Beat Procrastination: 4 Physiological & Psychological Tips to overcome Writer’s Block
TL;DR - 4 Tips, Summarized
1. Keep a journal to evoke creativity and jot down ideas as they enter your mind
2. Set a deadline for yourself. The mind works better with deadlines.
3. Associate music with the activity in order to shift your brain to be more creative
4. Set small achievable goals to form habits
Everyone, at one point or another, suffers from procrastination. Don’t believe me? Well, just the fact that you’re here tells me you’re procrastinating from something. What it also means is that you’re interested in bettering your writing. I’ll keep these tips short and sweet.
Keep a Journal - Spur Your Creativity
Having a place dedicated to storing your thoughts, ideas, and advice you happen upon helps not only with spurring creativity, but also with keeping you engaged with your creative writing. It keeps your mind anchored to the craft.
Often, what I have in my journal is single pages dedicated to an idea or a setting for a short story. These ideas sometimes are never brought to life, and sometimes I find myself writing a short story based on an idea from three years ago. However, the fear with ideas is that you will always lose them. Ever find that you get your best ideas just before falling asleep? That’s when the mind is most relaxed, which allows for creativity. Having a journal stockpiled with ideas can often help you out of a tight jam when you feel writer’s block.
The problem many people make with journaling is that they force themselves to jot down thoughts regularly, until it becomes a chore. When something feels like a chore, you’re more reluctant to do it. Journal, but only as a therapeutic escape from writing - a healthy procrastination, if you will. That way, you’ll still be engaged in the craft, while at the same time not feeling obligated to jot stuff down regularly.
2. Use a timer - Deadlines Help Our Mind Create Structure
Here’s a slightly more technical, albeit practical still, tip. Using a timer - or assigning a deadline to yourself - helps your mind activate in a way that it cannot usually. Ever had an assignment in school that you procrastinated on for weeks on end, only to find yourself pulling an all-nighter the night before? Well, now imagine that assignment is a novel and that that deadline does not exist. You’ll never get it done! This is where having a timer is useful. It puts the mind in a working state. Work hard now for 25 minutes, then you get a 5 minute break. You’ll be surprised at how well this works. Providing the link below to a free timer you can try out. I usually stick to 25 minute bursts whenever I am feeling writer’s block. Once the timer begins, you feel obligated to at least give it 25 minutes. However, the hard part is just sitting down. Give yourself 25 minutes, and I guarantee you that once you get into it, you’ll be sitting down for hours on end.
3. Music Therapy - The Power of Association
This next point - the one on calming music, is a personal preference of mine. I will not include it in the 3 tips because everyone works differently. What works for one person will not for another. I personally enjoy piano or guitar instrumentals while writing, some people I know enjoy heavy metal. Whatever works!
However, the point of having music while writing is two-fold. First, you must find music that places your mind in a calm, soothing state that promotes creativity. Ever heard of binaural beats? I became fascinated by them recently. Did you know that there are playlists of music all played at a specific frequency designed to alter your brainwaves into a more productive state? That’s an extreme example, but there is therapy in music, and altering how we associate music with work is a hidden key to productivity many do not thin about.
The second point I want to emphasize on music is that of repetition. By associating certain types of music with certain types of activities, through repetition we can condition our brain to naturally shift gears when needed. If I am trying to illicit a certain biological reaction in my body, I can do so by mimicking the emotions required. If I am trying to calm myself, or lower my heart rate, I can listen to classical music, perform various breathing exercises etc. Its the same for writing. Music (same type of music) as a form of conditioning through association will help your brain subconsciously shift gears in order to evoke your creativity.
3. Set a goal for yourself - The Power of Habit
Our minds work in repetitive cycles. Habits. The reason why you hate going to the gym when you’re first starting out is because habits form in the prefrontal cortex, the same region of the brain associated with personality and behaviour. Naturally, it’s a fickle thing. However, the more we stick to a habit by way of repetition, the habit moves from the prefrontal cortex to the base of the brain (basal ganglia) in the cerebrum - an area associated with motor movements, procedural learning, cognition etc.
The point of setting a goal is form the habit. The goal in itself can be absolutely trivial bordering ridiculous.
Write 50 words a day. Every day.
It is a word-count so small that you feel obligated to achieve it everyday simply for the fact that 50 words can be doable in a single subway ride to work, on a coffee break, just before bed even. You may be thinking, “Wait a minute. 50 words a day means I finish my novel sometime in the next 5 years”. While I agree that in terms of output, you will never finish a novel that way. However, what you will do is you will, after about 3 weeks or so, form a habit in your basal ganglia. The habit then becomes very hard to break. Once it does, you can up that word count to your desired amount. THIS is how Stephen King averages 2000 words a day, everyday.
The hard part is starting. Procrastination is the brain’s way of reducing its output to the least amount of possible effort so as not to drain itself. However, this becomes counter-intuitive in our modern world today. If you want to get ahead, you must first understand how your brain works, why it works that way, before understanding how you can re-wire it to your advantage.
So, to end off, let me present you with a challenge: Write 50 words a day for the next 3 weeks.