How to Overcome Writer’s Procrastination Once and for All

    writer's procrastination - woman thinking

    Can we please eliminate the word procrastination from our vocabulary? No one ever feels better or more alive by labeling themselves as a procrastinator.

    Some words flow off the tongue like mellifluous or resplendent, but procrastinate? Yech! Other words reveal a treasure in their origin. Inspiration has its root in “to breathe” and happiness means good fortune. But procrastination? It comes from the Latin meaning to put off until tomorrow. No revelation there.

    Yet, as writers, most of us procrastinate, and it’s not a positive experience. We find checking email for the millionth time way more compelling than working on that piece that has a deadline coming up. Then we judge ourselves for our lack of focus. Frustration, feeling stuck – this is not a happy road to travel.

    Does this scenario sound familiar? Then let’s find our way out of the struggle. We begin by putting on our explorer hats, the ones with the spotlight on the forehead, so we can see what we are actually dealing with.

    What is Procrastination?

    To say you are procrastinating means that you are living smack in the middle of the land of “should.” And when has a “should” ever served anyone? In essence, you are saying, “I’m doing this right now, when I should be doing that.” You are putting yourself down and rejecting this moment as not good enough.

    When you have convinced yourself that another action is better than the one you are taking, two sides within you have taken up arms, and the resulting inner conflict is depleting and depressing. No wonder you shut down and go into brain fog. Who wants to fight a losing battle?

    Can we learn to be kinder toward ourselves? We might find that as the dust settles, our actions become focused, efficient, and even joyful.

    How Procrastination Works

    What we call procrastination is all about avoiding. With good intention and high hopes, you begin working on a project. But before you know it, you are busily researching some fascinating tidbit or preparing a tasty snack. How did that happen?

    You can discover the answer by rewinding and playing the scene back in slow motion. What you would notice is that you are prone to procrastination when what you are working on:

    • Seems boring or unexciting,
    • Triggers fears – of rejection, of not being capable, of not being perfect, or
    • Activates a pattern of self-denigrating thoughts – I can’t, I’m no good, this sucks.

    See how becoming aware is empowering? Once you learn to manage the thoughts and feelings that fuel procrastination, they stop sabotaging you. Then the choice is yours – writing or some other activity. No stress, no angst.

    Familiarize yourself with each of these reactions and practice the tools that address them. Procrastination will no longer be your nemesis.


    Boredom can be sneaky, as you might have noticed. There is no neon sign that flashes, “I’m bored.” Rather, our focus slowly drifts away, and we find ourselves disengaged with the task at hand.

    The fix: The antidote to boredom is involvement. If you realize you are procrastinating because you are bored, try these:

    • Reconnect with your excitement about the project you are working on.
    • Work on something else that engages you more.
    • Take a break by doing something pleasurable, then take that sense of pleasure back to your project.
    • Move your energy by walking or stretching.
    • Consider modifying the project in some way so it brings you joy.
    • Remember why you are writing – to help, entertain, or move people – and keep that reason foremost in your mind.


    Unexamined fear virtually guarantees that you will procrastinate. Until you experience the benefits of befriending fear, you will resist feeling it. And what better way to avoid fear than to slip off into mindless and harmful activities.

    Yet, writers feel afraid. If you want to stay alive and engaged in your work, get serious about dealing with fear.

    The fix: There is no substitute for becoming familiar with the way fear arises in you. Awareness always equals empowerment.

    • Be curious and compassionate in your approach to fear.
    • Turn your attention toward the fear. Lean into it. Discover the direct experience of it in your body and your thoughts.
    • Recognize that fear is not the enemy – it’s a natural human emotion.
    • Ask the fear what it wants and needs. It may be trying to tell you something you’ve been ignoring.
    • Find the wise place inside you that is not affected by fear, and move from there.

    Limiting Thoughts

    Contracted beliefs about ourselves and our abilities drop like a sledgehammer to squelch our enthusiasm. If this mental habit revs up in the midst of writing, no wonder you have a hard time staying focused.

    The fix
    : We tend to assume our automatic thoughts are true without investigating them. Are they?

    • Question each thought to determine if it is true or not. (Hint: It isn’t.)
    • Notice how negative thoughts affect your body, mind, and emotions.
    • See if the thoughts are serving you.
    • Take a couple of deep breaths to help the thoughts move through you.
    • Bring compassion to the place in you that gives rise to these thoughts.
    • Reconnect with your true intention that is not colored by habitual thinking.

    Guess what? Procrastinating has just become an opportunity. Each time you lose your focus, check in with yourself. Are you bored, afraid, or consumed by negative thinking? Once you understand the source of procrastination, apply the right tool for the job. Your conflict and resistance will diminish, leaving you fresh, energized, and ready to write again.

    How about you? What fuels procrastination in you? What strategies have you found to be useful in dealing with it?

