You’re not writing. It’s been a few weeks now, and your regular writing routine has gone out the window.
Are you struggling with a legitimate writing crisis, or are you just procrastinating?
It’s not always easy to tell the difference. If you’re not writing and you’re not sure why, ask yourself these questions to find out.
1. Are you going through a real-life crisis?
If you’re going through a crisis like a serious illness, loss of a job, death in the family, or divorce, it’s completely understandable if you’re not writing. Trying to navigate these sorts of situations can take all your reserves to the point where you have nothing left for your story.
Action steps: Give yourself a set amount of time to recover. Choose a date when you’ll get back into your writing and mark it on your calendar. When that date arrives, start small—write for 10 minutes a day, for example, until you get back into the habit.
Another option is to switch gears with your writing and use it to help yourself through the crisis. Instead of working on your story, journal about what’s happening in your life.
Release your difficult emotions onto the page. Research shows that expressing your emotions through writing can help you recover faster from trauma and clear your thoughts so that you can more quickly find solutions.
2. Are you struggling with your story?
Ask yourself when you stopped your regular writing practice. Were you struggling with your story at the time? Perhaps you were in the middle of your novel and got stuck. Or maybe you realized that your plot was going off the rails and you didn’t know how to get it back.
When we come up against a wall while writing and don’t know how to get over it, procrastination can set in. Instead of seeing your story as something you enjoy working on, you begin to see it as an obstacle, which you naturally want to avoid.
Action steps: First, don’t rush to judgment on your story. It’s easy for writers to decide that they’re having trouble because their story isn’t any good. But this is almost always the wrong conclusion.
Instead, what’s missing is skill. Imagine if you gave your struggling story to a master writer you admire. Would that writer be able to fix it? If your answer is “yes” (which is most often the case), you need to learn more about storytelling so you can find the solution you need. Research writing books that may help, along with courses and workshops, and take action to improve your skills.
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You can also invest in yourself by hiring an editor or book doctor. Few authors reach their full potential without help. Give yourself every possible chance by working with a professional. When you get that breakthrough in your story, you’ll be glad you did.
3. Are your energy levels low?
Most of us have to fit our writing in around our day jobs and family responsibilities, which means that the bulk of our energy is often depleted by the time we sit down and write.
We need that extra energy if we are to stick to a regular writing practice. If you don’t have it, you’re probably procrastinating on your writing simply because you feel too tired.
Action steps: Think of yourself as an athlete. If you are to keep up a regular writing practice, you need to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night, exercise every day (a daily walk is great), eat a healthy diet, and practice a daily stress-relieving activity like meditation, yoga, journaling, or crafting.
Next, write at high-energy times of the day. For most writers, first thing in the morning is best. Even if you can fit in only 20 minutes, getting that writing time in before you do anything else guarantees that a) you get it done, and b) everything is downhill from there.
You may feel like you have more energy at night. Feel free to try that, but if you find that you’re procrastinating, change it. It’s common for writers to feel their willpower depleted by the time the day is done.
Finally, examine what else in your life may be depleting your energy. It could be that you’re engaged in activities you’d rather avoid, or spending too much time with low-energy people. Make a list of your potential energy-sappers and then make some changes to take better care of yourself.
4. Are you expecting too much too soon?
Being a successful writer takes much more time, effort, and education than we realize at first. Most well-known writers have been at it for 10 years or longer. There are a few exceptions, of course, but on the whole, we all have to pay our dues to learn the craft.
If you were expecting too much too soon, it can cause you to blame yourself for your supposed lack of success, which can lead to procrastination.
Action steps: Take the time to enjoy the process of learning how to write well. Don’t pressure yourself by believing that you have to make a lot of money or garner multiple awards early on. You are writing because you enjoy it, so allow it to evolve naturally.
We often feel that we have to justify the time we spend writing. Think of it another way—this is about you and your personal growth as a human being. You chose writing for an important reason. Honor that choice and follow where it leads. Return to the joy of writing and your procrastination is likely to disappear.
5. Are you doubting yourself?
Self-doubt has caused many a writer to procrastinate without realizing why.
You may be able to identify your self-doubt by thinking back over the events leading up to your procrastination. When did you stop writing regularly? Did something happen to precipitate that?
Maybe you received a rejection, got a negative comment from a reader, or had to endure a difficult critique. Maybe you feel like you failed on your third story draft and you’re beginning to think you don’t have what it takes to be a writer.
Anyone would wither in the face of thoughts like these. Indeed, it’s extremely common for self-doubt to be at the root of procrastination for writers.
Action steps: If you allow doubt to stop you, however, it will. Think of this as a battle between you and this monster that would stop you. The only way you can win is if you keep going, despite how you feel.
Get help if you need it. Write in short 15-minute chunks. Tell yourself you’re just practicing. Cheer yourself on. Tell your self-doubt that you’ll deal with it later—right now, you have to write.
Note: For more on overcoming self-doubt and deciding to be a writer no matter what, see Colleen’s new book, Your Writing Matters: How to Banish Self-Doubt, Trust Yourself, and Go the Distance. Get your free chapter here!
Colleen M. Story is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker with over 20 years in the creative writing industry. Her newest novel, The Curse of King Midas, is forthcoming in 2024, and has already been recognized as a top-ten finalist for the Claymore Award. Her novel The Beached Ones came out in 2022 with CamCat Books, while Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.
Colleen has written three books to help writers succeed. Your Writing Matters is the most recent, and was a bronze medal winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards (2022). Writer Get Noticed! was a gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards and a first-place winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards (2019). Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018.
Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker, where she helps attendees remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers.