How to stop procrastinating on your edits.
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
Authors and writers are probably more experienced than anyone when it comes to procrastination. We’re excellent at telling ourselves that if we actually had an open hour in our schedule, we would finally get those edits done. But with life being so busy...
It turns out that procrastination is not a time management problem, but an emotional management one. See, our brains do whatever they can to avoid pain, and editing your own work is painful. You not only have to go through the humbling process of recognizing your flaws, but then you have to struggle through fixing these flaws. It’s no wonder doing the dishes starts to look more appealing than tackling your manuscript again!
But you need to get these edits done, whether it’s a deadline you made yourself or one somebody else set for you. Here are some strategies you can use to stop procrastinating and start making progress.
Make editing more rewarding.
For a lot of writers, the first draft is the most intrinsically rewarding part of writing a novel. You’re in a creative high, and your manuscript is full of potential. You go from a blank page to an entire book, zero words to eighty thousand. The results of your efforts are obvious and gratifying in their own right.
Editing, on the other hand, is not always so intrinsically rewarding. There’s no word count goal to reach, no obvious marker to show you “wow, I really did that.” And those moments of brilliance and self-satisfaction you had during the first draft are fewer and farther between.
So to stop procrastinating, it may help to make editing more rewarding:
Pick a bigger reward. Think of some things you’ve been wanting, but have held yourself back from buying. A new item of clothing, perhaps, or a video game, or a bookstore buying spree, or even a weekend away. Whatever makes you want to sit down and start editing now so you can have that reward when your revised draft is done.
Use smaller rewards more often. If a big reward isn’t going to help you push through, then pick something smaller to give yourself each step of the way. Maybe if you finish a chapter, you’ll treat yourself to your favorite expensive coffee drink, or maybe if you finish a tough scene, you get that super delicious snack that’s really bad for you.
Track your progress. It’s easy to get lost in the dark forest of editing and feel like you’re not making any progress at all. So track yourself, whether it’s chapter by chapter or scene by scene. Mark off what you’ve finished so you can look back and feel good about what you’ve already accomplished.
Change your mindset. Rather than focusing on word counts, focus on how much better your prose sounds now, or how much more authentic your character feels, or how much snappier your pacing is. If you can learn to find some aspects of editing rewarding, you may have an easier time getting it done.
Make editing more pleasurable.
Editing can be tedious, especially the more times you’ve been through the manuscript. You may get to the point where just the thought of reading through the manuscript yet again makes you want to slam your head onto your desk.
Instead of taking such drastic measures, you can try ways to make editing more pleasurable:
Create a comfy mood and atmosphere. Put on your softest clothes, light a candle or five, turn on the virtual fireplace on your TV, whatever it takes to make your environment more relaxing and inviting. Editing time can be chill time, not just tedious work.
Turn on some motivating music. If it’s not too distracting, put on something upbeat. Or maybe you’d prefer some dramatic movie scores. Or find a playlist that reminds you of your book’s overall vibe and play that as you edit.
Eat your favorite snack or drink your favorite drink while you edit. This will train your brain to associate editing with that favorite food or drink, and eventually the whole experience may become something you can look forward to instead of dreading.
Make editing less painful.
Sometimes, there’s just no way to make yourself like editing more. When rewards and atmosphere don’t work, it’s time to just settle for making the experience less painful overall.
Here’s what you can do:
Tackle the easiest part first. Usually starting is the hardest part of any task you’re procrastinating on, so if you start with the easiest aspect of editing, whether that’s rereading your draft and taking notes, revising just the dialogue, mapping out your plot, or whatever the case may be for you, do that first to get you going, then tackle the harder stuff as your successes pile up.
Edit faster. The faster you do it, the sooner it’s done. So try pushing yourself to go faster than your usual pace. Yes, going faster means you might lose a bit of quality, but not-as-great-as-usual edits are better than no edits at all.
Do your edits in smaller chunks. Set a timer for an amount of time that doesn’t make you internally cringe, and work with total focus until the timer goes off. Maybe that time is ten minutes, maybe it’s twenty, or maybe you hate editing so much that anything more than five minutes sounds killer. Work with whatever chunks your brain doesn’t object to, and do them as often as needed until you finish.
Finally, lower your expectations. A lot of times, the reason we procrastinate on editing is because we put too much pressure on ourselves to make the next draft the final draft, the ultimate draft, the one that will get us an agent or be a bestseller. Nobody needs that kind of pressure. So lower your bar—set “good enough” so that it’s a level you can easily reach.
So there you have it! Some tips to finally get you making progress on those edits. Now turn off your internet and get to work! Good luck!
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