Writing Waste 6. Perfecting procrastination
6. Perfecting procrastination
Asking for a friend: is it ok to write a book proposal, spend at least 200 hours perfecting it, then not pitch it to any publishers? Then, come up with another fab idea for a different book, and start the non-pitching proposal process again? Asking for another friend: is it ok to write 40,000 words, edit them, work them over for at least 2 years, then just re-read them to yourself every couple of months? Another friend wants to know: is it ok to outline 20 articles, write them up, post them on your website and not tell anyone about them?
I have lots of crazy friends – you might be one of them. All of these friends exist (they’re not my imaginary friend, that’s Steve) – all of these friends are suffering from perfecting procrastination.
This sixth writing waste is an arse. Are you re-reading your first paragraph, or first chapter, working it over again and again? Perfecting the opening sentence on the pitch to the potential publisher? Re-working the book outline, seventeen times? Spending too long on perfecting the chapter titles, the font used for the headings, the line spacing in the Word document? You know you’re overdoing it, and at the same time driving yourself and everyone else mad. You know you’re putting off the inevitable, avoiding doing the real work, dodging the moment of shipping (and getting feedback).
You might be perfecting procrastination from fear, imposter syndrome, or OCD – what do I know, I’m a writing coach not a psychiatrist.
Whilst I don’t know what exactly is causing your own private hell of procrastination, I do know perfecting procrastination leads to madness. Watch this video (no cats) to see my favourite ‘psychiatrist’, then take his advice: https://youtu.be/Ow0lr63y4Mw
What is procrastination anyway?
Roy Baumeister, a real psychologist, says that procrastination is a “self-defeating behavior pattern marked by short-term benefits and long-term costs.” 
Procrastination has generated huge tomes of information – everyone has a theory, and plenty of them are really funny. Take a look at this video about the mind of a master procrastinator, from Tim Urban at Wait But Why, if you want to see what’s going on inside your and my mind right now. The irony of us both going off to watch this, giggle at the cartoons and marvel at how stupid everyone else is, whilst we should be doing something useful, isn’t lost on me.
It seems most people think the opposite of procrastination is productivity, and the tools and techniques to make you more productive are more numerous than the reasons one procrastinates.
I can give you at least 20 different productivity hacks and ways to “stop” procrastinating, adding even MORE things to your to do list. Here’s a few: pomodoro, no zero days, mindfulness, meditation, mantras, habit stacking, accountability partners, morning rituals, setting deadlines, JFDI, DFDI (just say no), 2-minute rule, make a list, don’t make a list, create a crisis (really that’s a hack, not every day normal), eating frogs for breakfast (I don’t remember, nor recommend that one), sharpening axes (OK, getting a bit macabre now). You probably already have this list, maybe an even longer one – and yet you still procrastinate. Why?
You don’t need extra tools, techniques or methods to write more – you need to stop your own brain screwing with you.
Your problem (and my problem) isn’t one of not knowing what to do, it’s about doing what we know we should do…
The opposite of procrastination is not productivity – it is simply action
My theory is that you are tricking yourself, lying to yourself and running stupid mind routines that don’t serve you anymore. You are sabotaging your own success with FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
FUD is a disinformation strategy used in sales, marketing, public relations, politics, cults, propaganda and YOUR BRAIN. Your brain uses it to emotionally paralyse you, making you feel tired, bored, distracted, angry, sad, hungry – whatever your bad brain needs to do to stop you from taking action, and getting a reaction from the world.
Your brain sends you off on a wild goose (frog?) chase looking for tools and tactics to keep you busy, using up more brain cycles, saving you from feedback, protecting you from judgment, securing you in your own fantasy world… then it usually makes you watch a kitten video or buy some underwear from M&S. (Or is that just me?)
How to fix perfecting procrastination
You need to change your perfect procrastination of fear, uncertainty and doubt, to a more healthy Accelerated Action of:
- Courage – rationalise the fears (some of them might be real), work out if they will have an impact and then be courageous in going forward.
- Clarity – be clear on who you are writing for, and the massive benefits they (and you) will receive.
- Confidence – create confidence by writing, publishing and getting feedback – this is the only way you learn and improve. Work with a coach or mentor if you need more skills.
Accelerated Action is a habit – just like procrastination is a habit.
This isn’t something you’re born being able to do, you get better at it from doing it.
James Clear says in Atomic Habits : “I didn’t start out as a writer. I became one through my habits.” Then he went on to write a book about habits!
You need a change of thinking, which will lead to a change of acting.
Change from, “I must do some writing,” to “I am a writer.”
I’m going to cover your thinking and acting in a later article – FARTs and the E-FART model – for now, know that you have control over your thoughts, and they accelerate your actions.
Solution: Just. Stop. It. And take action!
Resources In chapter 9 of the grown up book, Self-Regulation and Self-Control, Selected works of Roy F. Baumeister – https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9781315175775/chapters/10.4324/9781315175775-9  Brain cycles are yet another of my made up things, they go something like this – when you are thinking of something you use up brain cycles (imagine each brain cycle is like a breath, you are doing it all the time without noting). You can only think of one thing at a time, so if you are using your brain cycles to think about stupid things your brain can’t do anything useful for you. Brain cycles will stop one day (when you die!), and you only have a certain amount of them – so you must stop wasting brain cycles on stupid thoughts (or making up stupid things).  Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear