A writer’s job is to write-right? Though this seems self-evident, it’s amazing how easy it is to let a day, a week, or even a month, go by without actually writing anything of real merit. There has been plenty of advice dispensed about how hard it is for writers that work at home to self-motivate when distractions like kids, pets, or housework are always getting in the way. However, I’ve found there are also countless ways to make it seem like you’re working as a writer without actually producing any “real” writing.
For example you can go online to begin to research an article you want to write. As you Google your subject, multiple links appear. Which one to follow when they all look so interesting? Suddenly you’ve disappeared down the rabbit hole of information that has no real relevance to your initial inquiry, you’re a million virtual miles away from your original topic, and an hour or two of your day is gone, never to be recovered. You can try to justify this by saying “Well I might want to write about this other subject someday” but we all know that “someday” will probably never arrive!
Then there’s social media. We constantly hear that all writers need a platform. We are told that it’s crucial to maintain an online presence so we look like true professionals. This means regular blog posts, updates on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and any other groups you’re part of. Added to that, it’s important to keep the content on your website fresh and interesting. And there are always plenty of emails and texts to read and respond to. All this can take several hours each day, resulting in time spent not writing your articles, books, essays, or poetry.
Another piece of advice writers get is to read constantly and vigorously. That’s all well and good but no one ever says how easy it is to get sidetracked while doing this. A good procrastinator can justify all sorts of reading. Skimming the newspapers can help find new ideas for timely and relevant articles, but it’s also a great opportunity to read your horoscope, the comics, the weather, and advice columnists. Fiction offers a wonderful escape from writing your own short stories or novels unless you are reading the book to analyze it for craft, dialogue, or character descriptions, rather than just to relax.
So how do you avoid the procrastination trap? I wish I had a more conclusive answer. One thing that’s worked for me is to make a daily schedule that discourages time-wasting or defaulting to “busy work”. I frequently try to come up with three things I’d like to accomplish each day and then spend one to two hours each on reading, writing, and working on my computer-typing or researching. I use my kitchen timer to keep me on task and only check my email and cell phone first thing in the morning and when I’ve finished the day’s work. For example, this morning I wrote a few pages in my journal, drafted a newspaper article on a local Town Hall meeting that I covered over the weekend, posted my latest “Eye on Agriculture” column on my website, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and now I’m writing this blog post. No time left to procrastinate!
Another piece of advice I can offer is to remain vigilant. For me, when I feel myself starting to get distracted, it means I need a break (coffee, food, or some type of exercise) or that I should switch to a different task for my next hour. Regardless of what you decide to do, trust me that, when 5:00 rolls around, you will feel much better if you have something to show for the hours you spent in the office-preferably some quality writing that will be meaningful, published, and paid for!