likely prevent you from ever getting started,” he says. “Believing that you must do something perfectly is a recipe for stress, and you’ll associate that stress with the task and thus condition yourself to avoid it. You then end up putting the task off to the last possible minute, so that you finally have a way out of this trap. Now there isn’t enough time to do the job perfectly, so you’re off the hook because you can tell yourself that you could have been perfect if you only had more time. But if you have no specific deadline for a task, perfectionism can cause you to delay indefinitely.”Overcome it: Allow yourself to be human. Humans are not perfect; they make mistakes. That is part of what is so beautiful about life–you get important (sometimes life-changing) lessons from every experience you have, every mistake you make.
  2. Thinking that completing the task-at-hand will deprive you of fun–“This means you believe that undertaking a project will offset much of the pleasure in your life,” Pavlina says. “In order to complete this project, will you have to put the rest of your life on hold? Do you tell yourself that you will have to go into seclusion, work long hours, never see your family, and have no time for fun? That’s not likely to be very motivating, yet this is what many people do when trying to push themselves into action. Picturing an extended period of working long hours in solitude with no time for fun is a great way to guarantee procrastination.”Overcome it: Plan out your fun activities and schedule your work/tasks around them. By doing this, you’re making sure you have plenty of time for the activities you love to do (the activities where you usually don’t procrastinate). Then work/tasks won’t feel so overwhelming because you won’t feel like all you’ll be doing is working/completing tasks.

For more details on each of these root causes of procrastination and more tips for overcoming them, check out Pavlina’s article.

So for 2009, look at overcoming writing procrastination as small hurdles to jump, rather than as a huge thing you need to overcome.

Now What? The After-Math of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo has been over for about a week and you’ve finally caught up on your sleep. So…how did you do? Did you get your 50,000 words finished and uploaded to the NaNoWriMo site by November 30? Or did you let your procrastination get the best of you?

My procrastination got the best of me, unfortunately, and I didn’t make 50,000 words. In fact, I didn’t even come close. I only wrote 3,700 words before procrastination took over.

For those of you who didn’t make it (like me), better luck next year! But for those of you who did make it, you’re probably wondering now what?

And that question has been answered. The NaNoWriMo Web site has a page dedicated to what you can do now that you’re finished with your 50,000-word novel. Some of their ideas include:

    • Gloat a little bit–You wrote a 50,000-word novel, congratulations! It’s time to celebrate. Get a bottle of champagne and toast with your family and friends. Buy yourself something from your Amazon Wishlist. You deserve it!As a NaNoWriMo-winner gift, CreateSpace, a Web site where you can create and sell books, music and video, is giving you a free paperback-bound proof copy of your novel. Just go to the site and sign up for an account using your NaNoWriMo winner’s promo code and you’re on your way.

 

  • Start editing–Now that your novel is finished, it’s time to start editing! Or, you could wait until March 1, which starts National Novel Editing Month and edit your NaNo-book with thousands of other writers.

 

 

  • Start on your next project–The next writing months coming up are February Album Writing Month (goal: 14 original songs in 28 days) and Script Frenzy (goal: a 100-page script in 30 days). Although these writing challenges can be, well, pretty challenging, it’s good to keep trying different ways to get writing done.

 

As a procrastinator, you need to push yourself a little harder than other people do, and signing up for a writing challenge is a shove in the right direction.

For more challenge ideas, check out the NaNoWriMo’s Now What? page.

 

  • Challenge yourself even more–If you’ve finished writing your 50,000-word novel and feel like you’re up for an even bigger challenge, then check out Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award contest. From Feb. 2, 2009 until Feb. 8, 2009 upload your unpublished fiction manuscript for a chance to win a $25,000 publishing contract with Penguin Group (USA) and the distribution of your novel on Amazon.com.

For more ideas of what to do now that you’ve finished your NaNoWriMo novel, check out the NaNoWriMo Now What? page.

And if you didn’t make it to 50,000 words this year, don’t beat yourself up. The NaNoWriMo challenge is very difficult, even for an advanced writer. Remember, the start of each month is another chance for you to write 50,000 words in 30/31 days. Or if you want to write with other writers, July and August are novel writing months as well.

Chin up…you’ll get there!

10 Things Procrastinating Taught Yvonne Russell

In light of the fact that National Novel Writing Month is finally over, I thought I’d give you something humorous to read. This comes from the “Grow Your Writing Business” blog written by Yvonne Russell:

Ten Things I Learned From Procrastinating

1. I can get lots of things done, just not the one I should be doing

2. Procrastination can be fun and guilt inducing at the same time

3. Procrastination and perfectionism are a sure fire combo for stress

4. There sure are a lot of interesting sites you discover when procrastinating

5. Procrastination is often called research

6. Research is never called procrastination

7. Procrastination is often called thinking

8. Thinking is never called procrastination

9. Checking emails is high in the hierarchy of procrastination

10. Procrastination inevitably leads to doing… eventually…

Happy writing…jb

Where To Find Creative Writing Workshops

If you’re a writer and you attended college, you probably also took some sort of creative writing workshops. Creative writing workshops are great for writers of all capabilities–beginner to professional. Not only do you learn about writing in these workshops, but you also get to have your stories read and critiqued by other people.

Now there are many naysayers who think that creative writing workshops are a waste of time. They say this because the people critiquing your work are usually just students or people who know as much about writing as you do. Many people don’t see the value you get from these workshops.

What it all boils down to is this–you need to do what works for you. And if you’ve never attended a creative writing workshop, you definitely should give it a try. Some people find it’s a great boost to their creative self-esteem to have their work read and praised. It’s also good to have the critique section because it helps you make your stories better and it prepares you for the often challenging world of publishing (if you choose to go that route).

There are lots of different types of workshops for everyone from beginner to advanced that range in subject from beginner poetry to creating deep characters to how to write short stories to mixed fiction and poetry. They even offer workshops for kids.

Here are some places where you can find creative writing workshops:

  • Local colleges and universities–Check with your local institution and you’re likely to find at least one creative writing class going on. This is an easy introduction to having your work critiqued regularly. It helps writers step outside the privacy of their writing spaces and allows them to start showing their work to others.
  • Continuing Education Classes–Almost every city has continuing education classes for adults who are no longer in school, but still want to learn something. These places usually have creative writing on the menu.
  • Local writing schools–Some bigger cities have writing “schools,” which usually offer a combination of readings by authors and creative writing workshops. Do a Web search for writing schools in your area.
  • Online–Now you can even attend creative writing workshops on the Internet. There are writing schools such as Gotham Writers’ Workshops, Web sites such as Writers.com and even magazines such as Writer’s Digest, who now offer online creative writing workshops.Online learning isn’t for everyone. This type of learning requires you to be focused and dedicated. But if you’re a self-starter who works well independently, can hit deadlines and doesn’t mind a lot of reading, you will most likely be successful in online courses.These courses are set up with forums where you post your weekly assignments and can ask questions of your professor and talk with other students.Here’s the basics of online writing education–Your instructor posts a syllabus with each assignment on the message board or through e-mail, then each student independently completes the work. Each week the work is turned in and usually students are assigned to read each others’ work. Then there’s usually an hour each week where the whole class is online at the same time and you get to have a live conversation with your instructor and classmates.

These are just some of the many creative writing workshops available to you.

If you ever want to get something published, you need to get over the fear of showing your work to people, and creative writing workshops are one of the easiest, least judgemental, ways to do it.

How To Build Complex Characters

Bestselling romance novelist, Connie Flynn, wrote the article, “Building Three-Dimensional Characters.” And she details a pretty amazing way of creating characters that are anything, but flat.

Flynn says all characters need four prominent traits, and you can build your characters by imagining the shape of a diamond. At the top of the diamond is the “Spine;” The point on the right side of the diamond is the “Fatal Flaw;” the bottom point is the “Shadow;” and the left-side point is the “Supporting Trait.”

Here’s how each trait breaks down:

Spine–“Give your character a strong central trait that is somewhat stereotypical,” Flynn says. “Pick something that can be defined in two to four words. For protagonists, this spine will lean toward the admirable. Villains get a spine that leans toward the despicable.”

Supporting Trait–“Next, add a supporting trait that’s consistent with the spine,” she says. “This can be a value, a preference, or a method of expressing oneself. Devoted to family, loves the outdoors, bouncy and outgoing are examples of what can be used.”

Fatal Flaw–“Give your central characters a fatal flaw,” Flynn says. “While greed, envy, vanity and the rest of the seven deadly sins are perfect flaws for villains, virtues carried to extreme usually works best for protagonists. For instance, a nurturing nature can become controlling or smothering. A lighthearted attitude can become irresponsibility. If a more deadly flaw is chosen, it must be well motivated. ”

Shadow–“Last, give the character a shadow (suppressed) trait that is kept under tight wraps because it contradicts the major personality traits,” she says. “The shadow makes room for character growth. As it surfaces, it aids the hero in overcoming the fatal flaw or turning it to his advantage. Furthermore, it rounds out his personality by correcting the imbalance that has stopped him from achieving his goal. Essentially, the shadow is the means for the character’s redemption. ”

To learn even more about using these unique traits to build your own three-dimensional characters, check out Flynn’s article.

To put all this into perspective, I will show you how I used it to create the main character in the novel I just finished writing. Here are the character traits of my main character “Amanda:”

Amanda is a romantic; she believes in true love (spine). Unfortunately, because of this, she tends to wear her heart on her sleeve and fall in love too fast (fatal flaw). This fatal flaw causes her to think that every guy she dates is “the one.” Amanda truly believes in soul mates, which means she also believes people should only get married once in their lifetime (supporting trait). Overshadowing all these traits is the fact that Amanda doesn’t trust any of her boyfriends (shadow).

Read Flynn’s article, then give it a try for yourself. I bet you’ll come up with lots of great, complex characters.

Be sure to come back and let us know how it went for you.

3 Writing Tips That Will Save You Time

This is a writing process I learned from my wonderful writing coach. It’s one of the most efficient, effective ways to write a novel. By using this process, you will likely cut the time it takes you to complete a novel in half.
So… you want to know the process? I thought so.
Here’s what you do.
  • Prior to Starting Your Book, Put Together Plot Sheets and Character Notes–A couple weeks before you’d like to start a new novel (or your first novel!), sit down and figure out the plot. The best book on the subject is Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks.

Having a plot outline makes writing a novel much easier because you have a guide to go off of and you know where you need to be at the end of each chapter. (Of course, if you sit down to write and ideas just take off, feel free to stray from the outline. The idea is for it to be a guide, but imagination rules!)

Also, it’s a good idea to get to know your main characters. You can do this through character sheets. You can find plenty of them online if you search for them. Or you can create your own by just writing down everything you currently know about your characters.

Doing this will ensure your characters are always doing things that fit who they are.

  • Start Writing–Once you have your plot and character sheets finished, it’s time to start your novel. Try to set a daily/weekly writing goal, such as writing a certain length of time or word count everyday or finishing a certain number of chapters by a specific day of the week, every week.When I worked with my writing coach, I wrote two chapters a week. For me, this was the perfect amount. Not too much, but just enough to keep me motivated. Play around with some writing time everyday and see what is reasonable for you. Don’t go for too much in one day/week or you’ll burn out quickly.
  • If Your Plot Changes, Continue On–What that means is, if you start with a plot in mind, but then three chapters in you get a brilliant idea and your plot strays and now your first three chapters need to be rewritten, don’t go back and rewrite them. Just continue on like the first three chapters already fit and finish the book.Doing this will keep you forward-writing instead of backtracking. Backtracking is a waste of time because you never know how much your plot will change as you go through the rest of the book. If you keep going back and rewriting things, you’ll most definitely get tired of the book or at least you’ll never get it finished.I know it’s hard not to rewrite everything to match, but that’s what editing is for. And when you continue writing and reach the end, you’ll realize you have a lot less editing to do. If you had kept going back and changing everything the entire time, you’d have done a whole lot of editing.

This is a very efficient, effective process to make writing a novel a lot less work than it has to be. Try it out and let me know how it goes for you.

The “Pathway to Genius”

In the book, No Plot, No Problem, author Chris Baty talks about the “pathway to genius.” This pathway to genius helps get you from idea to completed first draft. And it’s all pretty simple.

The pathway to genius is choosing a quick deadline or a daily word count that’s high enough. Soon the quick turn around or daily word count will help you finish your first draft. It does this because it forces you to:

  1. Lower Your Expectations–If you go into writing your novel with the mindset that it has to be perfect, chances are, you’re not going to ever get it finished. This is because you’re setting your expectations way too high.It’s good to have high expectations, but have them for the final product, not the first draft.”No one ever writes a brilliant first draft,” Baty says in his book. “This is the case no matter how talented you are, or how long you take to coax the thing into existence. Novels are simply too long and complex to nail on the first go-round.”Remember, before you can have a brilliant final product, you need to have a first draft.
  2. Write for Quantity Over Quality–This means worry about getting your story down on paper regardless of how “bad” it might be at first.This would force you to lower your quality bar from “‘best-seller’ to ‘would not make someone vomit,'” Baty says.Unfortunately, many writers don’t do this.”At the first awkward line of prose or botched brushstroke, we hurriedly pack away the art supplies and scamper back to our comfortable domains of proficiency,” Baty says. “Better a quitter than a failure, our subconscious reasoning goes.”
  3. Stop Being So Hard on Yourself–Stop being so hard on yourself. It’s as simple as that. This means no negativity and no being self-critical about your writing. Baty says you need to give yourself time “to experiment, to break your time-honored rules of writing just to see what happens.””In a first draft, nothing is permanent, and everything is fixable,” he says. “So stay loose and flexible, and keep your expectations very, very low.”

 

What Kind of Procrastinator Are You?

Ok, so you procrastinate. You find hundreds of things to do that suddenly became so important now that you wanted to write. Before you know it, it’s time to go to bed…but you didn’t get any writing done!

 

Dr. Linda Sapadin, a clinical psychologist and author of, “It’s About Time! The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them,” said in a recent article on MSN that there are six types of procrastinators:
  • Perfectionists–“They want every project to be perfect, and this often causes them to be frozen in fear that they cannot meet such an unrealistic goal, even though they set the goal themselves.”
  • Dreamers–“These people suffer from magical thinking. ‘It’ll all work out,’ they say, while they do nothing to advance their goals.”
  • Crisis Makers–“They often say they do their best work under pressure, but more accurately, they prefer uproar and crisis to do any work at all.”
  • Worriers–“Their fears consume their thought processes and prevent any real work being done, as they imagine and dwell upon every possible scenario for disaster and failure.”
  • Defiers–“These people may resent the assignments in the first place, and retake control over their lives by refusing to do the work in a timely and cooperative manner, or at all.”
  • Overdoers–“Also known as ‘the pleasers,’ these people can’t say no, and so take on more and more responsibility without any reasonable expectation of being able to deliver on their obligations.”
So…what kind of procrastinator are you? (I’m mainly a perfectionist, but I dabble in overdoing it as well.)

 

The good news is, Dr. Sapadin said procrastinators can overcome their need to put things off, it’s just going to take some reprogramming.

 

Whenever you feel your procrastination arising, kill it with kindness. For example, if you’re a perfectionist, and that’s what keeps you from writing, you need to tell yourself things like, “Nothing can be perfect” or “Hitting my deadline is more important than turning in a perfect article.” If you’re an overdoer, take a step back anytime a project comes up and ask yourself, “Can I handle another project?” or “Am I taking on too much?”

 

By doing this, you will program your mind to accept these thoughts, which will help you procrastinate less.

 

I’ve had personal experience with daily affirmations, and I have to say, they really work. If you tell yourself something for long enough, you start to believe it.

 

And if it can work with self-confidence, it can definitely work with overcoming procrastination.

 

Share With Us

What tips and tricks do you use to stop procrastinating?

I Did It! What I Learned While Writing My First Novel…and How It Will Help You (Part 2)

In Part One I talked about four lessons I learned while writing my first novel. Here are another three for you:

  • When You Want To Procrastinate, Nothing Will Get You Moving–Picture this: You’re one chapter away from being finished with your first novel. You’ve been waiting for this moment for years. You were starting to think this day would never come.A week later, you’re still one chapter away from being finished with your first novel. You’ve been waiting for this moment for years. You were starting to think this day would never come.A week later, you’re still one chapter away…Ok, are you sensing a pattern here?

    Procrastination is a killer, especially to the novel. Remember, people often fear success because of what might change, so it’s not all that uncommon for someone to be a chapter shy, a few scenes shy, whatever, from finishing their project and then they set it aside and never complete it.

    I thought that was going to be me because I was one chapter away and I had the most delicious bottle of champagne chilling in my fridge, waiting to be cracked the moment I wrote my last word, and it still took me almost three weeks to finish my final chapter.

    Thankfully, I was able to step around my fear (of success, of failure, of my first draft sucking, etc) and finish my novel. And drink that delicious bottle of champagne.

    When this happens to you, lean on your RB. Tell them exactly how you’re feeling and let them reassure you that everything will turn out great. They’re right.

