Why We Procrastinate

When I was last writing on procrastination, I realized that it was such a wide topic that it was not possible to cover everything in one post.  It was then that I had decided that I’d do few – each covering a different aspect. Today we’ll look at why writers procrastinate. I did a little research of my own and this is what I came up with:

1. There are days when we just don’t feel like writing. This was the main reason given for procrastination. According to these writers – You can’t force yourself to write. If there are times when you don’t feel like writing, it is best to leave it for later. Forcing yourself will never produce good results; it may even lead to frustration, which is even worse. These writers go on to say that in such cases, whenever they have left writing for later, the results have always been good. It’s as if their creativity rejuvenates during the resting period. (This reminds me of the comment by Mary Maddux to my previous post. She had said this exact same thing.)

2.  We don’t know enough on the topic. Some writers say that they procrastinate when they feel they don’t know enough on the topic. Leaving things for later gives them time to think, to check/recheck the material they have collected, or even to further research the topic. This happens mainly with writers who are perfectionists.

3. We don’t like what we write. Quite a few writers say that they put their writing off for later when they feel the quality of what they are producing is not good enough. They feel they can write much better than what they are writing now. This again is a sign of perfectionism – wanting their writing to be perfect.

4. We have other things on our mind. According to other writers, they leave their writing when they go through bad phases. That is, when they are under stress or tension due to some personal or work-related reason. They say it’s just not possible for them to write anything when they have so many other things on their minds. If they force themselves to, the results are not good. So, it’s best to leave the writing for the time when they are feeling better and their minds have cleared.

5. We’re too busy. A few writers procrastinate when they are busy with other things – personal or otherwise. They say that sometimes they just do not have the time and so have no choice but to leave the writing for later.

Do you procrastinate? Or does a writer that you know does? What is your, or his/her, reason for putting things off for later?

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14 Responses

  1. Thank you for another thoughtful post on procrastination. It’s hard to tease out all the reasons for procrastination, but this post is a great foundation for looking into it!

    A few things came to mind as I read this. I think that for me, #4 is sometimes the reason for #1. I don’t feel like writing partly because I have other things on my mind. I sometimes procrastinate because of #2. It’s partly perfectionism that causes me to feel I don’t know enough on the topic, but it’s also a lack of confidence sometimes. It goes something like “I should make sure I’m right about this, will cover it authoritatively enough, don’t make mistakes” and so on. More and more, I ignore the “I-don’t-know-enough” voice and just go ahead. Usually dropping the writing and doing more research doesn’t really help. (Except for an occasional check on a fact.)

    • You are right, Mary, it’s hard to tease out all the reasons. There are many, and they are all inter-related in some way or the other – as you have shown through your case. Like you say – this post is just a foundation. I’ll keep adding more as I get more information. This post is just the result of what I came up with after talking to several writers of various fields. I have kept your comment for future use. Do keep your views coming – they’re always very useful.

  2. I rarely procrastinate, but I do admit that I have trouble writing if I am upset or very bothered by something. It is hard to concentrate.

    What helps in these instances is to (a) confront the person or subject that is upsetting me or (b) take a walk and look at the world around me.

    My upsets don’t usually last too long and I can get on with my writing!

    For those who don’t write because they don’t like their writing, my advice is to keep writing. Push through that. If you write a lot and get the words out, your voice will come. But if you edit yourself into oblivion, you’ll never know the joy that comes from this art form.

    • Thank you, Laura, for the very useful tips on how to overcome the situations that lead to procrastination. I have just one question -

      You say that if writers don’t like their writing, they should still continue writing. Do you mean continue on the same project that they are not satisfied with, or continue writing with something else?

      • That is an excellent question! It would depend on the writer, I think. Some people get so critical of their own work that they just stop writing…anything. For those writers I would suggest continuing on the project without concern for quality. The goal would be to finish. Period.

        For those more experienced writers, who just get a bit stuck, it would be a judgment call. Sometimes it is the right thing to scrap a idea and start over. Forcing yourself to write something you know isn’t working, wouldn’t be a good plan!

        However, I suspect that most people who say they aren’t writing because they don’t like what they are writing, are in fact afraid that their work won’t measure up in some way to some reader. For those writers, I wish to encourage them to just keep writing. That is really the only way to improve!

  3. Laura, very good advice. I hope it reaches the writers who stop writing. Thank you.

  4. I put off writing mainly for three reasons:
    1. Time-I love to write, but find the days filled so it’s pushed back
    2. Perfection-I’m a perfectionist, so it’s hard to get started. I have the outcome in my mind so before I start I’m already overwhelmed.
    3. It seems unless you have a huge following-no one is really paying attention. I love to share information-writing makes ME feel like I’m contributing. If there was a higher expectation, then the first two reasons would be mute.

  5. You know, Terri, the first two of your reasons are also my reasons for putting off my writing. As for your third reason – I understand your point. We all like to have a big following, and if we did, we would never put off writing. We would never want to disappoint our followers.
    Thanks for your input.

  6. Great topic. Unfortunately I have too many reasons for procrastination.

    I put off writing for a few main reasons:

    1. I have 11 kids and work at home. Being the comic book dad lends to a lot of play with the children and they are just as much of a playful distraction as they are a noisy one, so I wait until they are asleep. more times than not, I find myself too tired to write.

    2. Day to day non-essentials. Wanted Hero had over 750,000 visitors it’s first year. It was read in over 60 countries. I had over 15,000 kids asking me questions a week. I found myself spending all my time doing the non essentials (emails, Facebook, message boards) instead of creating more materials for readers and eventually lost most of them by not doing my actual job!

    3. The “Mood”. Until recently, i was unable to write unless I ‘felt’ a certain way. I had huge stretches of time when i couldn’t do anything BUT write, then I just dried out. Not the ideas, not the research…I just didn’t feel like doing it.

    Now I simply switch writing projects back and forth. I have found that there is always something i like to write about—so I have plenty of projects on my plate at the same time. =)

    Jaime Buckley

    • Thank you, Jaime, for adding to the reasons for procrastinating. All very valid reasons. I can understand how busy you must be with your children and so many emails to reply to. I do hope you get time to complete all your projects. Best of luck.

  7. Jamie,

    WOW! I’m fascinated by your life. WOW!

    I am very interested to know how one can possibly answer 15,000 emails a week. I hope to get to that point one day, but am concerned with how one does that. You cannot hire someone to write your fans, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to handle that kind of traffic.

    I also find that I have trouble keeping all the balls in the air. Twitter has taken a backseat to Linkedin, but still it is hard to keep up.

    TheWriteCorner, you sure know how to start a discussion. What a great inspirational article you wrote!!

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