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Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

3 Game-Changing Tips that Will Help You Beat Procrastination and Get Back to Writing Today

~This is a guest post by world renowned bestselling author, Jerry B. Jenkins. Jerry has written more than 185 books. He’s had 21 New York Times bestsellers, including the Left Behind series, and has sold more than 70 million copies. He now teaches his advanced writing techniques to aspiring authors at JerryJenkins.com. Read his 5 most crucial tips for anyone who wants to write a book.

Accept Procrastination as part of the Process

If you’re like me, you’ve had trouble getting your rear end in that chair and writing.

Or if you do get there, the last thing you’re doing is writing.

You don’t have to tell me. I’m a professional procrastinator. I know all the excuses.

We shoo-in first ballot hall-of-fame postponement aficionados love to one-up each other, but before I list my bona fides in that arena, let me tell you what procrastination has wrought in my career:

● By the end of this calendar year I will deliver my 188th contracted manuscript to a traditional publisher—on deadline.

● I’ve had 21 titles reach The New York Times bestseller list, 7 of those debuting at #1.

● My books have sold more than 70 million copies.

Before I do the usual and tell you I say all that not to brag (hey, I write a lot of fiction), let me get back to how accomplished I am as a procrastinator:

● When I’m on deadline, I become the world’s most obnoxious neatnick. How am I expected to write with a messy office, let alone a messy desk?

● Have the backs of all the cereal boxes been read? What about the prescription bottles?

● No, I don’t use pencils any more, but in case I might, all 24 must be sharpened!

● I haven’t been consistent with my physical training. I shouldn’t even think about writing until after a vigorous workout.

● Better clean up my email inbox. Every bit of it. Yes, Aunt Mildred, that is an incredible international scandal, and coincidence, and likely a conspiracy.

● A quick peek at Twitter. A can’t-miss moneymaking opportunity? I might never have to write again…

● And Facebook. I can’t believe that puppy. And that kitty! Oh, no he didn’t!

● The ugliest actor ever born? The ugliest two dozen? It won’t take long to run through those.

● Yes, I am also interested in the largest sea monster to ever wash up on New Zealand’s coast…

● The real mail must be here by now. And it must be close to lunch time.

Right now you’re thinking, Hey, writer man, get to the 3 game-changing tips. Calm down, I’m helping you procrastinate.

In truth I used to agonize over such worthless empty days, then I’d lose sleep wondering how I’d ever get back on track.

What made the difference for me can do the same for you. Here’s what I did:

1—I accepted procrastination as part of the process.

You might as well pencil it into your calendar, because it’s going to happen anyway, and you’ll find when you finally get to work that your subconscious has been toiling away, intuitively working on your story or even your nonfiction idea.

Many colleagues have confirmed this, so if you find it isn’t true for you, you’re probably in the wrong profession.

Accepted procrastination as part of the process. (Click to Tweet)

2—I committed to keeping my deadlines sacrosanct.

Admittedly, early on I saw enough success that I was soon writing under contract, so I had publisher-imposed deadlines. Those don’t keep coming if you become known for missing them.

I learned that only about 1% of writers literally meet their deadlines, so I made that an iron-clad rule. Fool around and dance on the dangerous edge, but do whatever is necessary to transmit that manuscript when it’s due.

Until you land such contracts, self-imposed deadlines can have the same effect.

3—I turned off my internal editor when writing my rough drafts.

Nothing will slow you more than trying to perfect your prose as you go. There’s plenty of time to edit and rewrite tomorrow. Get that hunk of meat on the table today and do your carving tomorrow.

Okay, I promised three, but here’s a bonus:

Spend a few dollars on Anti-Social. It’s a simple app (15 bucks with a 60-day, money back guarantee https://anti-social.cc/ *No affiliation) that lets you turn off all your social media for as long as you choose each day. Let the competition read Aunt Mildred’s mass forwards, peek at Twitter, and get lost in the Facebook maze.

That can be a lot of fun, but it’s not what your day is about when you seriously long to be published. Let those trivial diversions be your reward for applying the three game-changing tips above, after keeping your rear end right where it belongs.

You’ll never regret it.

How have you dealt with procrastination so far? Share with us in the comments.

About Jerry Jenkins

Jerry B. Jenkins, for more than 40 years has used the art of story to carry life-shifting messages to millions. An insatiable learner, Jenkins's passion for prose has rendered an astonishing 186 books (and counting) including the bestselling Left Behind series. Discover more about Jerry at his blog, JerryJenkins.com.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

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  • I set a schedule for myself. During breakfast I catch up on blogs, then write the rest of the day. While cooking dinner I jump on Twitter and FB. No exceptions. This strict schedule seems to work for me, and I know if I veer from it I’m going down the time-suck hole. So far I’ve delivered my manuscripts two to three days before each deadline date. Of course, I’ve had to cut WAY back on the blogs I read, which didn’t make some people happy.

    • I’m chuckling, Sue. They’re not happy, and you’re as productive as you’ve ever been. What’s right with this picture?

  • Oh I can relate to the one about waiting till there is absolutely no clutter in my office. Well, I used to worry about that. Now, as long as my desk is without clutter I can get my thoughts out. I also agree with turning off the internal editor, He so wants to get in there before he’s on stage. Thanks for the great post and the excellent suggestions. I’m pretty good at giving myself an earlier deadline. I want those who use my writing to know they can count on me to meet deadlines. And though I’m talking about for articles, the same rule applies.

    • You bet it does, Anne, and I love your line: “I want those who use my writing to know they can count on me to meet deadlines.” In this more-crowded-than-ever field of ours, our reputations for fidelity are gold.

  • A pleasure to have you here on Positive Writer, Jerry. Great post, very inspiring and motivating. I haven’t been writing much lately as I recover from surgery, but I accept this as part of the process. 🙂

    • EmFairley

      I hope your recovery is going well, Bryan!

    • Get better soon, Bryan. Great site, Once I get past the really hard post surgery or early sick days,I find the different-ness of physical-ailment-induced down time productive in its own way.

      • I agree, it has been a strangely productive time. Lots of ideas rolling around. Thanks.

  • EmFairley

    Great advice Jerry and I can definitely relate! It’s tough to switch off that internal editor, especially for a perfectionist Virgo like me, but when you’ve only got a short time to write, whether it be through procrastination or other time absorbing commitments, it has to be at least muted. That said, here’s a tip if you have only got a short time to write… focus on just one element of the piece, either dialog or direction/ tags etc. Get one down and jump to the next. Then when you have more time, come back and fill in the gaps. I say this because for me dialog between the characters in my work in progress is easier for me than some of the other elements

    • Excellent tip, Em. It’s all about redeeming the time, isn’t it?

      • EmFairley

        Thanks Jerry! Yes, it’s about doing as much as we can in the time we have. In the time between writing my comment this morning until now, I’ve been working on my latest chapter. I’ve not started on the headline scene for it yet, but instead gotten everything around it drafted. And yep, for the most part I was able to turn off the internal editor, although she did try and sneak out a few times, LOL

  • I love the whole “accepting procrastination as part of the process” thing. That actually helps!

    • It took me a long time to get there, Amanda, but it does work.

  • Nicole M

    I have an app I use that reminds me of my goal throughout the day. It pulls my focus back when I start to wander.

    • Great idea, Nicole. What app is it?

      • Nicole Mackey

        Coach.me. I use it for writing, exercising, even drinking more water

    • Susan Belbas

      There’s also a free app called stickk (www.stickk.com) . You set your goal with either ‘no stakes’ or you can choose stakes where you can commit some $$ that you can have given to a friend or an organization you do NOT actually support… the $ will go to that organization if you don’t meet your committment! ….
      I’m one of those people who if it weren’t for the last minute I’d never get anything done 😉 ….

  • Dawn Paoletta

    LOve this: “Get that hunk of meat on the table today and do your carving tomorrow. “- that is so true and how I write because of years of journal keeping and writing! My biggest issue is organizing and managing my pieces. That is a big deal…and procrastinating revising a specific piece at the moment! I also will check out the Antisocial app, that sounds great- and the Coach Me from below! Thanks for the tips!

