Trick yourself out of procrastination and refill your creative well
What’s this episode about?
Welcome to the second episode of the third season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways.
This week, I will discuss a topic which all writers dread to think about – procrastination. It’s the enemy of productivity and inspiration and can leave pretty much anyone feeling like they can’t write. But it’s not all doom and gloom – I will teach you how to trick your brain into doing things that fuel your creativity while still indulging that need to procrastinate for a bit.
Procrastination is not laziness
Contrary to what some people believe, procrastination is not about laziness. Productivity is linked with our mental health and there are a number of reasons a person is not at the height of their creative output. One of those non-exclusive reasons is procrastination.
By definition, it is the voluntary delay of tasks which are undesirable in the specific moment despite known possible bad outcomes later down the line. I won’t dive deep into the reasons why we procrastinate, because there are a myriad or personal and mental health reasons which might be playing a part in any given person.
What I do want to share though are the findings of a recent study. The researchers discovered stress and anxiety and procrastination are linked. Anxiety, intrusive thoughts, stress, depression and any other negative emotions motivate procrastination. So approaching your writing productivity from a place of self-care is essential.
And I’m not saying you have to always be jolly and beat your anxiety. That’s unfortunately unrealistic and as I said in the first season of the Pen Garden, good mental health is a journey. So knowing that you might procrastinate after a bad episode is empowering – learning self-compassion is great because it allows you to ride your emotions, positive or negative, and then return to a place of order without disturbing your overall creative practice.
Positivity memes can help
Following that train of thought, we can help our procrastinating brains change their direction by essentially tricking them to be productive. And no, I don’t mean by forcing you to sit down to write or edit or do anything else that requires high degree of focus and mental stamina.
I’m talking about creative procrastination which I think is closely linked to fostering inspiration. In the last episode of this podcast I talked about the importance of keeping our minds open to new experiences and exercising our imaginations. Creative procrastination is an extension of that – it’s taking the time you need to work through the issues you have which prevent you from being productive, while sneakily refilling your creative well with new ideas.
A study found that looking at a few inspirational memes or videos online every day improves psychosocial well-being and motivational intentions. So hop on the positivity train and go look at memes.
My favourite place to go for this kind of motivation when I’m down is the YouTube channel Daily Dose Of Internet. The channel shares impressive and beautiful things from nature and science and brings back our trust in humanity by showing us every day people who do amazing things or are just nice to each other.
Last week I mentioned I’m working on a novel. Things have progressed a little and now I have a page dedicated to it. It has the blurb and some mood images. Go check out The Lavender Phantom on www.laineydelaroque.com/books and sign up to the newsletter for updates if you like crime thrillers with a strong female protagonist.
Creative procrastination for writers
If memes and social media aren’t your thing, don’t worry – there’s plenty of other ways to procrastinate creatively and dare I say, even productively. Stephen King says: ‘If you haven’t enough time to read, you haven’t enough time to write.’ So return to an old favorite and pick it apart. Why do you like this book? Can you figure out the author’s secret? Why are the characters so great? Do you find the plot twist satisfying? What can be improved? Can you see any errors? When you disassemble a book like this you can later return to your writing and see your own mistakes more clearly.
If you don’t want to take this approach I suggest listening instead of reading. Listen to a podcast just as you’re doing now or listen to an industry craft book about writing. No matter if you’re an academic writer or a novelist, or even a hobbyist, there is always something to improve. Whether that is maybe tension, maybe characterization, maybe just style and grammar- listening like this will help you think systematically through your problems and provide encouragement or a new way of looking at things.
If you want to get away from writing as a whole, just refill your creative will or feed your imagination. Go to an art gallery. Binge that show on Netflix that you’ve been putting off for a whole month. Or look at the world around you. Julia Cameron, in her book ‘The Artist’s Way’, recommends ‘Artist’s dates’ – ‘a once-weekly expedition to explore something that interests you alone. It might be something as simple as going for a walk on the beach and looking for shells. Something you’d enjoy, but something that will feed your imagination. This sparks whimsy. Artist’s Dates encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative works by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.’
Get away from writing for a bit
My final suggestion for this episode is to believe that creativity breeds creativity. When your writing doesn’t go as planned because you’re procrastinating, pick up an old or a new hobby to jumpstart your writing creativity. Enjoying a craft you’re not so invested in has its benefits – there are no looming deadlines or targets, no one expects any output from you.
Try to remember what drawing or coloring or playing in the sand was like when you were a kid – it was a joyous, freeing experience. By adulthood most of us treat creativity just as an indulgence unless the outcome of it is something useful. But to clear your head and find inner piece you need to let go of that constant need to produce products and just embrace your creative journey.
One practice I find very inspiring is the making of the Tibetan Sand Mandalas. If you haven’t heard of that, it’s a Tibetan Buddhist tradition which involves creating a mandala from colored sand and then destroying it upon completion.
This practice is meant to symbolize the transitory nature of life but as a creative person, I also find in it the joy of creation, freed from the need of approval from others or usefulness of the end results. It’s about doing the thing, not about what the thing will become and stay as. The mandalas are really beautiful.
sO, TO SUMMARIZE…
Do you feel like the next time you procrastinate you will be sneakily productive, refilling your creativity? I’ve been trying it recently and it feels great to just relax with a film or a game and switch off a little without feeling guilty.
Next week on Tuesday, I will look into how sleep, dreams and daydreams can inspire us.
But before that, make sure you don’t miss the special episode on mental health when taking part in National Novel Writing Month. This Sunday, on the 1st of November, tune in to ‘9 Mental Health Traps of NaNoWriMo and how to avoid them’. It’s packed of useful stuff which can help you make the best start at the challenge and win it with your mental health intact.
If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter. I promise no spam, only cups of writing joy.
If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.
- Prior Day Negative Affect Influences Current Day Procrastination: A Lagged Daily Diary Analysis (journal article)
- The daily dose of digital inspiration 2: Themes and affective user responses to meaningful memes in social media (journal article)
- Daily Dose Of Internet (YouTube channel)
- Tibetan Sand Mandalas (video)
Listen and subscribe
Listen to all Available episodes of season 3:
Or the episodes from seasonS 1&2: