It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
You have so many stories you want to share with people.
So many ideas sprinting through your mind.
But daily life drains your time and motivation. You’re always juggling multiple responsibilities and schedules, dealing with a million and one interruptions. You just can’t seem to make writing a permanent part of your life.
All you want to do is live on your own terms and help others live better too. You want to create something you can be proud of, something that will show the world a side of you its never seen before.
You just want to WRITE, for a change.
Yet it seems like there are two side of you, at war with each other: One side wants to write, to work hard, to get your project DONE. The other side just wants to play, get distracted, and forget all about this writing hard work business.
And often, it seems like the second side is winning.
What’s Going On?
According to Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, people delay doing what they are meant to do because their impulsive desire for immediate gratification and their mistaken perception of time overwhelm the value they perceive and pleasure they expect from the target behavior.
How does that translate for writers?
Writers don’t write when they’re distracted by present pleasures and mistakenly believe that they “still have plenty of time.” When those two factors are stronger than the immediate enjoyment and meaning they find in writing, they quit.
Wow, that was a mouthful.
Let me see if I can put it another way…
Impulsivity & Immediate Gratification
First of all, writing is an activity that requires some delayed gratification — it takes time to finish a story or an article or a book, and until it’s done, you’re stretching your mind, coming up with words, cutting, editing, writing and rewriting your ideas.
In other words, writing is exhausting. And the benefits (of seeing and holding your polished, published piece) aren’t immediate.
EB White, author of beloved children’s classics like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, once wrote:
Writing is hard work and bad for the health.
He could have been joking, perhaps, but in some ways, he’s dead right. Writing IS hard work, and if you do it the wrong way, it certainly can be hazardous for the health.
And we writers know that.
Why would you want to sit down in front of a computer for hours, typing, erasing, and retyping thousands of words when you could be outside frolicking in the sun with your friends?
Or enjoying a movie with family?
Or doing a million other things that are far more interesting, in the moment, than writing?
You face a limitless number of distractions every day, and the more impulsive you are, the more likely you are to jump at any opportunity to do something new and exciting.
But this is the death knell for your writing project and career. Without focus, you can’t write very much. And without follow through, you will never finish any project you start.
Not just that, impulsivity grows 10x worse when it’s combined with this next factor…
A Warped Sense of Time
Another reason you find it difficult to write is because you (wrongly) think you have all the time in the world.
A lot of people want to write books, blogs, articles, and more. But they figure they can do it later, when they’re inspired. Or retired.
No can do.
Considering that inspiration is unreliable, the average age of retirement has been growing older and older, and the average personal debt has been rising as well, the window of opportunity for you to write freely with no responsibilities is MUCH smaller than you think. Maybe even nonexistent.
And no one knows how long they will live, or how long they will be healthy and able to write.
Not to be a Debby Downer, but as a rule of thumb: you don’t have as much time as you think you do.
Plenty of famous and not-so-famous writers have died, leaving behind hundreds, maybe thousands of unfinished books and writing projects on their desks or computers…and probably thousands more that never saw the light of day.
- Charles Dickens died before he finished The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
- Michael Crichton succumbed to lymphoma before he could pen the end of his techno-thriller, Micro.
- And Mark Twain left behind not one, not two, but THREE unfinished manuscripts when he passed away.
Think about it. All of these brilliant writers left the world without leaving us readers the ends of their novels.
Now we will NEVER know how they might have concluded their stories, or what other stories they might have written, because they died before their time.
You don’t want that to be you.
Which means that if you really want to be a writer, there’s no time like the present. The longer you delay, the more likely you’ll never get around to writing, and the higher the probability that YOU will die with unfinished projects scattered behind you and stored within, silent forever.
The crazy thing is, even when you realize that you are self-sabotaging by giving in to impulsiveness and a distorted view of time, that alone isn’t quite enough to get you off your social media and back to your book.
Besides fighting against impulsivity and a warped sense of time, you also need to ADD a few other items to your “behavior balance scale” to motivate yourself to write:
The Only 2 Reasons Why People Do Things
The only way to combat the double demons of impulsiveness and a warped sense of time is to weight the other side of the scale, the side that motivates you TO write.
But how do you do that? What makes you do anything in life?
Two reasons: Either the behavior gives you pleasure, or you find the behavior valuable in some way.
For example: No one has to convince you to go biking if you like biking. It makes you happy, so you do it. In this case, you are biking for the pleasure of it.
On the other hand, you may not like biking (or any form of exercise) all that much, but you value staying healthy and living long, so you do it anyway. Not that it’s fun in the moment, but values are more important than fun for you.
Writing can do both: produce value, AND give you pleasure.
Writing can spread brilliant ideas across time and space, inspiring, educating, and entertaining generations of readers.
When writers keep this in mind, they realize that the value of their words is priceless. (Besides, writing produces other kinds of practical value , such as earning an income, and taking care of your family).
And it’s fun to write: spilling your thoughts on paper, creating worlds with your imagination, and anticipating the lives that will be changed by your words is intrinsically rewarding.
But not always.
There are times when writing feels like trying to start a bonfire without a match. The words won’t flow, the ideas won’t solidify, your eyes hurt from staring at a screen, and worst of all, you haven’t heard any positive feedback from readers for months.
When that happens, you will have to find other ways to increase your perception of pleasure and/or value to keep yourself going no matter what. It’s true for any pursuit, and especially so for writing.
But how exactly do you do that?
That’s the subject of the next two lessons in this mini series. Stay with us, and you shall see in time!
A Summary of the Behavior Balance Scale
Remember, human behavior depends on four factors: impulsivity, time sense, value sense, and pleasure. They balance each other out, like two sides of an ancient balance scale.
Too much of the first two items leads to low motivation and procrastination.
But if you can either lessen the weight of the first two items, and/or increase the weight of the second two, you can crush procrastination and become so productive, you’ll amaze yourself.
In othe words: The key to learning to write no matter what is to maximize value and pleasure, and minimize distractions/your own distractibility and unwarp your sense of time.
In the next two lessons, we’ll talk about what kind of value you produce as a writer, and how to increase the intrinsic pleasure of writing (and decrease distractibility and time warping) so that you can more effectively fight off procrastination and become a committed, consistent, incredible writer.
P.S. You can download a visual cheat sheet of today’s lesson HERE