  • Hello, Jerry Jenkins – Mr. Big Stuff. I enjoy your work very much, so it’s an honor to learn from you directly. Schmoozing over.

    Sometimes, I can trick myself into using my favorite time wasters as a reward — ie, IF I write those 1,000 words first, then I can browse Facebook, check my email, etc. after.
    Other times, I set a timer and let myself do my time-wasters for 5-10 minutes, then get to work. This satisfies my need to be bad, but not let me wasting 75 minutes goofing off.

    That’s it for me. Thanks for your great post.

  • Jerry Jenkins, thank you for sharing your brain.
    I struggle with procrastination and deadlines. My self-imposed deadlines are coming up, and rather than work on my book, I have an overwhelming desire to paint the living room.
    I even spackled the holes and went to the paint store to look at colors.

    Thank you for sharing how you finish a project. Now, the white marks all over the living room walls will remind me that I have to finish my book on deadline.

    Wishing you all my best.

    p.s. I LOVED The Left Behind Series. I read every one.

    xo
    Pamela

    • David Mike

      So I struggle with building my platform while writing and also trying to stay engaged with the people who follow my writing.

    • Thanks, Pamela. I have to be careful about sharing my brain though. Bruce Springsteen and I had the same birthday today (I hope he dyes his hair or something’s not fair), so I have little gray matter left to around. 🙂

      • Harper Hodges

        Hi Mr. Jenkins,
        Pamela is cleaning the seven litter boxes now. So, I wanted to say Happy Birthday to you. I hope you had a great day.
        Cats don’t die their hair when they get old. I don’t know why people do.
        Perhaps Bruce dies his hair. I am not sure.
        All I know is – it doesn’t matter what color your hair is, or how much you have of it, you just need to write.
        All my best,
        xo
        Love Harper Hodges, the cat who writes

  • Mostly I just don’t, because I want to keep the commitments I make. (And I don’t watch television or use Facebook.)

    I am not a perfect person. If I commit to do something I really don’t want to do for some other reason, *then* I’m likely to procrastinate. I can program myself to write a dry technical article first and exercise, housekeep, garden, etc. later, no worries, but if I’d committed to market something I believe to be a waste of landfill space, for money, then I’d be one of those writers who can’t focus until they’ve alphabetized their music collections.

    • That’s a hard way to learn a lesson, isn’t it, Priscilla? The question is whether it keeps you from committing to the same worthless project the next time. If it does, it might have been worth the pain.

  • I read earlier this year that whatever you’re doing while procrastinating may be what you should be doing in life. Unfortunately, for me, this is mostly scanning Facebook, but I have learned a lot about writing about social media as a result. I do just let it happen, or I plan an entire day of “nothing.” Inevitably, something meaningful will get done, and that’s a big win.

  • David Mike

    So I struggle with building my platform while writing and also trying to stay engaged with the people who follow my writing.

    • I hear you, David, and unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. I try to compartmentalize, carving out a set time for just slogging through the necessary stuff and getting it done.

      As with anything else, you won’t find the time–you’ll have to make it, and something else may have to give. I use ‘Anti-social,’ the app that allows you to turn off your social media for a fixed amount of time, so I can concentrate on blogging or tweeting or managing my relationships with fans, etc.

      We do what we have to do so we can do what we want, eh?

  • J Eliot Mason

    This was great! I’m so glad I procrastinated from writing to read it. ;p The best thing, I was able to see you have your own blog. I guess another midnight writing session for me.

  • Sylvia Jones

    I have blamed my procrastination on life events….my separation and divorce being the latest factors. I have felt so emotionally drained and uninspired. I know that when I am in my creative zone-I feel so much better.

    • Yep, Sylvia, there’s no shortage of excuses–even valid reasons as you’ve had. But as you say, when we can power through and get back to the work, we become productive again.

  • Susan Mary Malone

    Great tips, Jerry! As an author, I know all about procrastination. LOL. But it’s your tip number 3 that I hold to most, and counsel the writers I mentor as well–turn off that internal editor when writing first drafts. We don’t want to stop the muse for ANY reason.
    Love your insights!

    • Thanks, Susan! And you’re right–that’s the tough one. I’m always tempted to stop and fix, but I must not…