    About the author

      Gail Brenner

      Gail Brenner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author who joyfully helps people discover that suffering is optional. She is the author of The End of Self-Help: Discovering Peace and Happiness Right at the Heart of Your Messy, Scary, Brilliant Life. Learn more at

    • Fon James says:

      Great post Gail! I am not the only one on a mission to help writers cure procrastination 🙂 I love the point about remembering why you are writing. So often we get caught up in the task of WHAT we are writing that we forget WHY we are doing it in the first place. A good coaching question that I always ask my clients is…”how can you keep your mission in front of you when you write?” It really helps me as a writer, and my clients always tell me how it keeps them focused. Funny thing is, some writers begin writing without really knowing the answer to the “Why.”

      • Knowing why I am writing helps me as well, Fon. If I get stuck or find myself procrastinating, I will stop, close my eyes, go inside, and reconnect with my purpose and intention. Immediately, there is more clarity. I’m with you: if our writing is to have depth, we need to know where it’s coming from.

    • Stefanie says:

      I love the fresh perspective on procrastination, Gail! Instead of the natural self-critical reaction to procrastinating, it’s helpful to appreciate whatever task you choose to do–embrace it. (It all goes back to awareness). For example, how many great ideas come to writers in the shower, while making coffee, or taking a walk? The appreciation of other activities that you perform before the main task at hand can actually make your “main event” task easier or more productive once you get to it.

      Let go of the procrastination guilt.

      Also, Dr. Daniel Amen’s philosophy of “Kill the ANTS” (Automatic Negative Thoughts) is spot-on. Writing down (often untrue) fears is the first step to conquering them and moving forward.

      • I’m with you, Stefanie, about letting go of the procrastination guilt.

        What you are suggesting here is that we may not actually be procrastinating when we think we are. This is an interesting point.

        It boils down to the thought that visits us about what we “should” be doing. We may be doing something that supports our writing, but we ignore that and instead focus on the fact that we aren’t meeting an expectation we have set up for ourselves.

        So if we find ourselves “procrastinating,” it would be very useful to ask: Am I actually doing something that supports the writing process? On the other hand, it wouldn’t be helpful to use this question as a cop-out or justification for not writing.

        Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    • Issa says:

      I think I’ll go for the boring part as an excuse to procrastinate. I’m the type of person who needs variety and I get stuck in a rut if I don’t get my creative fix. Sometimes, I love working just two days before deadline as all those adrenaline rush can fuel the ‘excitement factor’ in my writing – making me write a better copy that sells. I love your suggestions and given my odd condition, I do hope ( really ) that your tips will work for someone like me. Thanks!

      • I’m glad the boredom part resonated, Issa. You can try the tips I have listed in that section. If you feel you would like to go deeper, you might see if your boredom is fueled by a fear of some kind – maybe there’s a fear of boredom? Then you can investigate the fear and learn to welcome it so it doesn’t control you.

        And maybe you aren’t procrastinating. Maybe you simply enjoy the rush that comes from getting close to the deadline.

    • It sounds like you know everything you need to know to stop procrastinating, Guido. Maybe you are getting something out of procrastinating? When you figure that out, you might notice you are ready to take action.

    • Guido says:

      I already know all the theory about procrastination. Actually, I could write a book about it, but I will end up procrastinating it!

    • Tarahlynn says:

      I’ve always found that having an outline is empowering and is really helping when dealing with procrastination for me. Most of the time I’m procrastinating because I’m not sure what to do next and doubt that I will do it well. If I attack the problem intellectually and plan out the details of where to go and how to get there, the piece that I’m working on suddenly seems a lot less daunting and a lot more do-able.

      • This is a great suggestion, Tarahlynn, and it works for me as well. I used to think an outline was confining, that it cramped my creativity. But I have found the opposite to be true, as you have as well. Breaking a task down so that it seems do-able is a strategy recommended by procrastination experts. Thanks for mentioning this.

    • Rob Hoey says:

      Very nicely put. I was going to put off writing this but you helped me put it all in focus. I have been afraid of writing garbage and failing to write is not failing at writing, so I couldn’t be a failure.

      • Either way, you’re not a failure, Rob. Your fear is about what might happen when you write, but what is actually true? You don’t know how it will turn out.

        It sounds like you want to write, so my suggestion would be to go and do what you love and not let the fear stop you.

    • What a day for you, Joelle! You did something entirely different – getting out of bed and owning your stuckness. Once you own it, you can do something about it. Well said and well done.

      I love your willingness to dig in and understand how you become stuck. The way in is the way out.

      You are most welcome to print this post.

    • Joelle says:

      Great post. Exactly what I needed today. I’ve become stuck while writing and it has leeched into every area of my life. So today instead of just going back to bed, pulling the covers up over my head and pretending that “I’m just tired”, I decided to own my stuckness. Then I can do something about it. Between this post and a couple of books that caught my attention I am seeing how I became stuck and let myself slip into procrastination world. So, Thank You. And would you mind if I printed this post?

    • Rommel says:

      I think tips like these have limited utility… if a person is bored, afraid, or self limiting enough that procrastination has become a chronic problem, then that person probably wont even read this article. If a person though already recognizes that he/she tends to procrastinate and is looking for a way to overcome it and is ready to try out the potential solutions, then that person is already 90% there.

