Thirteen hours until my paper is due. Assignment sheet out, I navigate to YouTube and start an Eddie Vedder cover of “All Along the Watchtower.” I decide my friend Kendra would like to check it out, so I copy the link and post it to her Facebook wall. As the autoplay takes me through a fairly solid version of “Reign o’er Me,” I read through the assignment sheet with a defeatist spirit. I don’t have a topic, I can’t concentrate, and I’m running out of time. It’s going to be a long night, so I start a pot of coffee and make a sandwich. Time to power up and energize. I decide to check Twitter before I dive in. Adams has been traded to Atlanta where he will get regular playing time. I think about adding him to my fantasy team, but I’m not sure who I would drop. A notification pops up. Kendra has already seen the video, but she agrees it’s really good. I have eleven hours left. And now my dog is awake. No room on my lap for both him and the computer. Time to move to the couch.
For writers and non-writers alike, the hardest part of writing is getting started. Writing rituals are habits that help you get from a blank page to a completed paper. More importantly, these habits, ideally, should get you to that point with minimal stress—although it’s important to note that any type of writing is slow work that necessitates patience—and through this, should result in a quality-written product. This means that starting your paper the morning it’s due and frantically typing it through a haze of tears and caffeine is not a great writing habit.
To an outsider, writing habits may appear pointless, but these can be manipulated to make better writing happen. Here are some simple ways writers tackle sidetracking situations of environment, time, and behavior.
Get rid of distractions. Some need complete silence, while others are perfectly content to write with the comforting hum of their friends chatting and their favorite television program blaring in the background.
What distracts you? Be honest when you answer this question. You might have more fun writing while holding a conversation with a friend, but are you actually getting more done this way? Maybe you are one of those people who works better with some noise in the background, but, if you find yourself with only half a page after a two-hour writing session, you might want to consider writing in silence for a change.
Of course, finding a place to write quietly can occasionally be a challenge. While shutting yourself up in your room and locking the door may be enough, this may not be an option if you live in a crowded household or dorm room. Working at a library, café, or even a park might be a better option depending on the noise level of where you live. Sometimes, surrounding yourself with people who are doing the same thing, somehow, all of those hardworking people are an encouragement. Find this place.
Don’t give yourself an excuse to procrastinate. Some people procrastinate by surfing the internet and watching Netflix for hours until their time is almost up, while others will come up with a list of tasks they must complete before they can actually get started writing. Think about what you do to procrastinate and figure out a way to prevent that from happening.
If you are a web surfing procrastinator, consider turning off your Wi-Fi signal or even writing in a notebook. If fun times with friends often interrupt your writing time, turn off the cell phone. Or go somewhere you know you won’t come into contact with your friends.
If you are a “task maker,” try going someplace public like a library where the employees will probably be annoyed by you doing something like cleaning the shelves, organizing the books, or cooking a meal.
Just start writing and don’t stop. The idea of “just starting” to write may seem baffling to you. Start writing what? But getting something on the page, even if it is complete nonsense, is much better than writing nothing. You can at least edit the nonsense later. You can’t edit nothing. In addition, writing something, even if it feels like you are just mashing the keyboard, is a good way to combat procrastination.
Sit down, write, and don’t stop until you get somewhere with it.
Reach a goal. Set and reach modest daily goals for yourself. It could be as little as a page a day, but writing just a page daily of a fifteen-page paper for about two weeks will be much less stressful than trying to write all of it at once.
You can even set mini goals and reward yourself. If you write one paragraph, you get to take a break. If you write one page, you get to eat a chocolate bar. If you finish your paper, you get to go to a movie.
It might take some experimentation to figure out what exactly works for you. If you really have no idea how to start, sitting in a quiet room with a computer and keyboard or paper and pencil is usually a safe bet.