An Author friend of mine jokes:
“Whenever I need to clean my house, I just sit down to write. My baseboards only get cleaned if it means I get to avoid writing.”
Sound like you?
If it does, don’t beat yourself up. I’ve written 4 NY Times Bestsellers, and I am a TERRIBLE procrastinator with my writing.
I’ve never known a successful Author who didn’t claim to have at least some procrastination issues, so you’re in good company.
The good news is that we’ve helped more than 1,700 Authors write their book, and as a result, we’ve had to get pretty good at helping people get past their procrastination.
The thing we’ve realized about procrastination is that it’s not one thing. It can be several different things, and to beat it, you have to know what type of procrastination you are facing.
We developed a 3 step checklist we give to Authors to not only help them understand why they’re procrastinating, but to also show them how to fix it.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the specific tactics we use for each of these steps to overcome procrastination.
Step 1: Domain Shifting (change your current situation)
Sometimes, procrastination is an easy problem to solve. You simply need to change your situation at that specific moment.
Go do something else.
If you’re procrastinating your writing and struggling to focus, pick another item on your to-do list and tackle that first. Then come back to your writing.
I do this all the time when I’m writing, and it works great.
Experts refer to this as domain shifting: switching your focus between different areas of your life. It won’t always solve the problem, but it works about 30% of the time.
When you allow yourself to do something else, it’s easier to come back to the writing you were avoiding. And chances are you will be more effective at it the second time around.
So take a short break. Go have dinner. Get some rest. Or if you’re like my friend, go clean your baseboards (which sounds like hell to me, but it works for her).
If you come back to it and you still can’t write, your problem might go deeper.
Step 2: Create a stellar writing plan
Procrastination is often wisdom. It is very often your subconscious telling you that what you think you need to do, doesn’t need to be done. So while the conscious part of your mind says, “Do this,” the subconscious part says, “Don’t do this.”
And guess what? The subconscious is often right. In life, many things take care of themselves if you just leave them alone.
But that’s never the case with books.
Because books don’t write themselves.
So, you need to find a way to make your writing plan work for you, or your book will never get done.
If you come back to your writing with a clear head, and you STILL can’t get going, then you know there is some other problem.
Sometimes procrastination is your subconscious telling you that something about your writing plan isn’t good. Go back and re-examine it to make sure it works and is valid.
The goal here is to figure out if you’re procrastinating because your subconscious doesn’t like the plan:
- Does something about your book or writing plan feel “off”? Do you need to rethink it before you get started?
- Is there something else you need to learn or more research you need to do?
- Are you trying to tackle too much at once?
- Are people demanding too much of your time?
- Are you too stressed about something else in your life?
For example, if people are demanding too much of your time, then carve some time out of your day just for writing, and gently (but firmly) convey this expectation to the people around you. That includes ignoring your phone, social media, and other similar distractions.
Or if you are too stressed, then that needs to be dealt with. Stress and anxiety can easily cause writer’s block. If that’s your situation, you’ll need to address it.
These kinds of questions aren’t about assigning blame; they’re about fixing the underlying problem.
Don’t say, “I can’t write because …”
Instead, say, “To give myself the space I need to write, I’ll have to…”
If you take genuine stock of your life and there aren’t any major problems to solve, then it’s time to take a look at your plan.
Breaking the project into smaller pieces is a great way to overcome procrastination. Writing a book is a lot harder than writing a chapter, which is harder than writing one section of a chapter.
Go back to square one, and read my post that walks you step-by-step through creating a complete writing plan.
If that still doesn’t solve your procrastination, then it probably comes down to one of these:
- Perfectionism (the fear of making mistakes)
- Intimidation (the fear of not being able to do it)
To put it plainly: it’s now a fear issue.
Step 3: Conquer your fear
Everyone has a book in them. Everyone. Your personal truth is important, and the world needs it now more than ever.
So if you addressed the first two problems and you’re still procrastinating writing your book, it’s not because you can’t do it. And it’s not because you shouldn’t do it.
It’s because you’re scared to do it.
And that’s completely normal.
At Scribe, we’ve helped thousands of nonfiction Authors write and publish their first books.
Every single one of them, even the bestselling Authors, had to face down the fear of writing it. Believe it or not, it’s a natural part of the writing process.
Do you sometimes wonder if you really have a book in you? That’s fear talking.
Do you think your inner truth isn’t important enough to share? That’s fear talking too.
Fear is often a massive culprit behind procrastination, but it doesn’t have to hold you back.
We see Authors struggling with fears so often that I’ve written an entire post dedicated to overcoming the most common book writing fears.
