Off the Couch

Thoughts about the therapeutic process, and the dynamics of client-therapist interactions.

Want to Write? Procrastinating? This Will Help You!

Here's how to stop procrastinating.

When I was working on my book Daydreaming: Unlock the Creative Power of Your Mind, I did more procrastinating and worrying about writing than I did writing itself. I loved it when a friend told me that the delightful playwright Wendy Wasserstein once told a crowded audience that she would do almost anything rather than write.

If you, like me, have always procrastinated, don’t feel badly. You aren’t alone, it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to fail, and there is hope! My bet is that you have a repeated childhood scenario similar to this one: Throughout my school years, after suffering repeatedly through my combination of anxiety about getting my work done – without getting started on it – and my last minute all-nighters, my parents would say, “Wouldn’t it be so much easier to get started on it earlier?” And then, when my grades would come back, they would say, “If you did this well doing it all at the last minute, just think how good your grades would be if you got started earlier.”

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I know that at least part of what they meant was, “Just think how much easier life would be for all of us without the last minute hysteria you keep putting us all through!”

I made my way through college and grad school writing papers practically the night before they were due, and beating myself up for it all along the way. That’s part of the problem, right? It’s not just the panic over the undone and overwhelming mountain of work to be done, but the way that you chastise yourself and put yourself down as you painfully inch your way slowly forward. So why not give up? Like me, maybe you just like to write, and of course would like to get published.

It can happen, despite procrastination. Springer Publishers has just released my new book, Integrative Clinical Social Work Practice: A Contemporary Perspective (you may not have realized that a large part of the population of psychotherapists in the United States today are clinical social workers). But as I was writing this book, I learned an unbelievable (and amazingly simple!) technique for dealing with my procrastination.

Often when you procrastinate it’s because you’re feeling overwhelmed, right? You put it off, but that makes you feel more anxious, more overwhelmed, and less capable of doing the work. As I was struggling to get the book written, I contacted Dr. Phillip Shaver, one of my favorite professors from my undergraduate years, a gifted and hard-working teacher and writer, who has published many terrific books and articles. Yes, it was a way of procrastinating, although I was using some of his material in my book. But it turned out to be a brilliant piece of avoidance, because he offered me advice which I am now handing on to you. It’s very simple.

Just do a little bit every day.

This suggestion can get you through the mornings when you wake in a panic, sure that you’ll never finish. Some days I would tell myself that if I just wrote two pages that day, I would be moving forward. And some days I accepted that I was just writing one page. But eventually I got it done.

 Do a little bit every day.

 I’ll add my own advice as well: Remember that you are doing writing work even when you aren’t anywhere near a computer or a piece of paper. For instance, I interviewed a number of colleagues doing amazing work all over the United States. Those interviews were fun, and they didn’t involve crafting sentences or paragraphs. Yet they were part of the writing.

I also did a lot of research that involved reading interesting books and talking to many other professionals to learn about many theories and techniques with which I was only slightly familiar. It was fascinating. And it was part of the writing process.

 And I was constantly processing the ideas that these discussions stimulated. I even dreamed about some of the material. This unconscious process was part of the writing as well.

I have used this philosophy with clients for years. Small steps lead to big change. You cannot lose weight overnight. One step at a time will take you to a new job. Anxiety can be overcome one tiny moment at a time. And so on.

For some reason I had never thought to apply it to my panicky writing procrastinations. But that has changed now.

The book is finished, and I am on to other writing projects. And I am still procrastinating. You will as well. But over time you’ll come to know that you can do a little bit every day. And you will be on your way to becoming a writer.

Teaser image: Istockphoto file #3584474

F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist, teacher, and author in private practice in New York City.

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