Are you falling prey to the trickiest form of writer’s procrastination? Here’s how to tell:
- You’ve been working on your novel/ blog/ article/ writing project forever, but you’ve barely made a dent.
- You don’t want to start writing until you’ve done research.
- You have a bunch of ideas, but no complete drafts.
- You often lose yourself in research for your project and spend hours and hours looking things up.
- You don’t want to start writing until you’ve learned the basics.
- You’re a course junkie—you love taking class after class, but the thought of actually writing anything terrifies you.
- All the side pieces of your writing business are in place (your website, logo, desk space, Social Media) but you haven’t done much actual writing yet.
If you’ve answered yes to even one of these, keep reading!
The common denominator in all these checkpoints is the same—you haven’t done much writing.
If you’ve been working on a writing project for a long time, yet haven’t made much progress with it, it’s most likely that you’ve fallen prey to passive action.
There are two types of effort—passive action and massive action. Check out this post to learn more about the two, but to quickly summarize:
Passive action is consuming. It’s when you’re taking in new information and learning, like reading a book, taking a course, or doing research.
Massive action is applying. It’s when you’re creating something new that didn’t exist before, like when you put 1,000 words on a blank page or when you turn a bad first draft into a decent second draft.
Passive action is the trickiest form of procrastination a writer can deal with because it feels important, and it is! But it’s not more important than the writing part of being a writer.
Research, writing skills, author platform, and project binders are all important pieces to achieving your writing goals, but if you are spending your time and energy just on the supplemental things and not doing any actual writing, you’re procrastinating.
Passive action, while it is work, doesn’t require the vulnerability that creating something new requires. It’s easy to get stuck in the comfort of passive action. And with that comfort comes the danger of just spinning your wheels without actually going anywhere.
Here’s how to avoid getting stuck in passive action:
1. Learn the skill of commitment before anything else
What’s more important? Knowing how to create genius characters, understanding what makes a compelling plot, being a grammar expert, or actually finishing your novel?
Ding, ding, ding—finishing your writing trumps everything else.
All the knowledge and understanding you have about writing craft doesn’t matter if you’re not actually writing.
When I first started writing fiction, I only participated in massive action becuase I didn’t trust myself enough to engage in passive action. Two first drafts and 200,000 words later, I was finally able to trust myself enough to know I could finish a draft without quitting.
If you haven’t yet learned the skill of commitment (and yes, it is a skill!), do not engage in passive action, as tempting as it may be.
Write and produce. Create new things that didn’t exist before. Do not read writing books. Do not take writing courses. Do not research your novel. Just write.
2. Focus on tangible goals instead of time spent
A way to keep yourself in check with passive action and massive action is to set word count goals instead. That way, at the end of your work session, you can see if you met your word goal instead of just making yourself stay in your chair for an hour.
For instance, if you set a goal to work on your novel for two hours today, that leaves a lot of ambiguity in the air. When it comes time to write, chances are you’re not going to want to. Your clever mind will convince you to just make this writing session a research session, since you’re tired and don’t have the necessary brain power. Then, you might go on to spend two hours at your computer, and have no words to show for it at the end.
Imagine if this happened several days in a row. Or several weeks in a row! You’d be spending all that time “working”, yet not have moved forward much because you wouldn’t have any new writing created.
If you need to do research or want to expand your writer’s mind, passive action is a great thing! Just make sure you schedule that time beforehand and don’t use it is a tricky way to pretend like you’re working when you’re really just indulging in passive action.
3. Combine Passive Action and Massive Action for Ultimate Productivity
Now, just to be clear, passive action is not the bad guy! Passive action is an amazing thing, but it takes a lot of discipline to use it responsibly.
When you’ve mastered the skill of commitment, it’s time to bring in the big guns—passive action + massive action.
Now is when you’re ready to add passive action to your writing routine. Whether you spend half of your writing session reading a writing book or taking a course and the other half writing, or if you read a new book cover to cover before you get back to the actual writing, it’s imperative that you both consume and apply.
Some ways to do this are to read a writing technique book in between a first and second draft. This will refresh your brain, spark your creativity, and give you a fresh surge of motivation when you tackle your second draft.
Another way you can balance passive action with massive action is to alternate PA and MA between your work days. Spend one day on a writing course and then spend the next day revisiting the information you learned and applying it to your WIP.
Whatever rhythm you find that works for you is great, just make sure you continue to meet your word count goals. If you find that you accidentally got off track with your goals, put your passive action material aside and focus on just the producing part until you get back on track.
4. Use Passive Action as an active rest
In yoga, there are certain poses that are called “active resting poses”. This means you’re taking a physical break by staying still and putting your body in a somewhat comfortable position, but you’re still focusing on the main yoga principles, like focused breathing.
If you’re in need of a mental break from your writing, use passive action as your active rest! Our brains really need something to focus on, so by reading a writing book or taking a new course, you’re still putting your writing goals at the front of your mind. But by spending time consuming and not producing, you’ll be refueling your creative mind and your spirit as well.
Just make sure you’ve mastered the skill of commitment, so you control your time spent in passive action and not the other way around.
Do you think you’ve fallen into the trap of passive action? How are you going to get out of it? Tell us in the comments below!