What Really Might Be Behind Your Procrastination

Since I’m focusing this year on productivity, and we’ve been looking at outlining, I want to meet at the intersection and look at a problem that seems to be plaguing a lot of writers. Many who took my survey last year complained they are having trouble outlining.

But what some of you are telling me goes beyond the technical. I gave you great, clear guidance in the last two posts on how to successfully outline your novel. There’s no reason any writer can’t follow my 3-step method to outlining and come out the other side with a tight outline for a solid story.

What’s tripping a lot of writers up is more than just writer’s block, procrastination, lack of motivation. It goes deeper. Those are just symptoms of what I think is a key problem.

And that’s lack of enthusiasm. I hear comments like “I just can’t get motivated to write my novel” and “I’m having trouble defining and concentrating on a definite problem that I can blossom into a full work.” Or “I just can’t get started.”

Are You Lacking Enthusiasm?

Here’s what I think is at the heart of some writers’ problems: they don’t have a project they’re excited about.

This segues into some of what I’m looking at on Mondays (productivity), of course, because if you can’t stir up the excitement to work on a book project, you aren’t going to make any progress, let alone get cranking in a productive manner.

I would encourage those of you who struggle with motivation (and the resultant procrastination) to ask yourself: How much do you want it? We have a lot of choices to make in life and very limited time. How will you spend your time each day, each week, each year?

We want to look back on our life and say “I spent my time well. I had a fulfilling life.” Instead of asking “Did I accomplish a lot or produce a lot or publish a hundred books?” we should be focusing on the quality of our life as well as the impact our lives have had on others.

Captain Picard, in one of the Star Trek movies, said, “What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived.”

Wrong Reasons to Write

Why am I saying all this? Aren’t we talking about outlining a novel? My point is this: If you are trying to write a novel because

1) you think it would be neat to tell people you’re an author,

2) you’d like to tell yourself you’re an author,

3) you think you should write a book for some unknown reason,

4) you want to write a book because it will validate your worth, and/or

5) or you have this great idea but you’re not all that interested in writing,

do you think you’ll ever get that novel done? I don’t think so. If you want to be a surgeon but it’s not a compelling enough dream or goal to push you through all that needed study and years of med school, you’re going to quit before too long.

Writing a book is like anything in life that takes a bit of commitment. You have to want to do it or, well, you just won’t.

So this is why I’m asking you: Why are you trying to write a novel, or any type of book, when you’re just not motivated?

If you truly love to write and the desire to write a novel is eating at you, and you still can’t get going, it’s possible you haven’t hit on an idea you’re excited about.

I understand that. I generate hundreds of ideas for stories every year. Out of those hundreds, a handful will get me excited. I’ll jot down ideas for plot and characters and stick them in my folder. But it isn’t until I choose one and start developing the concept that I get tingly fingers.

When You’ve Lost Interest

I’ve had numerous projects I’ve started and stopped because I lost interest. Some I’ve pushed through to write anyway because I believed in the themes and felt the books were important to write. Those kinds of projects aren’t all that fun at times, and no one is holding a gun to my head. When I take on a tough project, I have a reason, and I make a commitment. But it’s not likely you’ll have to deal with a situation like this.

If you generate lots of story ideas, and you just can’t get excited (and not because you don’t know how to proceed or don’t know what you’re doing), you might need to do some soul searching and figure out why you want to write a novel when you really don’t.

It’s possible—very possible—that the more you push through that ennui or malaise or whatever it is that is dampening your enthusiasm for writing, you’ll stumble upon a killer concept for a novel that finally, finally,  thrills you so much, you can’t get the ideas down on paper (or computer screen) fast enough.

Writers like that do want to write fiction. The muse is calling them, but they just haven’t found that one story idea that excites them. If you’re unsure if that’s “you,” what should you do?

Well, that depends on you. On the demands on your time. On how this journey is affecting you emotionally and impacting those around you. When we have a passion for something, even if that something seems unattainable, we will pursue it to the reaches of our sanity.

We’ve heard of Olympic athletes who had to overcome childhood polio or who ran track despite amputation of a leg (or two). We’ve heard of climbers who’ve topped Mt. Everest blind or suffering from asthma. People like this are determined. They may be nuts or neurotic, but that’s beside the point (and a matter of opinion). They wanted it, whatever it was.

So you need to ask yourself, when you keep sitting in front of the computer and you’re just not motivated to write, day after day, year after year: How much do I want it? And what will it cost me to pursue it?

I’m not saying that if you commit to writing a novel, you will have to sacrifice life and limb. It will cost you though. It is a big time commitment.

And if you find, at this moment in your life (for this may change next year), that you just aren’t motivated and you are pushing yourself for the wrong reasons, maybe you should quit.

I don’t mean quit writing altogether. You might want to journal daily or write poetry or short stories. Don’t look at quitting as failure.

I took ten years off writing novels (after penning three) because I just wasn’t motivated. I had a bed and breakfast to run and two small children to raise. I wasn’t into writing in that time in my life. There is a season for everything, Ecclesiastes tells us. And that includes “a time to write and a time to not write” (my addition to chapter 3).

So I hope this look at outlining—for that’s what we’ve been talking about these three weeks—has given you all you need to get a move on. Either to get working productively on your outline or to move on.

Take a few (or more) moments for self-evaluation. You may decide halfway into your novel that you want to shelf it. That’s fine. Just be aware of your needs, your motivation, your reasons. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll choose the right course, and you won’t beat yourself over the head when you do.

Your thoughts? Has this look inside helped you make some decisions? Revealed anything to you about why you procrastinate or lack motivation to write?

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