In this fourth episode of the Gracewriters Podcast, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss the vexing topic of Procrastination.
Why can’t we seem to actually sit down and do the writing that we love! We’ve all experienced the problem, and we share tips, suggestions, and observations, as well as the Christian angle… how do we get God involved in building momentum, and does He care about our writing progress?
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Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, accredited editor, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, author of sweet romance
- Donita Bundy, author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- Causes and types of procrastination for writers.
- Is procrastination a sin?
- Practical and spiritual tips for defeating procrastination and moving forward with our writing task.
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- What topics would you like us to cover?
- What questions bother you in your own writing practice as a gracewriter?
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at Gracewriters.com.
Welcome to Episode 4 of the Gracewriters Podcast. Today we are going to talk about procrastination. I’m Belinda Pollard, the founder of Gracewriters. I’m an author, speaker and blogger and I’ve been helping people write and publish books for more than 20 years. You can find links to my various websites at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Joy. I live in south-east Queensland and I write sweet romance. You can find me on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. I’m a writer, blogger and creative writing teacher and I have a slight addiction to photography. You can find out all about that and me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you Donita and Alison and welcome to the podcast today. As I mentioned, our topic today is procrastination, which is a favourite topic of writers all around the world. We would so often love to talk about procrastination endlessly rather than get stuck into our writing! It’s all over Twitter, it’s all over all the writer’s forums, it’s such a problem.
Why is it a problem and what does the term procrastination mean to you? What’s been your experience with it?
Alison Joy: Procrastination. I don’t think, is it possible to be a writer and not procrastinate? It’s just part of the DNA of the writer, isn’t it, that you have to procrastinate.
Belinda Pollard: Is it kind of a badge of honour, do you think?
Alison Joy: Yes, probably. It’s just putting off the actual getting down to the nitty gritty of writing and you find so many ways to avoid it. You are looking at your social media or you’ve got to clean the house, or you’ve got to do this, or you’ve got to do that. Even for me, I was procrastinating about this podcast and procrastinating about research about procrastination!
Belinda Pollard: It’s great, isn’t it? You had a cartoon, didn’t you Alison, that you mentioned before?
Alison Joy: Oh yes, yes, it was procrastination for creative writers, a ten-week course. It included things like workspace arrangement, rewriting rituals, stationery choices, waiting for inspirational, workspace rearrangement, utilising social media and advanced workspace rearrangement. Those are some of the topics.
Belinda Pollard: Fabulous, I love it! I love it! That’s a great cartoon. What about you, Donita?
Donita Bundy: I don’t think it’s just a writing thing, to be perfectly honest. I’ve suffered with procrastination my whole life and for me it’s just a huge block, it’s almost physical, the thing that stops me sitting down and getting to work. Whatever it is that I need to do but I don’t particularly want to. It’s almost like having an electric shock in my chair every time I sit down to write only to jump up to go and do something else. For me it didn’t come on when I started writing. As you know I started writing later in life but I’ve suffered with procrastination. I suspect, sometimes I won’t even manage to get older because I’m too busy doing other things. So that’s a good thing!
Alison Joy: I think procrastination is just something that is common to the human psyche in general. It just seems to be more prominent when you’re a writer or seems to manifest itself more, I don’t know.
Belinda Pollard: Maybe we chatter about it more? What’s been your personal experience with it, Alison?
Alison Joy: I just find, for myself, I tend to put it off because I think I have to justify having the time to write. So, I’ll go okay, well I’ve got to do this first and then I’ll do that first and then when I’ve done this, and then I can actually sit down and spend some time putting the words on paper or on the screen, as it were.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, justify the time to write. I really like that because that is, I’ve noticed that a lot. We almost feel like sometimes, like we need permission to write. I know that was one of the things that really held me back.
If there was a procrastination Olympics I would be a medallist. My first novel was one page long for a decade – a decade. I challenge you to beat that kind of achievement. But it was because of that issue, like you’ve said of justifying writing it.
Even with my work in progress, the novel I’m working on at the moment, it lay fallow for two years and it was because of a huge psychological problem that I had. So, there was a blockage and I had to take actual steps to remove that blockage and I did finally get through it.
