The other day, I was talking with my cousin Laura, a writer and divinity leader. We were discussing the struggle to get things done without a deadline. Or getting things done before the last minute of a deadline.
Writing, or making anything that you then put on view for the world, is difficult for many reasons. Here are common scenarios we were discussing:
Vaguely scheduling “writing” on your to-do list, but then doing literally everything else on your to-do list in order to avoid it. The “productive” procrastinator.
Endlessly researching a topic without actually writing about it. The “expert” procrastinator.
Writing something, but then letting it waste away in the ready-for-revision file because you’re paralyzed by the thought of making it better or worse. The “indecision” procrastinator.
Getting things down, revised, and published is a feat, no matter how often you do it.
If you’re having difficulty with a writing project, here are some ideas to help you get it written:
Change aromas. Burn incense, palo santo, or sage—or if you’re smoke-free, try aromatherapy oils. Not only is it fun to be witchy and ritualistic, but using the same smell over and over can help signal to your creative brain that it’s time to create. Some smells have even been associated with better concentration.
Turn on an internet blocker and use it. You know who you are. This. Is. The. Answer.
Leave your phone in the other room (I do this all the time) and tell yourself that you can’t look until you’ve written what you said you would. A low-tech internet blocker.
Bribe yourself. What’s the thing you’re eyeing that you want, but don’t need? Give yourself a finish line or milestone to achieve and in return receive the prize. Be fair with yourself, somewhere between easy and ultra-difficult and something that reflects the amount of work.
“Seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” That’s what my awesome performance-writing professor used to say (she’s amazing). And when I get all run-around-the-house-doing-chores, that saying pops in my head until I sit my butt down. Obviously you don’t need to use the same quote, but motivational sayings can be a helpful push.
Tell yourself, just a sentence. Or, just the headline. Or, just the introduction, outline, or conclusion. It doesn’t matter which but go with the one that you think will be easiest for you to do at that moment. If you’re not a writer, start with the smallest, easiest thing. Chances are by just starting, more writing will come. And getting started is always the hardest part.
Use a prompt. This is great for whatever you create, but is especially useful for writing. There are approximately 100 zillion free writing prompts available on the internet. There are also books filled with prompts. And for blog posts, pick a post from somewhere else that you like and create a post where you try to use an element of that post. For example, a How to that uses animal metaphors and is 1,200 words. Adding some specificity to your writing time can help shake sentences loose.
Give yourself a daily word count. Saying that you’ll start with 100 words can help you get the gears turning and give you the confidence to write the next 100 words. This is how literally every fiction writer I know has found success. If you’re not writing, use a measurement appropriate to your project and set the hurdle at the lowest rung.
Set a timer. This is basically the Pomodoro Technique: set a time of 20-60 minutes and see how much you can write (make, etc) within that time. Feeling like you’re in a race can help you push through the awkward pauses. I also use this for reading when I’m feeling distracted to keep me on track.
Set a mini-deadline. If you like being done with creative work before noon, then say you only have to create until noon (if you’re struggling to even start). Or, you only have until noon to create (if you’re struggling to keep the momentum). Something I do is sign up for a yoga class or other activity to prompt me to try to get things done beforehand.
Go somewhere else. I highly recommend checking out your local libraries. They’re quiet with free WiFi. And librarians can be wellsprings of knowledge about research practices. Libraries aside, there are also co-working spaces, coffee shops, sometimes bookstores even welcome people to work in their space.
There’s my list. I’ve used all of those methods to help me get things written. And they all originated in my creative writing practice, but work like magic for my freelancing business. I hope they can also be helpful to you.
As a final note, I have to add that sometimes we fail. Sometimes the writing doesn’t get done and the things doesn’t get made. There’s no reason to give up, overwhelmed by your own hopelessness. Reach out to your besties, dust yourself off, and remind yourself that one day does not decide the value of your work. Sometimes the juice just isn’t there, the well needs to refill, you need to be inspired elsewhere.
That’s perfectly okay. Steer your ship through your own waters, own your story and your journey. You’re allowed to, I encourage you, and I’d love to hear all about it. Feel free to drop me a line on my contact page or visit me on Instagram.