Writing Memoir: Against Procrastination

A sloth hanging out in a tree, probably just being a sloth, but not procrastinating. Photo by Javier Mazzeo on Unsplash

Sloths get a bad name. They move slowly, it’s true, but they’re animals, for goodness sake. They don’t have deadlines or to-do lists.

I’m big on deadlines and lists when it comes to my writing. Although I don’t always live up to the goals I set down, my production would no doubt be lower without them.

Because writers love to write, just plunking down in front of the notebook or computer and getting a few words written is often enough to set the process in motion. The writer’s brain wants to write, like the runner’s body wants to run.

Setting precise goals has helped me overcome procrastination because they jump-start me. Most people who write do so because they love to write. It’s head-games like insecurity, fear of facing some truth, and impostor syndrome that make us procrastinate when we’re otherwise healthy and able to write.

Setting goals that are in tune with the current stage of writing is key. Stages of writing a memoir can include:

  • generating,
  • revising,
  • seeking feedback, and
  • submitting for publication.

The ambitious goal of “I’m going to write a memoir” can be overwhelming. It’s far more manageable when broken down into goals for the first stage: generating. Some general goals for that stage might be:

  • Setting aside time and space to write
  • Collecting materials like journals, diaries, letters
  • Enlisting the support of loved ones
  • Resolving to write for a short time each day.

Some writing coaches believe that writing at the same time every day can condition your brain and spirit to be ready at that time. And if procrastination is a habit, it stands to reason that a new habit can replace it.

Breaking my goals up into smaller goals — what some people call “chunking” has been helpful. For example, instead of swearing to “finish my memoir by X date” (although I do that, too), I’ve set goals about how many words to write in a day.

The words-a-day goal is great when generating new material. But since revision can and often should include cutting material, words-a-day doesn’t work well for the revision stage.

In the revision stage, I’ve turned to a minutes-a-day goal, and for me, that’s been 90 minutes, which is not terribly ambitious. On a few days, I’ve spent less time, but on many days, I’ve spent more than 90 minutes.

[Note: I quit my day job four months ago and don’t have childcare or elder care responsibilities.]

I’ve written elsewhere about using a time tracker for accountability and for figuring out when I write best. When procrastination threatens me, though, I’m ready to chase it off with my goals.

Just 500 words now, I tell myself, or Just 30 minutes now. Usually, I end up becoming absorbed and plod past my goal — because I really do love writing.

Words in NYT, WaPo, Oprah Mag, Poets&Writers, et als. Adoptee/high school dropout/hep C survivor/former trial attorney. @MicheleJSharpe & MicheleSharpe.com

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Michele Sharpe

Michele Sharpe

Words in NYT, WaPo, Oprah Mag, Poets&Writers, et als. Adoptee/high school dropout/hep C survivor/former trial attorney. @MicheleJSharpe & MicheleSharpe.com

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