How To Stay Focused and Avoid Procrastination As You Write

How To Stay Focused and Avoid Procrastination As You Write

When questioning whether writing is an art or a science, I can’t steer myself away from a conclusion stating ‘both’ in the boldest of typefaces. It is a craft multiple purposes, from educating and articulating scientific theories, to serving as a creative outlet. A similar multitude of skills and mindsets are involved. On one hand, you have adherence to formal rules of grammar and sentence structure, to certain tricks which distinguish compelling writing from bad, and on the other – an inner flame urging you to serve a grander purpose, whether personal, political or ‘art for art’s sake’.

Writing, regardless of the purpose with which you do it, demands an interaction between motivation and discipline. Dynamism and an engaging tone are difficult to achieve without a hint of adrenaline in your fingertips urging you to shift words from mind to page. When, however, a dent looms in your motivation and distractions saturate your immediate environment, discipline steps in and carries you to the end of your final sentence. Striking a balance between the two is the key to perfecting the efficiency of your writing process.

How to write productively

We’re all familiar with that worst case scenario: you psyche yourself up to start a particularly tricky article, create a new document, write the title. Suddenly, an email illuminates your phone screen. Unwilling to keep the sender waiting, you respond. In the meantime, three more emails invade your inbox and to avoid unintended favouritism, you pen three more responses. You may spend half an hour forcing out two hundred words of the article in between checking notifications and scheduling plans for the evening. Before you know it, a growling stomach lures you into the kitchen. You make a snack. You take the dog for a walk, run a marathon, learn a new language. You do everything except for writing the article, and when you return to the document, discarded mid-sentence, you forget what on earth you were talking about.

From speaking with people, including those who characterise themselves as writers by profession, I’ve noticed that writing is an activity before which the chances of procrastination are ubiquitous. There are many reasons for this: writing, first and foremost, is difficultinvolving both sides of the brain. Writers are vulnerable to perfectionism and dread the prospect of producing a puddle of incoherence as opposed to something memorable, enticing, rational. For this reason, you may find yourself taking longer than necessary to produce a written piece. Moreover, losing focus often creates a self-perpetuating spiral of doubt (the more you procrastinate – to either start the piece or reach the dreaded conclusion – the more you question your abilities) and writing lacking flow and/or a consistent tone.

However, there are a few strategies and attitudes you can implement to tackle this phenomenon. Simple yet powerful, they will help streamline your writing process and finish your projects in an efficient manner.

How to write productively

(Note: if you want to read my post about general procrastination, click HERE. These tips are tailored specifically towards writing)

Self-evaluation 

Note the significant difference with self-deprecation, a process carrying negative connotations which need not be involved in evaluating your strengths and weaknesses. Analyse why you lose focus while writing or struggle to tackle a blank page – is it perfectionism, specific distractions, a particular paragraph looming by the horizon as a menacing storm cloud? Be honest with yourself, without being cruel. To overcome our metaphorical hurdles, we must first understand what they symbolise.

Tips to write productively

Ruthlessly eliminate distractions

Wind the clock back a few centuries to just you, pen and paper, and the liveliness of your mind. Lock your phone in a different room. Because many written pieces require internet access (such as essays and research papers), avoid needless websites through, if possible, sheer willpower. If this proves too difficult, is software out there which allows you to block certain pages for a period of time, but these often demand renumeration, while removing the opportunity to practice self-reliance.

Create, or find, a writing-friendly space

Productive writing tips

Productive writing tips

Through trial and error, either locate an environment which nurtures your productivity, or allow your current workspace to evolve in accordance with the creative energy you desire. Declutter your table, move closer to a window, plaster motivational or particularly lyrical quotes on the wall. Avoid working in your bedroom – the comfort zone of all comfort zones, a place suitable for relaxation as opposed to the mental astuteness writing with efficiency requires. Many people like to work outside the home altogether. Try matching work space with style of writing. For example, I like to write essays in libraries so silent I can hear the earth creak below my chair (as you can tell, I am a big fan of the hyperbole), blog posts in the steady bustle of coffee shops and poems in my back garden, turning into the wavelengths of the surrounding world.

Let reading be your fuel

Many of us acknowledge the power of eloquent writing on our own abilities – ‘read like it’s your job’, many self-improvement resources rightly state. Over time, we accumulate skills, techniques and ideas in the absence of formal lessons by making reading a key component in our daily routines. However, I’ve noticed that reading for five or ten minutes right before I get to work delivers a final push and reacquaints me with the reasons for which I love writing. Read a few passages from your favourite books or a brief article to descend into the beauty of language, absorb some momentum, and feel the words flow with greater ease.

Plan of action

‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ is not a foolproof rule. Many writers relish spontaneity and assign a role of authority to their inner muse. Some written pieces necessitate more planning than others: writing an essay without a detailed outline is a dangerous endeavour, while an article requiring fewer formal constraints may benefit from a degree of impulse. I, however, would recommend planning to anyone who struggles with losing focus. A few bullet points, a mind map of words, or a couple of headings are your weapons against the fear of starting from scratch. Furthermore, planning tightens up your writing, minimising tangents and redundant information.

