Procrastination is About Fear 💝

This is a post reprinted from my blog: https://writersfunzone.com/blog/2020/08/13/procrastination-is-about-fear-by-beth-barany/

Picture This:

There you are. You want to write, but something stops you. You turn away, do the dishes, clean the counters, pay the bills, anything but write.

Yet, your story calls to you in the night, or upon waking. And you despair with ever finishing the story or polishing it to a fine sheen for your readers.

What stops you?

What has you turning away from the thing you desire most in this world—to send hearts soaring or beating hard, eyeballs glued to the page, readers hanging on your every word, their daily lives forgotten?

I say it’s fear—the kind of fear that has me scurrying away from the page in wordless panic, not even realizing what I’m doing chores until I’m up to my elbows in suds, and the writing or more often editing hasn’t been done by the doer—the writer—me.

It’s easy to procrastinate and beat yourself up about it.

But if you know the cause then maybe you could have more compassion, more grace, for yourself.

I realized this recently when I was torturing myself for not working on my final revisions.

A friend mentioned having grace. In that instant I realized why I’d been avoiding the work.

I was afraid of what others might think of Book 2 in the series when Book 1 had been well received.

I was afraid I just couldn’t measure up to this ideal I had in my head for delivering good writing.

I doubted my skills as a writer.

I doubted the choices I’d already made in the story.

I quaked before the prospect of having to make more hard decisions that would fix the story into its final form.

Was I doing justice to the story I wanted to tell?

And the most pernicious of fears and doubts and negative self-talk: who the hell did I think I was to be able to tell this story?

And the dark whisperings that I’d never be good enough, never have the right credentials, never measure up to “those” people’s ideas of what a good story was…

Oh boy. So harsh.

Ouch and double ouch.

Under the Layers of Procrastination

All these layers under procrastination, all these “good” reasons to stay away from the novel, from the work of my heart and soul, to stay arm’s length away from the deep and hard work of being an artist and leaving my all heart and passion and truths on the page.

So, once I realized I was afraid and acknowledged all those shouts and whisperings, acknowledged the primal need to flee from the work, I held myself with compassion, with grace, and I gave it up to the Universe—the thing that is greater than all of us, the thing that sparks life and creative ideas and love and mystery and the glorious Unknown.

I bowed to the Universe and all the unknowns, for I am little in the face of all that.

After honoring my fears, I was able to get to work and face my story. And then make one story decision at a time.

That’s all. That’s how I get working again.

To get more specific, for the writing and editing, I make the action doable, small enough that it’s easy to say, “I can do that.”

Sometimes that means I set my timer for 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, or I decide to work on just one paragraph or one page. Or when I writing new material, I give myself the easy goal of writing 100 words or 500 words. Whatever feels easy.

Because at the end of the day, what matters is that I showed up fully for the story—mind, body, heart, and soul—and that I made progress, however small.

What is procrastination for you? How do you handle it? How do you get writing again?

Comment below. I’d love to hear.

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Never has my house been so clean, so many meals cooked, or so little laundry in either clean or dirty basket since studying for finals in college as when I’m dreading Words on a Page.

Prayer helps get unstuck.

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Fear is probably the biggest reason, but another is indecision or lack of a plan, which I think is a little different than fear.

I think of all the stories I started based on a really cool idea and then around page 20 or 50 or 70 I lost steam. And sometimes I lost steam because I didn’t know what to do next.

Nowadays, I try to combat that by following the 60-scene method, where I have them listed on notecards. On my current writing, I know I have five more scenes which will get me to my midpoint. And then I’ll write the next fifteen which will get me to the the end of Act II. I could still fall prey to procrastination (based on fear or perfectionism or low-confidence days), but it won’t be for lack of a plan. I always know where the story is going, and the plot itself builds confidence because I put a lot of work into it.

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I procrastinate at times, but it isn’t because of fear. (Seven years of posting fanfiction online cured that.) It’s because I’m dead tired.

I work a physically demanding, full time 4AM-1PM job so I have time to write after I get off work. After two or three hours of writing or writing related work, there are always things I really want to/need to work on, but I’m too tired to keep working on them.

Not writing for too long literally makes my fingers itch, so dreading it never really occurred to me.

Usually, I take two or three days off work every couple months so I can just write. I’ve made myself stop at 6 hours a day though… More than that, and I wear myself out too much. I like to use a timer and start around 6AM, then write until noon. That way I have the rest of the day to do those pesky house chores.

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Please do not confuse my tendency to procrastinate with my nutty obsession to organize the crisper by color/size/shape/purpose/season/national origins and, or alphabetically.

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It’s funny, I was just thinking about this topic again tonight, and it’s interesting how often I see online where people can churn out fanfiction, but when they move to original fiction, they get stumped.

I know I talk about it a lot, but working in fanfic for years has helped me tremendously as a writer and as a person.

In this instance, I found myself thinking about how when I sit down to work on my fanfic projects, I just sit down, outline, draft, edit, and post. There is no questioning what characters should be involved. There’s no wondering where the timeline goes or how much emphasis to put on theme. Those thought processes are there, but they don’t dominate. Instead, I end up focusing on the story – what happens to who and why.

When you write fanfiction, you draw from an already-established source. You don’t have to wonder what happened in the past/future because you were there – you saw/experienced it.

I half wonder if this mindset couldn’t be useful in original fiction too. Obviously, it’s not perfect, and in order to know what happened in your character’s past, you would have to create it, but honestly, I think sitting down and answering those questions is sometimes the answer. Those brainstorming sessions where you ask yourself, “Why does this person like running?” or “When did they decide to get that car?” What stories could our characters tell us if we sit down and listen sometimes?

I suppose this is a bit like a character interview, but more free-form - like a quick conversation on the bus or waiting in line at the grocery store.

All that to say, what would happen if we abandoned the excuse, “I don’t know where to go”, and took the next step, knowing we are writing based on something. It might not look or feel the same, but when we psyche ourselves out and start worrying that we don’t have the wherewithal to do this, we have to remind ourselves that we do know where to go, we just might need a flashlight to get there this time.

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@dtill359 - I like the way you posed this as we DO know where to go. Do you ever have a start and a finish, but the map to get from point A to point B has so many different options like a NYC street grid? Sometimes I struggle with opting for the scenic or more direct route. Perhaps it depends on what the audience expects? Afterall, the passenger often tells the cab driver what route to take. Do you take what the fans / audience want into consideration for your fanfic?

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@Saragflee: Yes, I always like to have a start and end point before I start anything.

Right now I’m rewriting the second TV series of canon for the fandom I’m in. Which is fun because it has three incarnations (a TV series in English, a Japanese movie, and a rebooted Japanese version that just ended in 2019) all of which I’m drawing on for inspiration, plus adding in original content.

Actually… I’m the most prolific writer in the world for this particular fandom. There is one other person who’s written more than me, but his fanfic days are pretty well over. So, if I write it, they’ll read it. There are things fans like more, obviously, but no, I don’t write to the fanbase.

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Does watching Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu/other sources and telling yourself it’s ‘research’ count? It boils down to the same thing i.e. avoidance. Although, depending on what you watch, can also be illuminating. But I agree, the first step is to face those doubts. Eventually they do get tackled, even if it’s via the laundry, long walks, emails you tell yourself are important, reading, listening to podcasts … and the Golden Globe’s list. I don’t beat myself up though, and try to enjoy the ‘break’. I get cheered up over other people’s dramas. The ‘distraction’ / not thinking about the problem in my head isn’t time wasted because it’s also strengthening somehow. —Really? Well, it’s better than feeling guilty, right?

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I try not to use the word ‘procrastination’—I handle it by recognizing I’m incubating. We all have an individual tolerance level for when we need to get started on a project, we sense it, and we seem to get antsy when it feels like we’ve pushed past that tolerance level. I’ve learned to trust that when I haven’t yet started a project it’s because things are still getting sorted in the shower, or in my dreams, or in that time before waking, even when I’m fixing lunch—those little mental conversations, rehearsals, that start in the middle of a paragraph and trail off before the end of a sentence. And if I’m not freaking, and I’m allowing incubation full reign, the work comes out in a gush when I do get started. Much easier to shape and manage than a myriad of false starts.

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Beth, procrastination has never been a real problem for me, neither has fear ever been a real problem for me. Now, I’m not saying that I’ve never experienced fear, everyone has. It’s how one handles their fear (s) that matters. For me, it’s always been like the good admiral said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” We must make our fears work for us and not allow them to work against us. My wife was one of the latter, an aspiring writer who let her fears work against her.

My wife was a brilliant teacher, dual certified in French and Spanish. She taught both languages in a Catholic middle school for over twenty years before being forced into medical retirement because of problems with her legs. After retiring, she dreamt of writing children’s books. She started many times, but never got past the first few pages of anyone of them. Why? Because she was afraid that she wasn’t good enough. The cause of her fear, she kept comparing herself to me, a writer who had already been writing for three decades and had more clients than Carter Had Little Liver Pills. She knew that there was no comparison between writing children’s books and ghosting books and articles for clients in the electric and electronics industries like I did, but she just couldn’t bring herself to accept that. Now it’s too late for her to achieve her dream of publishing children’s books.

The moral of this story is that a writer becomes their own worse enemy when they compare their abilities to the abilities of another writer. Writing is one of those skills that can only be learned and mastered by doing it, by writing. An aspiring writer who compares their abilities with the abilities of a seasoned writer is only doing themselves a grave disservice.

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Like old Ben (Benjamin Franklin) so wisely said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

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Not sure this is the best place to share this —but this post is dedicated for Jerry’s wife especially. I was sent this amazing article this morning from a writing buddy in Wales (although it dates from a few years ago), and feel compelled to share it. The quote from Vonnegut resonated —

“We should be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

Made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. For the full article: