Procrastination is a problem that besets most writers at some point. Why is it so hard to sit down and write? Why is it more tempting to rearrange your pencils, tidy your desk, check Twitter or another social media app? All of this has a massive impact on productivity. And since most writers don’t have the luxury of being full time, they have to fit their writing in around other activities, including nine-to-five jobs. This means they have to maximise their writing time. While there are numerous apps that can help with blocking social media distractions, in this post we will look at how you can boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique.
Why do people procrastinate?
But first things first – what is going on with procrastination? It’s a common problem that isn’t just confined to writers.
One sad truth is that while most people dream of success – including writers – they don’t necessarily dream of the hard work that’s involved. It doesn’t help that you hear overnight success stories that don’t always show the long hard slog to get there. Writers are already gifted with imaginations – they can picture the book deal, the reading events, the signings. What they can’t or won’t picture so well is the more monotonous task of writing, rewriting, and editing. It’s solitary work that requires time away from others. And this connects with one of the two main human drives – the desire to avoid pain.
Humans are primarily driven by two things – the desire for pleasure and the desire to avoid pain. Dreams of success relate to pleasure. The hard work and delays relate to pain. Because the work involves sacrifice – you have to give up watching TV and browsing social media. You have to say no to that night out at the pub. It’s not that you can’t have any fun, but writing a book takes a lot of hard work, and the book doesn’t write itself while you’re chatting to people on Twitter.
Success is scary
That brings us to another problem that also commonly hits business owners and freelancers when they’re trying to get off the ground. Success can be desired, but it can also be feared. This is why there can be a lot of self-sabotage going on. You sometimes see writers panicking when their books are about to be published. It’s not that they’ve changed their minds, but as well as the possible success they are facing potential pain in the form of poor sales or bad reviews. They are now committed and there’s no way to back out. If they’re a newer author, it will be all the more intimidating.
And part of this relates to perfectionism. Is the book good enough? Which in turn leads back to pain – will I get bad reviews? Perfectionism can really bog people down, leading to procrastination, never being quite ready, or finding ways to avoid the task. As a writer, you probably know that what you put on paper rarely lives up to what’s in your head. Certainly not in earlier drafts. The frustration of bridging that gap can lead to you putting off the work. You avoid the pain by looking for something more pleasurable instead – like dreaming about your story which is much easier than writing it.
All of this, along with the usual social media distractions, gets in the way of productivity. And if you’re failing to get the writing done, you feel a loss of confidence, and perhaps a sense of failure. This is also counter-productive.
It’s easy to get stuck in a negative loop of endless procrastination.
But there’s another issue too – writing a book can seem like a huge endeavour. Especially when you add in rewriting and editing. To deal with procrastination and the massive overwhelm you might be facing, it’s worthwhile looking at the Pomodoro technique of time management.
Pomodoro – what is it?
Actually, it’s a tomato. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. In the late 1980s, Italian student Francesco Cirillo developed a time-management technique involving a tomato-shaped timer. This technique breaks tasks down into 25 minute time intervals. Each interval is known as a pomodoro – after the timer Cirillo used. These intervals are broken by short breaks of three to five minutes. This makes work more manageable, less intimidating, and more achievable.
Boost your writing with the Pomodoro technique
Here’s an example for writing tasks:
- Make sure you have a goal or set of goals you want to tackle in the work session
- Decide on what you’re going to tackle – for example, a scene in your book or short story
- Set the timer for 25 minutes – this can be any timer, or an Alexa app, or an online timer
- Get to work (and turn off social media to avoid distractions)
- Stop working when the timer goes off and if you’ve completed your task, tick it off
- If you have fewer than four ticks, take a break of three to five minutes
- This break is also timed with an alarm going off to mark the end of the break
- Then you return to your task or the next one for another 25 minutes, before another break
- You should aim for four 25 minute work periods with breaks in between
- After that, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes before starting again
Beware of the social media rabbit hole during breaks
All of this depends on the overall writing time you have to play with. It might be tempting to go and check out Twitter during a break, but this can disrupt your concentration. Once you start checking emails and social media, even if you don’t check it for long, you might take a while to get your concentration back. A short break can lead to lost time that goes well beyond a few minutes. And then you’re staring at the word-processing screen again, frustrated that you can’t get back into your story. Beware of misusing your breaks, unless you are good at managing yourself.
If you finish a task before the end of the 25 minutes, you can use the extra time to review or edit your work.
Set goals, then rinse and repeat
If you’re really stuck for time, you could just do two hours and repeat again the next day. Be sure to set out your goals before you start and check off whether you accomplish them. A rough draft of a scene is a good goal. Reworking dialogue or filling in some location details in a rewrite session is also a perfectly good goal. By breaking writing into chunks of time, the task becomes more manageable. Yes, you should have the longer goal of writing an entire book. But you also have the shorter goal of dealing with it bit by bit.
Examples of a Pomodoro timer
pomodoro.io is a website that offers a Pomodoro timer with the ability to list the tasks you want to tackle.
You can also try out this YouTube Pomodoro timer – the channel has other timers you can check out.
Other IndieCat posts you might find useful
Social media blockers – how to block social media distractions that interfere with your writing.
How to establish a writing routine – writing is like a muscle that needs to be built up over time.
When is your novel done? Or, do you want to write and rewrite it forever?!
When dialogue ruins your scenes – because it can you know! It can make or break scenes. Find out how.
When is the best time for a developmental edit? Since developmental edits are not beta reads, this is a good question.