Below, I’ll review our best fear-conquering tactics so you can stop procrastinating and start writing.
1. Write down all your fears—yes, all of them
The first step to overcoming your fears about writing a book is to acknowledge them. Start by writing them down. Each one, no matter how big or small.
And I don’t just mean your fears about the literal writing process.
If you’re scared about what might happen when the book comes out, or when you have to talk about it, or when you show it to people, write those fears down too.
I’ve taken so many Authors through this process, and I want to share with you some of the most common fears I see:
- I don’t have a book in me
- I’m afraid my book isn’t original
- I’m afraid my book won’t be good enough
- I’m afraid no one will care about my book
- I’m afraid my book will upset people
- I’m afraid my book will make me look stupid
Do any of these sound familiar?
No matter what you’re afraid of, write it down. And don’t shy away from fears that might sound ridiculous, even to you.
If it’s something you’ve ever been afraid of—that your children will hate you because of your book, or your dog will run away because of your book—write it down.
2. Evaluate each fear
For every fear you wrote down, decide whether or not it could come true. Make a quick, simple evaluation. Is it possible?
For example: “My book will come out and be bad, and everyone will laugh at me.”
That one’s possible, even if it’s unlikely to happen.
On the other hand, impossible fears look more like this:
“My book will be so bad that the second it’s printed, the copies will all spontaneously burst into flames.”
That’s not one you need to worry about.
But here’s the thing: our brains go so far with these kinds of ideas that even possible fears can spiral way out of control.
Now I want you to write down all the consequences you’ve been imagining for each one of your fears. If you’re scared people might laugh at your book, maybe you’ve been taking it to this kind of extreme:
“My book will come out, and I’ll look so stupid that I’ll lose every one of my clients. No one will ever want to work with me again, my spouse will divorce me, my children will be too embarrassed to speak to me, and I’ll die cold and alone.”
Believe it or not, that’s not an uncommon fear. But no matter how badly the fear spirals in your mind, write it all down. All of it.
3. Recognize what those fears mean
An important step in overcoming any fear is recognizing that fear itself isn’t innately bad. It really isn’t.
Fear keeps you safe. If you’re walking in traffic, you should be afraid, right? You’re doing something dangerous.
Fear has a point and a purpose. It’s the body’s indicator that you’re taking a risk.
The problem is when you let fear take over.
That’s especially true when it comes to writing a book. In this situation, your fear is actually being triggered by an emotional risk. A social risk. Not a physical one.
That’s the kind of risk every Author has to take to write their book.
Why? Because you’re putting yourself out there, sharing yourself with the world. But that just means your book is saying something important.
Think about it. It’s not scary to agree with everyone around you or to say the same thing everyone else is saying.
There’s no risk in that.
So if you felt like your book couldn’t be criticized, you really wouldn’t be saying anything at all.
What’s scary is to say something profound—something that challenges people. Your fear is telling you that that’s exactly what you’re doing. And that means you’re heading in a good direction.
That’s why every Author struggles with fear and why every Author has to break through it.
So if you’re scared to write your book, congratulations. That means your book is worth writing, and people need to hear what you have to say.
4. Train your brain to reframe your fear
Believe it or not, you can reframe your fear so it hits you in a completely different way. Want proof? Take a look at the top 3 symptoms of anxiety:
- Increased heart rate
- Fight or flight response: you get jittery, maybe break into a cold sweat
- Tunnel vision: you can’t see or think beyond your fear
Now think about the top 3 physical symptoms of excitement.
They’re the exact same symptoms.
Look at the list again. They’re all there: increased heart rate, feeling jittery or amped up, and not being able to think about anything else.
What does that mean?
It means that fear is just excitement with a negative frame. And that excitement is fear with a positive frame.
They’re literally the same ride—the same roller coaster—it’s just a matter of how you’re responding to it.
Keep that in mind as you go through the rest of the steps. They’re all designed to help you reframe your fear into excitement.
5. Write down what your book will do for you
For this next step, ask yourself this: “If I can write my book, what benefit will I get for myself?”
Write down every benefit you can think of. Go crazy. This is where you can fantasize and imagine every possible good thing that could happen to you because of your book.
Remember, this is your list. But if you want some inspiration, read my post on some of the many ways I’ve seen Authors make money from their book. Or browse through some of our Author success stories.
Write down every good thing you can imagine. And don’t forget to include the sense of pride and accomplishment you’ll get the first time you hold your new book in your hands.
6. Write down what your book will do for your readers
Now ask yourself: “If I can write my book, who will I help? What benefit will they get from reading it?”
