Challenge Your Myths

The Procrastinator by Matt Groening

Challenge Your Myths - The Big 5

In order to break the procrastination habit, we need to get past the idea that in order to write, we must have all the information pertaining to the topic, and we must have optimal writing conditions. In reality, writers never have all the information, and conditions are never optimal.

Think of a writing project that you are currently putting off. On one side of a piece of paper, write down all the reasons for your delay. On the other side, argue (as convincingly as possible!) against the delay.

Myth #1: “I can’t function in a messy environment. I can’t possibly write this paper until I have cleaned my apartment.”

Challenge: There are no conditions that are necessary in order for you to write, save two: 1) You must have a writing implement (e.g., a keyboard or a pen) and 2) you must have someplace for writing to go, such as into a computer or onto a piece of paper. If, when faced with a writing project, you start piling up prerequisites for all the things you must do before you can possibly start writing, consider whether you might in fact be making excuses—in other words, procrastinating.

Myth #2: “I know it’s time for me to start writing, but I just haven’t done enough research yet. I’ll spend one more night at the library, and then I’ll start writing my paper.” 

Challenge: Truth be told, you will never collect all the information you possibly could for your paper. Better to write a tightly-crafted argument with the information you have NOW, AT THIS VERY MOMENT, than to keep doing research and risk throwing your paper together at the last minute.

Myth #3: “I do my best work under pressure.” 

Challenge: There are lots of other ways to create pressure for yourself, besides waiting until the night before the paper is due to start writing it. You can set a time limit for yourself—for example, “I will write this paragraph in ½ hour”—or you can pretend that the paper is a timed essay exam. If you do this a week or two before the paper is due, you’ll have a draft in plenty of time to revise and edit it.

Myth #4: “In order to work on my paper, I must have six uninterrupted hours.” 

Challenge: You can and should work on a paper in one hour blocks (or shorter). This will help you break the writing task down into smaller pieces, thereby making it seem more manageable. If you know that you can work on one part of the paper for one hour, then it won’t seem so daunting, and you will be less likely to procrastinate.

Some writers find, however, that they do need longer blocks of time in order to really produce anything. Therefore, like all of the strategies outlined here, if this one doesn’t work for you, throw it out and try something else. You might still find, however, that you are more productive when you plan to write “all morning” rather than “all day.”

Myth #5: “What I write has to be perfect, ” AND/OR “I can’t write anything until I have a perfect thesis statement/intro.” 

Challenge: A first draft (or a second, or a third, or even—egad!—the final product) does not have to be perfect. When we write an early draft, we need to turn off our internal critic and just get some words down on the page. The great thing about starting early on a writing project is that it leaves us plenty of time for revision, editing, and proofreading; so, we can set ourselves free to just let our writing flow, without worrying about sentence-level concerns such as grammar, punctuation, and style. You’ll find some other thoughts on editing in our handouts on proofreading and revision.