  • “Shitty First Drafts” Are an Urban Legend–Ok, maybe not an urban legend, but they’re definitely a myth. When I finished my novel and sat down to reread the whole thing, I realized that I actually had a pretty damn good first draft on my hands.Sure, it needs editing–what first draft doesn’t? But I feel like I have a complete story that has no major plot holes, no major “bad” writing issues and best of all, it’s actually pretty compelling.So stop being so hard on yourself about writing your first draft. When I think I’m writing my worst, it usually turns out to be some of my best. And you’ll find the same thing with your first draft as well.

    And if you do find some parts that make you want to hurl (ok, so maybe it was a bad idea to use that cliched love scene as the turning point in your book), it’s ok. Take a deep breath and relax. That’s why they call it a first draft!

  • It Goes By So Fast–When I look back on the whole novel-writing process, I realize that, after years and years of talking about writing a novel and sitting around thinking about it, but taking no action, when I finally sat down and wrote my novel, it actually went by so fast I don’t remember most of it.

So don’t let the fear of how many hours or weeks or months you’ll have to spend dedicated to writing this novel stop you from writing. When it comes down to it, if you set yourself tight deadlines (I gave my writing coach two chapters a week, for example) and meet them, you’ll get your book written so quickly you won’t even know how you could’ve procrastinated for so long.

I hope the lessons I learned while writing my first novel help you to finally get your novel written. Remember, negativity is always going to make your writing “bad.” So keep a positive, upbeat attitude and remind yourself that your story is worth writing, so sit down and write it!

I Did It! What I Learned While Writing My First Novel…and How It Will Help You (Part 1)

Well here we are. On March 22, I invited all of you to come with me on a journey to a place I like to call, “the first draft of my novel is complete.” So here we are, on October 1. I’ve finished my first novel and I can’t be anymore stoked about it.

 

So…how did you do?

 

If you’ve gotten to this point in the year and you still haven’t kept your commitment to yourself and to your writing, it’s ok. Or maybe you never made a commitment to start with.

 

Whatever is holding you back, let it go. Just let it go and finally sit down and write your novel (or screenplay or poem, you get the idea…). Trust me, it’s not as hard as you think.

 

And to prove it, I offer you what I learned writing my first novel…and how it will help you:
  • Plot Outlines Work–I used Holly Lisle’s Create a Plot Outline to figure out the basic plot of my novel and it changed everything for me. Not only did I have a pretty good idea about where the story was going, I also was able to stay on track and make sure the story kept moving along.If you’re one of those writers who has a hard time just sitting down with a blank Word document and writing, I highly recommend using an outline. It makes things much simplier. I even wrote mini-outlines for each chapter…which brings me to the next thing I learned…
  • Have “Goals” For Each Chapter–I didn’t write all the details of each chapter down in an outline before I wrote the actual chapter. But I did start with the first chapter and say to myself, “Where does the story need to go from here?” and then I made bullet points for where it needed to go in a notebook.Then I started writing. I tried to follow the list, but I also strayed a little when my characters had a better idea than I did.When I thought the chapter was over, I ended it and moved the events I thought were going to fall in the current chapter to the next chapter.Having goals made it so much easier for me to stay on track with the story and make sure I didn’t have any holes in my plot.
  • Find a “Reliability Buddy”–Find someone you trust, a friend, sibling, parent, significant other, etc., and ask them to be your “reliability buddy” for your novel. Sit down with them and set some writing “deadlines” for yourself. Pick something that’s not too quick, but not to far off either.Choosing a tighter deadline will help you have less time to scrutinize yourself/your book and more time to just get the writing done.Then ask your RB to keep on you to hit your deadlines. Also, it helps if you have a meeting once a week. And this doesn’t need to be a long meeting, even five or ten minutes on the phone to check in and see how you’re doing or to get a quick pep talk if you need one works.Having a person to answer to and set weekly goals with is another good way to stay on track.
  • Embrace Your Support System–When the going gets rough–or you get blocked/feel uninspired/want to throw your computer out the window–it helps to have a person (or group of people) you can turn to for support.I hired a writing coach to be my RB and help me stay on track, but she also ended up being a great support system for me. Whenever I was feeling stuck with the story or wanted to quit writing it altogether, I turned to her for support and she would always talk me away from the delete button. She is most definitely one of the main reasons my book is finished right now.Even though I wrote the book, my coach was a vital part of my success. She not only kept me organized and on track, but she allowed me to see things from other perspectives and make my story the best it could possibly be.

Stay tuned for Part Two of what I learned, coming this weekend.