If you haven’t already identified who your readers will be, then you’re not ready for the rest of these steps yet. Read my post on targeting the right audience for your book.
Pause this process here and go flesh that out, along with your book’s core message.
Need more help? Consider our free book school that walks you step-by-step through the entire process of writing your book, from start to finish.
Once you know exactly who your target audience is, come back to this point and write down all the things your book will do for them. I want you to see that list in front of you. It’s a powerful feeling.
7. Write down what will happen if you don’t write your book
Ask yourself: “If I don’t write my book, what will happen? Who will suffer, and how?”
This is the flip side of the coin for steps 5 and 6. It’s everything you won’t get, and it’s everything your readers won’t get.
Imagine your ideal reader—your reader “avatar”—the person out there in the world who needs your book the most. What will happen to them if you don’t write your book?
If you took steps 5 and 6 seriously, this will be a long list. You won’t get any of the benefits you listed for yourself, and neither will your readers.
Are you starting to see how we’re reframing your fear into excitement and determination?
8. Is it worth it to write your book? Say it out loud!
Based on the first 7 steps, ask yourself this: “Is it worth it to write your book?”
Make your decision right now based on these exercises. Is it worth it? Say it out loud!
Hopefully, you said yes. If you did, go on to the next step.
If you went through the first 7 steps and you’re still not sure, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t write a book. You can and you should. You just haven’t honed your idea yet.
- Figure out your message
- Figure out your audience
- Consider our free online course
When you’ve found your book, come back and ask yourself this question again.
Remember: Everyone has a book in them. Everyone has a personal truth worth sharing.
9. Make a plan for facing each fear
Fear isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. Every time you walk into traffic, you get scared all over again, right? Of course.
That’s just as true when you’re writing your book. Every time you start thinking about putting yourself out there, your fears are going to come up again.
That’s okay. It’s part of the process. So make a plan.
For every fear on your list, ask yourself how you’re going to overcome that fear or reduce its impact.
Are you scared people might laugh at you? Make a list of people you trust to read your chapters before you publish them—people who will give you honest feedback.
Are you worried you might lose your nerve? Find a picture that represents your future readers. Post it in your writing space where it can inspire you to keep going.
Remember, these are just 2 examples. Make a list for your own fears, and use that plan to help you keep going whenever you find yourself starting to procrastinate again.
10. Use the energy from that fear to help you
Ask yourself one last question: “How can I use the energy from this fear to help me?”
That might seem like a strange question, but it comes back to reframing your fear.
For every fear on your list, write down at least one way you can use that fear as energy to boost your willpower, start writing, and keep going through your first draft.
For example, fear of failure is very common. But that anxiety can motivate you to do your best work—to make sure you don’t fail.
Are you scared of what people will think? That can motivate you to share your work with a writing group.
Or maybe you’re scared you won’t finish your book. That can motivate you to stick to regular writing habits. It can encourage you to set writing goals and set aside time for undisturbed writing sessions.
Whatever your own fears are, write down at least one way you can use them as motivation.
11. Get out of your own way
At the end of the day, your own judgment is your worst enemy. Be prepared to overcome it more than once.
This can be a hard one to remember because it feels like you’re afraid of what other people are going to think. That’s what you imagine when you get scared: other people judging you. But here’s the thing:
The person imagining all those horrible things isn’t someone else. It’s you.
The trick to getting out of your own way is to separate the reality from all the consequences you imagine—the ones you wrote down in step 2.
So here’s the reality: some people are going to think your book is bad.
Why would I say that? Because every book has some people who think it’s bad.
Even Malcolm Gladwell’s books get plenty of one-star ratings on Amazon. It’s part of being an Author. If you’re not upsetting someone, you’re not saying anything that’s worth writing down.
That said, here’s the good news: if you put the work in, you’re going to get a lot more praise than criticism. The very act of putting yourself out there is impressive, and people will respond to that in a highly positive way.
12. If it still seems too hard, here’s why
If you went through every step, you’ve overcome every fear, and you’re still stuck, go back and look at step 6: what your book will do for your readers.
Looking at what you wrote down for that step, ask yourself:
- Am I being specific enough about what this book will do for my readers?
- Do I know specifically how I’m going to do that for them, chapter by chapter?
If the answer to either of those questions is no, that’s why you’re having trouble. You don’t have a full plan for writing your book.
That’s okay. Finding your book is a process. Go back to my list in step 8, or download our free book on the best way to write and publish your nonfiction book.
Once your writing plan is in place, just get started. Sit down and write. Whatever that takes, do it.
Because if you’ve done everything else, and you’re genuinely prepared, just getting started is usually enough to keep you going.