Yes, tell me your procrastination stories, I believe them all and I’ve probably lived half of them. Have you had any trouble with it, Donita?
Donita Bundy: Yes, I was just thinking, Belinda, I think when I started writing and I was telling people I was a writer, it took a while to be brave enough to actually say: I’m writing. When I was writing my manuscript, nobody knew what was in it and so until it was published or until someone read it, it had the potential to be good. But as soon as it was out there, and someone read it, then they could see for themselves! It’s a lot easier, like writing that blog or writing whatever it is that you’re writing, whilst it’s in your head and in your own documents it has the potential to be awesome. People are like, when’s this coming out? But then when you actually put it out there, you’ve got to confront the reality that it might not actually be that good. It’s like that saying, stay silent and have people think you may not be that smart or open your mouth and have it confirmed!
Alison Joy: You’re rewording that very well!
Donita Bundy: That’s kind of what I’m confronted by sometimes as well. Yes, it’s a physical block. Yes, I need to have clean space to be creative and write, so the house has to be organised. But also by going ahead and doing that which I really want to do, I have to confront that fear that other people may not see the gold!
Belinda Pollard: Yes, yes, the unwritten book is always so much more brilliant than the one that’s actually written. Yes, I totally get that, it is so true. So, there’s a couple of issues going on there, isn’t there? Have you guys done some research on the topic, while we have been preparing for this? What did you find?
Alison Joy: I think sometimes we procrastinate because we expect perfection. We don’t think we got anything worthwhile to write so we put off writing it. Avoid getting it down on paper or on the computer, I should say.
Belinda Pollard: Either way, yes.
Donita Bundy: I’ve spent time looking into, for example, my blog, it’s a Christian blog and at the moment I’m doing a study on Leviticus. I’m thinking I’ve put all the work in and I do the research and I do the writing and the editing but before I press post, it’s like, well who wants to read this anyway? Those final tweaks, all that the little jobs that need to be done to get it out there, I will put off because I’m thinking, well, who’s interested in reading any of this, anyway, so what’s the point? That is part of that fear, perhaps, that it’s not really that good or not really that interesting. It’s something that interests me, but who am I?
Belinda Pollard: Yes, that resistance, I think it’s Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, talks about resistance. Resistance rather than necessarily procrastination gives it a different name, and I think there’s that resistance. I think even as Christians who write, sometimes we can have that sense of the fact that we might actually be writing something quite important in our small way. There is a fear of going forth into that because of what it might lead to, because it might be inadequate, because maybe it won’t be God honouring and we want it to be God honouring. There’s that thing holding us back.
Have you found anything regarding spiritual issues around procrastination. We’re Christians who write, so what are the spiritual implications for us?
Donita Bundy: When I was doing a bit of research I found a really interesting article that classified procrastination, from a really negative point of view. They suggested it was laziness, lack of self-control and selfishness. I struggled with this because whilst, yes, it might be an issue of self-control, I’m not being disciplined enough to sit down and get the job done, especially if, as we spoke last time about the call to write. If I’ve been called to write and I believe that and I’ve got something I need to say, I need to get the job done. But, I don’t necessarily think laziness is the case, because I can be very busy, I can have a lot of things, I can be achieving a lot of things, but it might be the one or two tasks that I’m struggling with. I really don’t think it comes from laziness or necessarily selfishness, so I disagree with that.
Belinda Pollard: No, I would agree with you there, Donita. Yes, I think laziness is not, procrastination is often a very busy thing. It’s just busy doing other things. I also feel as though something like that, that characterises procrastination as a sin is, and those particular choices of sin, is shaming. I find that shame… I think we’ve got to, how can I put this, I think we need to confront our sinfulness, we need to understand that we are sinful human beings, loved by God, redeemed by God, and there will be sinful aspects to all the things we do. So, I’m sure I am sometimes lazy and sometimes sinful, sometimes selfish, but I don’t think that that’s necessarily at the heart of my procrastination. I think is a different, it’s almost like, it can either be a busyness directed in other directions and a form of paralysis. What do you think, Alison?
Alison Joy: Yes. My brain’s gone blank!
Belinda Pollard: That’s alright.
Alison Joy: Yes, I think sometimes, I think you’re right. It’s just, yes, there are elements of that in it. I mean, maybe it was more like laziness in terms of directed towards writing, per se, and not life in general. Maybe we don’t plan our time well enough to allow time to write. I don’t know.
Donita Bundy: I think it could also be a priority thing. There’s that saying, there’s a lot of good things to do, but they’re not necessarily the “God things” that we are called to do, or God wants us to do, so perhaps it’s an aspect of prioritising all the things. Not that we’re lazy or unproductive, but are we doing the things we should be doing, are we putting the right weight on the different things or tasks and then putting them in order and doing them appropriately.
So more of the priority and doing the most important things and to get, if we are Christian writers, taking that to God and asking, what is it you want me to do today, what are the tasks today? Like that description of filling the jug with all the stones, if you’ve put the sand in first and the little stones, you won’t get the boulders in, but if you get your jar and put the boulders in and then the smaller stones and then the grains of sand, you’ll get everything in. So, coming before God and saying, what is it today that I need to do and get those in first and then allow all the other stuff to trickle in. We will get everything done but perhaps if we wanted to look at it from that sinful aspect, it’s not coming to God and finding out what the priority is and then putting that in its right place.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, self-control is one of the fruit of the Spirit and it is something that is really valuable, and it’s not… Self-control is not a gift, it’s a fruit. You have to grow fruit. There is work involved. It’s not where God waves his fairy wand and ‘whah’, you’ve got self-control. You’ve got to work at it. I’ve actually found there’s a – we’ve mentioned it before on the podcast – some of us have been doing a thing where every hour our phone or our watch or whatever goes ‘bing’ and we do some deep breathing and a little bit of meditation on the names of God or whatever it is we are choosing to meditate on at that particular time.
I’ve had a start again message come up and I have found this has really helped me with my self-control. It has helped me each hour to stop, think, get rid of all the, particularly because we are living through a fairly stressful time on Planet Earth, to cut out some of those negative or distracting or upsetting messages for a little while and say, okay, start again. What is it this hour? What have you got for me Lord, what do you want to happen now? I’ve found that helpful. Have you guys found any other things helpful?
Alison Joy: You go, Donita.
Donita Bundy: We’ve just had school holidays here in Queensland, and having my two boys home from school and my husband’s a teacher, so having the three of them in the house has really rocked my routine. I had got into the habit of walking up and down our hill, which is on the side of a mountain, every morning and giving that time to God in worship and prayer and confession and asking for the anointing of this day. When everyone was home I really struggled to get out and do that even though I identified how important that was.
Last week everyone went back to work or school and I really struggled to get back into that routine. I found that without that particular pattern, starting off my day with that, my whole routine and everything I was supposed to do just flew out the window. I really warred with procrastination, until the beginning of this week, because, like, right, we’re back on track, we’re getting out that gate. As soon as their car drives out, I’m up and down that hill and I’ve really just noticed such a difference. So, for me, connecting with God first thing in the morning and going through that ritual and that prayer, that breathing, that renewing that you mentioned, Belinda, has transformed my day, and I am now achieving. It’s a daily coming back. It’s not a once for all, it’s every day and sometimes it’s every hour. Just keep coming back and putting it back in the lap of God and it’s the only thing that is helping, but it’s fantastic.
Belinda Pollard: That’s fantastic, Donita. Can I just say too, from a pastoral kind of point of view, can we please not beat ourselves up if we are tired or grieving or stressed and we’re not getting done all the things that we hoped we might be able to get done? Could we maybe be as kind to ourselves as God is, and allow ourselves to heal and recover, and maybe lower our expectations during times of stress or disorder. And that’s not just a message for you, Donita, I know that you know all of that, but I mean for all the listeners out there. The number of times – I connect with a lot of writers and the number of times they are beating themselves up over stuff and not understanding that you can’t always do everything and be everything for everybody. Sometimes you need to step back. Other thoughts?
Alison Joy: I’ve found, just getting back to what Donita does in the morning, I’ve just found recently that when I do a walk in the mornings, I’ve just got a spot in a park near where I walk and I just sit, and just sit and listen, and maybe I get a praise song, worship song, something. Just be still basically. I’ve just found that really helpful for the rest of the day then.
Belinda Pollard: Some things that, some practical kinds of things that helped when me when I mentioned I had that two-year hiatus on my current manuscript. There were a few things that helped me to get to the finish line of that first draft.
One was to get inspired again about the project. I’m an old journalist, so I love to research. We’ve got to beware because research can become a form of procrastination. But for me, research, my books are always based on lots of research and actual things. I even went on a research trip to North Queensland and talked to people and looked at places. That got me back on track again past that particular blockage.
There was also a blockage to do with how a particular character was being written, and I won’t go into all the details, you don’t need to know it, but basically, I had to confront what the problem was. The research was almost like turning my eyes away from the problem, but then I had to actually come back and confront the problem and do the hard work of working out how to solve the problem.
I had an accountability partner, so I was meeting monthly with another writer, who is actually in another country, and we were setting targets. Initially I set the target of writing 30,000 words a month and I work, I run a business, so I work like 60 to 80 hours a week and that was insane to be trying to do 30,000 words a month, for me. So I changed it to 10,000. When I set as 30,000 I didn’t do any, but when I set it as 10,000 that was achievable for me and I did it and I got the thing written.
I also changed my writing times. I had been thinking I had to write at 5 o’clock in the morning because everybody says, you’ve got to write at 5 o’clock in the morning. I look like, you know, the hag of Christmas past at 5 o’clock in the morning, whereas if I write after dinner at night, I enjoy it and I get it done. So, I messed with that and that helped. I also got some momentum going and I started enjoying it again. Enjoying it! Really, I couldn’t wait to sit down with my book at night! Momentum is magic. Any other thoughts?
Alison Joy: So how do you kick the momentum along? Do you just write and start writing and just get anything down just to get some momentum going and then go from there?
Belinda Pollard: Well, that can be a good way to do it, but what I did with this particular situation, because I’m a bit of a pantser – I do a certain amount of planning but I don’t sort of have scene by scene all laid out before I begin. But what I would do would be at the end of each session I would set up, I write in Scrivener, so I would set up the next couple of scenes. Just a few notes for the next couple of scenes before I would turn the computer off at night. That way when I started up the next night I knew what I was going to be writing about and I’d maybe even started a first few lines of each of those scenes. So, that would help me to keep moving.
I just found momentum build momentum and I even got to the point where if I had a meeting at night I was really resenting the fact that I couldn’t be at home writing my book! It really did turn it around for me, it really helped. What do you think we should do to regain momentum?
Alison Joy: Well, there is a few different things. I think we should try and minimise distractions so we might need to get rid of some Apps off our phone or close off social media and that sort of thing.
Maybe if we break it into chunks, make it more achievable. Try and look at, oh I’ve got to write a whole book, whereas if you go, okay well I’ve got to write a scene or a chapter and then it’s not so overwhelming.
Maybe, we talked about it already, scheduling a time to actually do the writing.
Maybe, use a timer so, go hard at it for 15-20 minutes or whatever and then have a bit of a break. I saw somewhere where an author had tried to write 250 words in 15 minutes, then have a break. And then he would repeat it and repeat it for 3 hours. That’s how he achieved that so, that sounds good.
Maybe, we need a reward for getting to a goal that might be helpful. I think we mentioned maybe just try and rephrase our internal dialogue and say, okay I choose to write, not I have to write. I choose to do this.
Donita Bundy: I’m a list writer and I love to write things into lists. Like you said, Alison, you bunch things, or you break things down, so I get to cross of lots more, because I break each task up into mini tasks, and then I get to reward myself when I finish a certain amount. But I also look back and have a great sense of achievement because I can see all the things that I’ve crossed off my list. So, I’ve found that and the accountability thing that you mentioned before, Belinda, I think that really helped as well.
Belinda Pollard: We probably should wind it up. We are running out of time. Donita, would you like to pray for the gracewriters, please?
Donita Bundy: Yes, sure. Heavenly Father, we first of all want to thank you that we are yours. We are your children and we want to thank you that you have called us to be writers, your writers. We thank you for your immense creativity and that you have laid on each of us a different way or form or audience to write to and for, and different ways of writing. But we want to thank you that you are the same God for all of us and that your Word is truth. It brings encouragement and hope and challenge. So, Lord we pray for all of us who are in your Kingdom and who are writers, who are writing gracenotes into everything we do, whether as speakers, writers, singers.
We thank you for the blessing of being part of your Kingdom and called to write your Word. I pray that you would help each of us overcome this challenge of procrastination, the block that we are confronted with when we are stressed or fearful or whatever the cause is. I pray that you are helping us see what the problem is and then helping us overcome it. I pray for each of us gracewriters this week, this fortnight, that your Spirit would come and inspire us and empower us. That your truth would find its way through our words, either blatantly or subtly, and that we would all follow in the footsteps of Christ and just say the truth that needs to be said, and that we would, yes, just find that joy and be blessed knowing that we are part of your Kingdom and part of the plan. So, thank you for who you are, thank you for calling us and thank you for the gift of writing and may we use it for your glory. Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Amen. Thank you, Donita and thank you Alison. Please go to gracewriters.com and click on the podcast tab to leave us your comments, suggestions and any questions that you might like to ask, and we would love to have you join us in our free online discussion forum and meet with other gracewriters at our monthly catch-up on Zoom. Simply subscribe to the blog and that way you will get an invitation to both of those things because we don’t make the link public. So, thank you again. Thank you for joining us on the Gracewriters podcast and we look forward to seeing you next time.
Thank you for joining us today at the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at Gracewriters.com. We’d love to see you there.
Bill Brockmeier says
My most recent matter of procrastination occurred after months of research and planning to write an opera libretto. All three acts, and even most of the scenes had been fleshed out with the flow of drama and action. But a libretto consists almost entirely of dialogue, and I just couldn’t seem to get started on writing it. But, thankfully, the dam finally burst, and I found myself joyously writing without stopping, until the first act was complete. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was, perhaps, stifled by a long-held fear of writing dialogue. Before I became familiar with it, I used to view the art of writing of dialogue as some kind of mystical gift, that only a priveledged few writers could ever pull off successfully. And I think I had recently fallen back into the trap of believing that again. Once I finally put pencil to paper, I remembered the joyous experience that it can truly be. It is critically important that we remember one of the reasons we write—it is a wondrous and joyous experience, even if exhausting!
Belinda Pollard says
It’s interesting how much we sometimes fear writing dialogue, Bill, when we’ve all been using it for most of our lives. It’s wonderful that you found your breakthrough!
Dawn Dicker says
Congrats, Bill, on your breakthrough. And thanks for the reminder to focus less on the pressure of composition and more on the joy of creation!
Bill Brockmeier says
Very valuable discussion and insights!
As I listented, I thought of many of my own previous extended periods of “procrastination.” I use quotation marks here, because in hindsight, I think not all of these periods of delay were true procrastination, though I may have felt like it at the time. Certainly some of those times could be categorized with the “P-word,” but a few of those times were simply times that I needed to step back and rest from the work (as you mentioned in your discussion), and to be refreshed with a new perspective. At other times, I now believe the matter of the delay was the significant issue of needing to wait patiently for God’s perfect timing. Sometimes I am “champing at the bit” (as we say in Texas) to get going with a project, but it just doesn’t seem to start, because God hasn’t fired the starter’s pistol yet. So, as you ladies mentioned, sometimes we might need to give ourselves a break, and not be so hard on ourselves to “get to work!”
I liked that grief was mentioned – I stopped writing for about a year while going through some deep grief. I knew I shouldn’t feel bad about it because I was healing in very complicated ways only God could understand. Then when I got to a certain stage, I wanted to write again, and that was healing too, but I still couldn’t fill my day with it until more time had passed.
I also love the idea of planning what you’ll write tomorrow – I write policies as well as fiction, and they are sometimes very hard to get onto, but planning helps!
Belinda Pollard says
So glad you understood that aspect of it, Jennie. I lost traction on a large project for several years due to grief. But when it was the right time to start again, I did start again. And yes, planning just the next little part has helped me at times. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Dawn Dicker says
So many good tips about overcoming procrastination here! Especially enjoyed Donita’s point about prioritization, Alison’s about setting time limits, and Belinda’s reminder to be kind to ourselves along the way.
Belinda Pollard says
Thank you so much, Dawn. It’s a constant issue for all of us, isn’t it?