Thursday, January 12, 2012

Breaking My Procrastination Addiction

I'm only four days into writing this book, and making pretty good progress thus far.  I realize that clipping off ten pages a day isn't exactly putting me on Steven King's pace; that guy releases a new book seemingly every other week.  But averaging ten pages a day or so (even if they're still largely unedited) is pretty good for starting with a blank word document Monday morning.

Coming into this project, I was worried about one thing more than anything else; my propensity to procrastinate.

I've never been one for "planning ahead" when it comes to completing projects; I seem to have an innate ability to know exactly how much time I have to get a given project done, then procrastinate and screw around until that exact moment where I know "Okay, now I really have to get down to work."

In college, I used to fill my hours with all kinds of time-wasters; drinking, sitting around and, marathon sessions of NCAA Football or Madden 2004, Smash Brothers, NFL Blitz; you name it.  I liked to have fun, and I always seemed to know exactly how much fun I could have before buckling down to get whatever paper done with one second left on the shot-clock.

That works just fine when there's a hard-and-fast deadline, or even in my previous career as a lawyer, where the deadlines weren't so hard-and-fast, but there were deadlines imposed by others, nonetheless.  There was always that little egg-timer in the back of my head, ticking away the seconds until the jaw-rattling "BRRRRRINNNNNGG!" that signaled "It's time to start now."

Unfortunately, when your days are dedicated to writing a novel, there really is no deadline, other than those of the arbitrary, self-imposed variety. 

This past summer, with little direction and (I suspect) still a bit burned out from the law game, I told myself I was going to write fiction, but never really sat down to write, other than that twenty-five pages that now needs to be completely reworked to salvage the novel.  Instead, I filled my time with all of the wonderful time-wasters that had become a part of the process for me; hanging out with friends and playing video games.  I kept telling myself "I'll write more tomorrow," but I lacked the discipline to actually sit down and write anything on a day-to-day basis, other than that four-week phase where I wrote articles for this blog every day.

Fortunately, Tim over at insideSTL had what amounted to an open casting call for a Rams Reporter (though without any of the usual "casting couch" shenanigans...or were there...?), and I was finally getting paid regularly for writing every day.  I was hardly getting rich, but I had some responsibility and "deadlines" in the sense that I was writing articles six days a week during the season, and had to show up for practice every day.

That experience was invaluable; it changed me from "aspiring writer" to "writer."  That discipline of sitting in front of the computer daily, thinking of an idea, and fleshing it out, even for only 1,500 words at a time was absolutely crucial.

It also allowed me to change my procrastination tools into rewards.  Want to play a game of Civ IV? You better finish up that article first.  Same with hanging out with friends or any number of other "fun" activities.

Another problem for me has always been the internet; I read a number of sites voraciously, either for entertainment or news.  From my experience last summer, I knew that the internet can be extremely dangerous to productivity, especially in those crucial moments when you're trying to get started on a project, before you've built up that valuable momentum.

So now, while I'm writing, I just turn off my wireless adapter. "Wow, you didn't think of that before, idiot?" Oh, the thought had crossed my mind, but like an alcoholic who doesn't want to admit that he has a drinking problem, I thought that would be the ultimate sign of weakness. 

I now realize that the real weakness was giving into all of these distractions when there was work to be done. That's not to say I flagellate myself when I'm working, acting as my own slave driver to "just keep writing;" it's still a creative process, and I'll allow myself mini-breaks to recharge the batteries, if only momentarily.

But gone are the "just another turn" games of Civ IV during the day.  Gone are the minutes turned into hours surfing the net; the discipline I've built up over the past few months is still serving me well.  By setting some firm boundaries during the day and treating this novel like a "real job," I've gotten more accomplished in four days than I could've possibly imagined going in (shocking, I know).

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to read more of Stephen King's excellent new book, 11/22/63.

Days: 4
Word Count: 12,131
Page Count: 41 1/2

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.


  1. Hey DJ,

    Thanks for this post. I'm hoping it will inspire me... My goal this year is to break my own procrastination addiction.


  2. Thanks Josh--it's tough at times, for sure; short of hollowing out my brain, putting in a processor, and turning myself into a cyborg, I think I'm on the right track.

    It's far from flipping a switch, though; it's a process like anything else. If my goal is to get 50 pages this week, naturally I should shoot for 60 next week, 70 the week after, etc. I would consider anything else to be settling.

    Hope you're taking the steps to do the same; it's nice to wake up and look forward to work every day!

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