Writing something big is one of the things people tend to procrastinate on the most.

It doesn’t matter what the writing project might be: writing a novel, a non-fiction book, a long article, a thesis paper, a bunch of pages for a website. Whatever it is, the writer will find a way to procrastinate.

I count myself among those blessed procrastinators. But in the last 7 years, I’ve managed to write a duo thousand of blog posts, a print book, about Ten ebooks, and numerous online courses, not to mention a duo of novel attempts totaling 200K words. I’ve figured out a thing or two that works.

To help my fellow procrastinators writers, I thought I’d share how I tackled an ebook I determined to write last week about Letting Go (I’m releasing it for free next week on my bday, as a bounty to you guys).

I wrote the book in two days last week, and edited it in another day this week.

Here’s what I did.

Very first, I defined and thought through my problem. I’ve been working through a process of letting go that actually helps with pretty much any problem, if you’re willing to do it. This is what I desired to share with you guys, to help you through difficulties in your life, petite and large. So I imagined my typical reader, and what his or her life might be like. I walked through a typical day, from waking up to work to socializing and taking care of responsibilities. What problems might someone like that face?

I attempted to visualize how I’d deal with those problems, using the letting go method that’s been working for me. What steps would I take? What doubts and concerns would I have about the process? What would stop me from doing it? What would be helpful to know?

Then I commenced jotting down notes. After visualizing all of that, I had some ideas. Not organized, just random stuff. So I jotted notes down on paper, in a notebook, and also on a text document. No order, just get things down. I can organize later.

I kept thinking through all of this, for a few days. In the shower, while I was walking, while I meditated, during workouts, as I ate. It was foremost on my mind, and as I thought of ideas and problems, I’d jot them down.

Big step: I committed. I told an ebook designer that I’d have the manuscript to him by Wednesday, so that he’d have enough time to have it done by the end of the month. In my mind, I was now fully committed, instead of just thinking about doing it. This is a thick step, one of the most significant. You have to see your mind attempting to get out of being committed, and don’t let it run.

Now that I was committed, I set aside big blocks of time to work on the book. I knew that I’d never get it done unless I made the time, so I canceled appointments, said no to meetings, did a bunch of work so my work schedule was clear. Marked off the writing blocks on my calendar.

Next I chunked out the writing. There’s no way to write Ten,000 words at once. You can only write them one at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time. And yet our minds think of the work as one big thing, one scary thing, and so we procrastinate. Writing a paragraph isn’t hard, but writing a book seems horrifying. So I attempt not to think of the entire project — there’s no way for me to actually tackle the project. A brief chapter, or a section of that chapter — I can do that in one puny chunk of work.

So I determined to keep the chapters very brief (they’re more readable that way) and work on one brief chapter at a time. Not think about the entire thing, just the one lump of work in front of me. Something doable, not scary. That seems demonstrable, but you’d be astonished how often we procrastinate because we’re thinking of the entire project.

Then I procrastinated. No, I’m not immune to procrastination. It happens to me, inevitably. I put off the writing by working on other, more convenient tasks. But I found several things that worked this time (and many other times):

  • I told a friend that I was procrastinating, and committed to getting to work on the book. I texted him later, as I successfully wrote the book, and that felt good.
  • I reminded myself of why I was writing it. It wasn’t for my vainglory, but to help people. I pictured the people I was attempting to help, and visualized their ache, felt it in my chest. I could feel anger, frustration, sadness, distress. I knew this was something I dreamed to help with, if at all possible. And so this was my intention in writing: to help people in agony. And this is a thick motivator.
  • I examined my fears. My fears were about failing, about not getting the book done, about not doing it well, about people not liking it. These were all rooted in ideals, fantasies. This is a process I was actually writing about in the book, so I used it on myself, and it worked. I let go of the ideals, and worked without expectations, attempting to be in the moment as I wrote, being grateful for that moment.
  • I would observe my mind attempt to run. Fear still came up — fear of discomfort, of doing something hard. My mind desired to go check social media or Hacker News or blogs I like to read. I eyed my mind attempting to run, but I didn’t let it. I stayed with the writing.

Once I got the ball rolling, it got much lighter. I just had to write a single sentence. That’s all. That’s effortless as hell. So I did, and once I did, the 2nd sentence was tremendously lighter. Then the third, even lighter. The very first chapter began to come, then other chapters came one after the other.

I worked in little bits, took cracks, worked again. I would sit down to write, and do it for 10-15 minutes. Maybe a bit longer if I was on a roll. Then get up, spread, get some water, maybe clean or take care of some other household task. This permitted my mind to take a break. It got my blood circulating again, which is good for the brain. Then I’d sit down to write again. Repeat, over and over.

I worked for about five hours that very first day, once I got the ball rolling, then 3-4 hours the next day, and wrote 10K words in that time.

It felt amazing.

I sent the draft to some friends. I asked them to read it over if they had time, and if they had any suggestions or found any typos, to let me know. If you send it to Ten friends, about 3-4 will get back to you with switches. That’s a good number.

I spent a day editing and revising, and wrote a fresh chapter based on the suggestion of one friend. I tend to put off the editing but I had a deadline of Wednesday, so that shoved me to get on top of it. I edited, revised, edited.

And sent the manuscript, triumphantly, to my ebook designer.

I can’t wait to share it with all of you next week.

Related video: Kate – Deforestation (persuasive)


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