      • I love a challenge, Rommel! Thanks for your comment.

        I don’t disagree at all with your thoughts that these tips have limited utility for someone so stuck that they wouldn’t be reading this article. And people who are ready and willing to try out solutions may find some useful ideas here.

        I think the audience for this article is a third group of people: writers who procrastinate but haven’t found their way through it yet. For those people, just saying, “implement these tips” may not work. What is required is a deeper exploration of what is going on inside them that leads to them getting in their own way.

        For example, fear can be paralyzing, especially when it is unconscious. If people realize that unexamined fear is fueling procrastination (see comment above by leahnicoletta), they can take steps to befriend and explore the fear. Then when procrastination happens, they can bring a loving presence right into the fear, so the fear loses its power and a non-fear-based action can be taken.

        In addition, fear and limiting beliefs may have their root in unresolved issues from the past that need to be unwound.

        There are two approaches: top down and bottom up. For some people, tips work. For others, the process of unearthing and untying inner knots is needed.

        My view is – whatever works. What is key here is that freedom from habits that don’t serve us is always possible.

        Any reaction?

    • Hi Gail- great post on procrastination. I think everyone has at least one thing thing in their life that they’re currently procrasting over. I like that you brought up fear. I always thought I procarastinated because of boredome but now that I read your article I think I do so because of fear. Fear of not knowing how to do something or fear that my hard work won’t go noticed.

      Thanks- I’m going to take your tips to move forward.

      • Hi Leah,

        It doesn’t surprise me that a thorough exploration of boredom reveals fear underneath. I’m glad you found the source of the problem – fear of not knowing how to do something or fear that your hard work won’t be noticed.

        Once you are aware of what is going on, you can take appropriate action. Regarding fears, it’s helpful to separate what we are afraid of from what is true. Do you not know how to do something, or are you afraid you don’t? Is your hard work going unnoticed or are you afraid it will?

        Often fears project negative outcomes into the future – when the reality is that we don’t know what the future will bring. Better to be with the uncertainty, although this takes some time to get used to.

        I wish you well in learning about and moving past your fears.

    • I have two views on procrastination… depending on how much work I have, and how far I delve into the past:

      * When I need to definitely kill procrastination, I use timeboxing (link to my blog, Productivity breeds productivity… and timeboxing fuels being productive in a (possibly) smooth way.

      * When I look back, I see that a lot of my procrastination has been useful. Some tasks I started to evade greater tasks have turned into interesting knowledge I have been able to share. Read more on this view in Luck Favours the Procrastinator (link to The Friendly Anarchist).

      Thus, when I am in the middle of task chaos, I just timebox, when I am not that stressed, I try to give some time to ‘do as I wish’. And for very, very long winded tasks, I use continuous improvement (another link to my blog… I’ve written quite a few articles on time management!!), in which the cumulative effect of just a little work every day breaks down enormous tasks into mundane tasks.

      Just my two cents on procrastination… for more, you can read my blog 😀 (and hopefully some day my free ebook!) or ask with a comment here, I’ll be watching.



      • Hi Ruben,

        What strikes me most about your comment is how procrastination is such a rich experience. We can use it to learn techniques, to engage in an inner exploration about what we really want to do, to discover our hidden blocks and be free of them, and to allow it to take us to new vistas we might not have considered.

        I took a look at the links you mentioned. You have certainly thought a lot about procrastination! I love that people are suggesting different strategies and approaches. I’m sure there is something for everyone.

        The key point here is to not be paralyzed by procrastination. Much better to recognize it is happening and take some kind of action to shift our attention.

    • Hi Gail,
      what’s been most helpful to me has been learning that my thoughts aren’t necessarily true. The mental picture (my personal cartoon, really) that goes with that idea is of a human with a giant head & a tiny body, emphasizing how our culture overrates thinking.

      • I love this image, Eileen! We sometimes become so consumed in our thoughts that we can barely see out of our heads. No wonder we procrastinate.

        Realizing the limiting thoughts aren’t true is a huge step. Then we can stay present and make conscious, affirming choices – and not be derailed by our thinking.

    • Gail, I like the idea of using the right tool for the job, i.e., the “fix” for boredom, fear, or limiting thoughts. That’s a helpful approach.

      “What fuels procrastination in you?” I think it’s mostly indecision. What should I do first when I have lots of things to do?

      “What strategies have you found to be useful in dealing with it?” (1) making a list, picking some quick, easy stuff, and using the momentum to tackle something more challenging. (2) Making a start by doing a quick mind-map of the post or speech or other thing I’m writing. That also gives me momentum and gets me energized. It’s like having a roadmap in front of me.

      • These are great ideas that you offer here, Madeleine. Thanks for sharing them!

        When we’re not sure what to do, getting the momentum going by just starting something can be very helpful. This supports us in moving through boredom, fear, and negative thinking.

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