No first draft is too bad to be left unwritten 

How to avoid writing procrastination

The atrocity of first drafts is a painfully familiar matter to many writers. You postpone the agony of reading through grammatical errors and incomplete paragraphs despite knowing that no sentence is immobile and anything can be fixed with further edits. In such situations, train yourself to think: ‘procrastination will not alter my dissatisfaction with the end outcome, but will simply reduce the time available to refine it’. Get the first draft done as quickly as possible. Laugh at the unavoidable yet blatant errors. View the outcome as a plan in itself for the much more comprehensive piece which will emerge after several rounds of editing.

Do the hardest part first

By this I mean anything from a nuanced argument in an essay to a book chapter in which your character’s life turns upside down. You sideline them in favour of something easier, or worse – avoid the project in its entirety. In such situations, reduce the chances of future stress and tackle them before anything else. As an added bonus, the rest of the project may feel like a piece of cake in comparison. What should you do is the entire thing is the hard part, you may ask? Then, the above two points – thorough planning and an attitude of acceptance – are your best friend.

How to write productively

Search for an optimal break strategy 

I’ll quickly highlight the difference between procrastination and taking a break. Procrastination is an undesirable phenomenon which involves the postponement of a task and dampens your overall productivity. An optimised break, however, is intentional, interlacing with periods of hard work to engender mental clarity and avert burnout. As I mention in my post about the phenomenon of ‘overwhelm’, different people match different rhythms: some like shorter, frequent breaks, while others work best over longer stretches of time. Regardless of your preference, ensure to rest your brain during some of your breaks by participating in an activity unrelated to writing, like exercise, meditation or time with family and friends.

Change your mindset and find a reason to enjoy each piece of writing you produce

Write with focus and productivity

Throughout certain pieces, our workflow is untroubled and procrastination is nonexistent. A fascination with a given topic may sideline the difficulty of narrowing down your research into 2000 words, the pressures of formal citation and even ‘awful first draft-phobia’ (which I’m convinced is a scientific phenomenon). However, not every project is butterflies and rainbows. In such cases, find a reason to replace negative thinking and enjoy the process regardless of the strains involved. Remind yourself of your love for crafting sentences and the musicality of language. Find a unique way of addressing the issue in question. And if you can, embrace the difficulty in itself.

I’ll illustrate what I mean with a personal example. During sixth form, chemistry was my least favourite subject. Having picked it almost by mistake, to say I struggled is an understatement. And when the syllabus called for a research paper picked arbitrarily by our teachers, I tweaked my mindset as opposed to collapsing under the dread of the upcoming task. How did I do this? Well, I thought: ‘writing is still writing’, and developed an interest in the overly precise and detached tone expected by the discipline. Between endless formulae and practical work, not only did my enjoyment of the project reach unforeseen levels, but I refined my aptitude in concise language and learnt a few things about Vitamin C along the way.

How to write with productivity

How to avoid procrastination in writing

We posses different writing styles and use words for a multitude of varying purposes. Whether you write as a career or a hobby, a school assignment or a constituent of your university degree, we can all benefit from increased attentiveness and discipline, in particular when confronted by dips in motivation. So, let me know in the comments – do you struggle with procrastination/ loss of focus while writing? If so, how do you go about tackling this?

How to avoid procrastination and stay focused as you write - read more at inaccordance

How to avoid procrastination and stay focused during the writing process - inaccordance

Lots of love, Maria ♡

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37 Comments

  1. February 1, 2018 / 7:54 pm

    Very thorough thank you! And I NEVER work in my bedroom 😀

    • February 1, 2018 / 9:28 pm

      Thank you for reading! I try to avoid it for sure, I’m so much more productive in other places 🙂

  2. February 1, 2018 / 8:20 pm

    I love hyperboles – bring them on girl! Such a well-thought and well-written piece on writing, Maria. It makes me contemplative even though I know what often holds me back in completing a particular project. It is the fear that it is not good enough to see the light of day and then there is that dratted urge to rewrite. Whoever attained perfection? xx

    • February 1, 2018 / 9:31 pm

      Haha I guess life is too short not be a bit dramatic from time to time :’) Whenever I am writing, I ALWAYS feel the need to go back which I try to avoid with all my might because it slows me down immensely. It really is a shame because such a thing as ‘perfect’ writing really doesn’t exist! Thank you so much for reading and for your lovely comment xox

      • February 2, 2018 / 4:54 pm

        Always my pleasure. Aye aye to the first thought, ’tis as wholesome as Colman’s 😉 xx

  3. February 1, 2018 / 8:37 pm

    This is so helpful and convenient! I have to write a speech by Monday and I really need to get my head down xx

    • February 1, 2018 / 9:32 pm

      Thank you so much for reading and I’m happy you found it helpful! Wish you all the best for your speech 🙂 xx

  4. February 1, 2018 / 8:41 pm

    Useful list, definitely agree with what you’re talking about. What are your thoughts on setting an arbitrary word goal each day to reach, as a kind of creative constraint? For me, it’s helped me kind of automatically do some of the other things you’re talking about (not worrying too much about first drafts needing to be perfect etc.). Thank you for sharing!

    • February 1, 2018 / 9:34 pm

      Thank you! I’m glad you can agree with me on these points. And that could definitely be a useful technique – sometimes, having a word count goal is the extra push I need to boost my productivity. Thank you very much for reading 🙂

  5. February 1, 2018 / 10:08 pm

    I love your thorough and engaging writing style, and the pictures are so interesting and well done. You make several relevant points. I would like to explore places out of my home, outdoors or public places like library or coffee shop, and see how it affects my writing 🙂 I am very attached to being in the comfort of my own home.

    • February 2, 2018 / 6:48 am

      Thank you very much – that means a lot to me and I am glad you liked this post! Trying out new places to work can not only help your productivity, but also be a fun way to try something new on a daily basis. Hope you are having a great day 🙂

      • February 2, 2018 / 8:03 pm

        You are very welcome, truly. You are so right! You have an amazing time ahead too!

  6. February 1, 2018 / 11:16 pm

    I definitely needed this! I have a tendency to work sitting in bed (oops) so I should probably create a better work space to have that work space flow. I really want to improve my writing so these tips are going to come in handy.

    Shann Eileen | http://www.shanneileen.com

    • February 2, 2018 / 6:50 am

      I’m glad to hear you found this helpful! Trying out new places is something that can make an enormous difference. Thank you for reading and for your comment 🙂 xx

  7. February 1, 2018 / 11:44 pm

    Lovely tips, thanks for sharing! I adore those cute kitty paws (:

    • February 2, 2018 / 6:50 am

      Thank you so much for reading! And cat paws are just the best :’)

  8. February 2, 2018 / 7:26 am

    YES YES YES! I love this post so much – and you’ve pretty much got this whole “writing like a boss” thing down to a T! I love your style and tone of writing and I definitely think it’s consistent, so if that’s something you worry about . . . you really don’t need to!xx

    • February 2, 2018 / 7:54 am

      This is the loveliest comment! Especially coming from the queen of super engaging and interesting posts herself. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you have fabulous day 😊 xx

  9. February 2, 2018 / 11:03 am

    These are some really great tips! I sometimes find it hard to remember the first draft of something doesn’t have to be good, but I’m working on that!

    • February 2, 2018 / 6:46 pm

      Thank you Alys! I think it’s impossible to be satisfied with the first draft haha, so overcoming the fear of that is super important. Wish you all the best 🙂

      • February 2, 2018 / 8:01 pm

        Yes definitely! Thank you, you too☺️

  10. February 2, 2018 / 11:30 am

    You are such a talented writer, you always say the right things girl. I found this super helpful, for those days when I feel like I can’t blog. xx

    • February 2, 2018 / 6:48 pm

      Thank you so much! I’m very happy to hear that you found it helpful, and even on those days you definitely should remember that you’re a fantastic writer yourself 🙂 xx

  11. February 2, 2018 / 12:17 pm

    Wow I didn’t know I needed this until 2 minutes ago when I started reading – I love these types of posts SO much and you write them so well – you are really motivating !! These are some great tips and I love the little photos you’ve included throughout, definitely trying to incorporate more of that into my own posts! I’m going to bookmark this so that when I get behind my desk later I can reread and start planning properly! xx

    • February 2, 2018 / 6:50 pm

      Ah this commend put a smile on my face! It’s always my aim to be helpful to anyone so your words mean a lot. And I’m glad you like the photos – my cat decided to invade the photoshoot but at least I managed to get a super cute capture of her paws :’) Have an amazing weekend! Xx

  12. February 2, 2018 / 12:25 pm

    This is great! Fab tips so thank you! I’m new to all of this so really trying to find my feet, and my place to write … so far it’s the sitting room beside the fire which I love. Happy Friday and thanks for the post!

    • February 2, 2018 / 6:51 pm

      Sitting beside the fire does sound like a great place for writing indeed! Thank you for reading and I wish you all the best for your writing journey. 🙂

  13. February 2, 2018 / 4:07 pm

    Your tips are amazing!!!! It can be really easy for us writers ( we writers?) to just let “the muse” dictate our writing schedule, I know I am super guilty of that, but this is a great way to discipline yourself!!

  14. February 3, 2018 / 2:24 am

    I will definitely try to implement these tips in my future works. Thank you for sharing them😇😇

    • February 3, 2018 / 10:51 am

      I hope you end up finding them helpful! Thank you for reading 🙂

  15. February 3, 2018 / 9:57 pm

    Thank you. Don’t go on the internet, eat first, and try and write first thing so it doesn’t get sidelined or missed out.

    • February 5, 2018 / 3:41 pm

      Thank you very much for stopping by! 🙂

  16. February 5, 2018 / 7:45 am

    Awesome post, it does touch the most impostant parts. For me plan is the most important, without it I m lost…
    Have a lovely week!

    • February 5, 2018 / 3:43 pm

      Thank you very much for reading! Planning helps me a lot too, especially with larger projects. I hope you are having a great week so far yourself!:)

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