One of the biggest challenges for authors who self-publish is not having external deadlines imposed by publishers, agents, or editors. There’s a lot of freedom in being able to set your own publishing schedule, but with that freedom comes the requirement to manage your time. Here are some tips for getting those ideas on the page.
Stop planning, start writing
Figuring out what time management looks like to you and your writing process is crucial to reducing or eliminating procrastination. In most cases, not only are you given plenty of time and encouraged to write whenever you like. Most writers must fit writing time into an already busy schedule filled with work, family, social, and other commitments.
One of the most tempting forms of procrastination is thinking about what you’re going to write, but not actually writing anything. Of course, outlining and planning can be an important part of writing, but it’s important that planning doesn’t become a procrastination. The key to completing a book is to start writing.
Disorganization can be a great friend of procrastination. When writing, try to make it as easy as possible. Writing time is limited, so don’t waste it looking for your computer charger or finding your favorite pen. By having an organized writing space, whether it’s an office, a desk, or a binder full of notes, you’ll help get your work on the page in the future.
Similarly, when it comes time to write, try to limit the distraction—especially if you know you’re easily distracted. If you’re feeling distracted, put your phone on airplane mode, close your email and web browsers, and tell your family you need some uninterrupted writing time. Experiment with setting a timer for just 20 minutes and see how much you can write in that short uninterrupted time.
The best writers are those who are also active readers. Not only does reading make you a better literary citizen, but it can also help you hone your craft as a writer. Try to use whatever reading time you have for your writing to your advantage. Choose books to read that are comparative titles for your work in progress, or non-fiction books that deal with a specific time period, place, or other important details you’ll include in the book.
By choosing leisure reading related to your creative work, you’ll help yourself think about these topics even when you’re not actively writing. Using your reading time strategically can help you become a more productive writer and make the most of your writing time.
Lower your expectations
Striving for perfection in early drafts can be another kind of procrastination, but the great thing about first drafts is that no one but you has to read them. Instead of focusing on writing the perfect sentence, paragraph, or chapter, focus on the writing. Try to avoid staring at a blank page or worrying about writing down the “right” words. Lower the expectations you have of yourself and focus on just writing a few words on the page. Once you have a draft, you can edit it again.
If you find yourself hesitating, remember that this story you are working on is important and only you can write it. Try not to compare yourself and your writing process to other writers. This kind of toxic comparison generally only encourages procrastination and discourages writing.
Set an editorial calendar
Without a publisher to dictate when a book must be ready, it’s easy for self-publishing authors to hesitate. In order to break yourself out of a procrastination cycle, it is important to create your own editorial calendar. That means setting deadlines for completing various aspects of your book.
Try to avoid setting just one big deadline; Instead, create measurable, shorter deadlines to stay on track. Work backwards from your publication date to determine when you need to finalize the book’s layout, complete a cover design, send the book to an editor, and so on.
develop writing routines
If your goal is to write and publish books, you will want to create a writing routine for yourself. This can be highly structured or free-flowing, depending on your personal style and goals. There is no right or wrong way to have a writing routine. Although many writers swear by the idea of ”morning pages” popularized by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s WayWriting first thing in the morning doesn’t fit into every schedule.
Experiment. Find out what works for you. I wrote my first three novels (one traditionally published and two self-published) while still working a day job, and my writing routine consisted of writing while I was riding the New York subway. I would then take my lunch break at a bubble tea shop two blocks from my office and write all the time.
Every author’s writing routine will be different. You don’t even have to write every day; You just have to come up with something consistent that works for you. When it comes to avoiding procrastination, finding a writing routine that’s sustainable for you is far better than one that burns you out.
Whether it’s writer’s block, a busy schedule, or disorganization, every writer can be tempted to procrastination. Wherever there is laundry to fold, dishes to do, errands to run, or TikTok to scroll, there will always be something stopping you from writing words on the page. The key to successfully completing books is to avoid as many distractions as possible, avoid perfectionism, set reasonable deadlines for writing, and stick to them. If writing fills you up, if you have a burning desire to tell stories, then you need to resist the temptation to procrastinate and prioritize your life as a writer.
Sassafras Lowrey is a fiction and non-fiction writer and received the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Emerging LGBTQ Authors.
A version of this article appeared in the 10/10/2022 issue publishers weekly under the heading: How to Outwit Procrastination