A BLOG DEDICATED TO PROFESSIONALS WHO WANT TO WRITE BOOKS

Remedies for productive procrastination

Friends of mine introduced me to the concept of “productive procrastination.” They were referring to doing productive work but not doing work you should be doing. For a writer on task, it occurred to me, productive procrastination is arguably a scourge worse than going to the beach when you know you should be at your desk.

I say this from personal experience. Too often I’ve counted “productive” activities as “work” when in fact they weren’t crucial. I made time for them, but they shouldn’t have been on my schedule. So as a bit of a confession, consider six ways I’ve productively procrastinated—and six remedies you may find helpful:

1. Writing before you’re ready. You rush to fill a blank screen with an initial burst of insight. This is thrilling, but when you start revising, you realize your thoughts hadn’t matured. The risk: Pretty soon you revise so much you lose confidence in what you’re saying.

Remedy: If you’re fired up to start writing but haven’t summoned the right words, journal instead. By trying out various verbal approaches, you won’t get married to flawed wording.

2. Researching too much. You research endlessly in hopes of finding perfect examples and proof points—even when you don’t have crystallized messages.

Remedy: Inventory research needs for each chapter. Accumulate only enough material to fill each content bucket. If you research until you’re overstocked, a lot of inventory goes to waste.

3. Not sticking with your copyfit. Publishers contract for a fixed word count (aka “copyfit”). It’s tempting to write more, rationalizing, “I’ll write what needs to be said and worry about length later.” Problem is, when you construct your book with two many boards and nails, it’s murder to remove them later.

Remedy: Divide each chapter into parts. Assign a number of words to each. Write to this “copyfit.” If you run over, remember: If you can tweet something meaningful in 140 characters, you can do the same in every part of your book.

4. Writing digressions. Authors sometimes get themselves going by writing digressions and elaborating examples. Problem is, you don’t know what material to favor until you have a clear message.

Remedy: Make a policy of refining main messages first. If you can’t articulate your main messages, see point 1 and start journaling.

5. Checking facts before finishing the draft. When you’re hitting headwinds during writing, it’s tempting to take a break and research minor facts. Problem is, you risk losing momentum.

Remedy: Close your browser! Unless you need a detail to keep writing, keep your nose in your word processor. Fill in facts later.

6. Striving for perfect. We all want to put down one great sentence after another. But when you try to do so, editing heavily as you go, you don’t go far very fast. Besides, you’re going to cut a lot of text later. Why perfect what you may throw out?

Remedy: Delay your quest for perfection until editing. If you obsess early, you will lose time. Worse, you’ll burden your writing with overwrought phrases.

You may not indulge in these forms of procrastination. You may even feel that these habits help, not hinder, your writing “style.” Still, if you spend 2,000 hours writing a book manuscript, and you spend, say, 10 percent spinning your verbal wheels, that’s 200 hours of time, five working weeks! It’s worth thinking now how you could shave time off your process later..

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