Diana Kelly Levey

My Number-One Tip for Procrastinating Writers

blank journal with pen

August 13, 2018

Any creative person or freelance writer feels the pressure of working on something that shows their talent, intelligence and how utterly original they are.

And while te pressure of simply starting can be daunting, and it’s one you need to push past if you’re going to be a successful freelancer, artist, or paid creative employee.

If you’re a writer staring at a blank Word document and blinking clicker, my best writing tip for beginners and experienced writers alike is to do this one thing: Just quickly type a lame headline and a boring intro.

Why would you advise that, Diana? No one wants to click on a dumb headline and read beyond the first paragraph of an article when it’s a dud.

I wholeheartedly agree. (Here are tips for creating great content.)

But if you’re like me…you just need to begin. If I’m working on an article for a client, I can get tripped up in the process of coming up with a great headline, or the one that’s best for their SEO goals.

Then I struggle to write a creative, fresh introductory paragraph. One that will hook the reader and encourage them to keep reading and scrolling to the bottom of the article.

When I’m stalled by these fears and paused due to perfectionism, I find myself procrastinating. (Writers are the worst procrastinators, or are we the best at procrastinating? It all depends on perspective.)

I need to just sit my duff in the chair and start writing. Thinking about and putting off writing takes much longer than actually writing.

I might set a timer for 30 to 45 minutes and start copying and pasting quotes, adding research and links where necessary, and well, I’m not doing a ton of creative writing at first. If I’m working on a long feature article, I might reread my interviews and jot down the crucial points I want to make in certain sections on a legal pad before organizing it on my computer.

Once I see what I have laid out in front of me, and I organize the article into sections or bullet points, I can edit the copy, summarize quotes, and add more personality to the piece so it’s a cohesive, interesting article. (Here are fun ways to come up with article ideas.)

It’s only after I’ve edited the article, and often let it sit for a day or two, that I go back and work on my introductory paragraph and a few headline ideas.

All of this is to say: It’s okay if your first draft sucks. Don’t get caught up in the title, or writing the most clever first paragraph the world has ever read.

This trick should work if you’re an artist staring at a blank canvas, a songwriter working on the chorus, if you’re a quilter and need to start cutting out and piecing some blocks before establishing the final layout, even if you’re a choreographer and have dance moves for the middle of a song before you’ve figured out how it’s going to start.

Heck, if you’re looking for a new job and feel overwhelmed by the idea of writing your resume, simply spend 30 minutes on one part of it and you’ll probably be motivated to keep going.

Just get something down, started, and accomplish one piece of the project you need to complete.

You can improve upon it later. I promise, you’ll feel relieved once you get something done.

Do you have an article, blog post, book project or assignment for a boss that you’re putting off because you’re stuck?

Try this freelance writing tip this week and let me know how it went. (Check out successful freelance writers’ number-one piece of advice for beginner freelancers.)

If you want help with your freelance writing career, I offer one-on-one coaching services. (Reach out!) Or, sign up for my freelance writing e-course “Get Paid to Write” on Teachable. My students come from a variety of backgrounds with different experience levels and find there are practical tips for each one of them.

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