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Sharpening Pencils Isn’t Writing – 4 Signs You’re Procrastinating

sharpening pencils isn't writingWhen I first started freelance writing I had an electric pencil sharpener. I loved putting a fine point on every pencil, and I had quite a few, before I’d settle down with my yellow legal tablet and begin to write. It was my warm-up exercise and probably took five minutes or so. Angela Booth has some potentially more productive warm-up ideas.

Although those five minutes helped me get started, they weren’t writing time.

A warm-up exercise is fine, but when it slips into writing avoidance, well that’s another problem. Here are some classic examples:

Endless research. Sure, you need to know the the facts and research often leads to surprises that spark additional ideas. But if you find yourself spending more than an hour or so on researching a 1,500 word article, or days and days or even weeks and months on arcane details for the yet to be written book or novel, you’re probably procrastinating.

Outlining over and over again. Outlining is not writing. It can be a help – I often create a list of things that I want to include in a blog post, and for large projects I’ve been known to use a simplified outline. Both help me get the writing done. When I get into what some call analysis-paralysis I know that I’m avoiding writing for some reason.

Trying to find the ‘perfect’ market. It’s one thing to use Writer’s Market or google to find two or three markets for an idea, and it’s another to find yourself several hours later still looking for exactly the right market. There isn’t one and as John Soares says “you need to know when to avoid perfectionism.

Unending rewriting and editing. Yes, you need to do your best, and if you’re ever going to be successful you’ve got to quit writing and editing and get to submitting and/or marketing. The article 6 Ways Freelance Writers Can Quit Procrastinating may help.

Maybe it’s because we’re creative, but it seems to me there are innumerable things we can dream up to avoid actually putting words down on paper (well the screen), declaring a piece finished and getting it out the door. Anything that gets in the way of that is probably fear based – fear of rejection and/or fear that someone somewhere will disapprove.

Lori Widmer wrote a nifty piece called Fear Busting. If you’ve got any hesitancy at all about your writing, procrastinate just enough to read her post, then start writing!

How do you get the writing done?


Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Yusuf C

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • What Patton said has a lot of bearing here as well:

    “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
    — General Patton

    • I’m trying to think of a substitute for violently although from Patton it’s perfect.

  • These are definitely some areas of procrastination.

    I’ve seen some writing books recommend doodling to get the juices flowing, but even this can turn into procrastination. So can playing solitaire, minesweeper, or tweeting your friends until “inspiration strikes”.

    The best way to write is simply to start writing. If you’re working on a rough draft, it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it most likely won’t be. But that’s okay. With something on the page, you have something you can work with.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Anne,

    I am new to your site. Glad I have found you and your site. There seems to be plenty of tips to improve my writing here. I will be browsing around alot. It will support my own personal development blog.

    This post is quite related to my latest post on taking massive action for success. The signs of procrastination are well covered by your post but I guess it is extremely relevant to those who procrastinate in general.

    How do I overcome delaying action when writing? I set out a daily plan and make them rules. If I don’t complete my writing assignments for the day, there is a consequence that I tag to this inaction. I find that motivating for me.

    Jimmy recently posted..6 Effective Ways to Start Taking Action for Success in LifeMy Profile

    • Anne

      You’ll probably like today’s post on bookending Jimmy.

  • In my case, since I freelance when I’m not studying, all the work is also a relaxing activity from studying, so I take my time. I can take hours, but if I feel good, I have no problem with it.

    Different thing when I’m on a deadline. If that’s the case, I manage my time scrupulously, avoiding everything that’s superfluous to only focus on what has to be done.

    Do I get slow when I’m on a deadline too? Yes, unfortunately, because of the continuous interruptions and disturbance I get at home. I still hand assignments in on deadline, but with an exploding head then. x(

    ~ Luana S.
    Luana Spinetti recently posted..‘Love Can Be Heavy’ at TheSexCipher.comMy Profile

    • Anne

      Yes, I know the feeling. Getting a blog post up today took way more time than usual… no clue why. It happens.

  • Hi Anne – avoiding the actual writing is something I struggle with when I don’t have a set deadline. I’ve recently started using the pomodora technique for writing. Focus on the writing for 25 minutes and then take a break (this is my break now!:) ) …I’ve downloaded a timer onto my desktop which is helpful and keeps me focused.

  • It’s best to just make a plan and get going — and then modify that plan as needed. Too many people spend too much time planning, analyzing, and puttering.

    And thanks for linking to my post!
    John Soares recently posted..Why Writers Must Avoid PerfectionismMy Profile

    • Anne

      You’re welcome, John. I like your blog. And yes, the way I say it often is I have an aiming point… which changes a lot often.

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