Updated June 2023
Are you a writer who’s prone to procrastination? We’ve all got our favorite—and our least favorite—tasks, and it’s easy to put off doing the not-so-pleasant chores. We’re sometimes derailed by unwanted tasks, like doing research, writing cover letters or blurbs, or making revisions. But the old adage usually rings true: Do the worst task first to overcome procrastination!
Procrastination can be as crippling as writer’s block. You may have just put the finishing touches on an excellent short story, but the thought of the submission process leaves you cold. The longer you put off researching literary journals, writing cover letters, and actually submitting your story, the more daunting the process grows in your head. And if you put it off too long, you may never submit!
If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it. —Olin Miller
Let’s say you dread writing a query letter. You can’t ignore this step if you want to see your novel in bookstores, but you procrastinate by doing other chores, like laundry or editing, hoping it will somehow go away. Or you may have built it up into something worse than it actually is until the task looms so large, it seems impossible.
It’s always in the back of your mind, distracting you from other things, and it may even interfere with a good night’s sleep. But by sitting down to tackle this task before anything else, and making the decision to simply make a start, you’ll probably find that writing the query letter isn’t as hard as it seemed.
Start with the goal of a simple rough draft. Once you’ve taken that first step, it’s much easier to tackle it again the next day, first thing, and make revisions. When you’re satisfied with the result, you’ll reap the reward of a feeling of accomplishment—which may even lead you to tackle the next thing that’s keeping you awake at night!
This technique also works for larger tasks, like writing a self-help book. Write down the steps you need to take (write an outline, research, line up people to interview, etc.) and then identify the steps that make you feel queasy.
Setting up interviews may be the part you dread the most, so start each day by working on getting one interview, then reward yourself by spending the rest of the day on outlines or research—whichever tasks you enjoy. Make sure you keep the momentum going by doing this every single day.
My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.―Charles Dickens
Make a habit of working on your worst first. You know exactly which part of your writing life is thrilling and which is decidedly not. You know what provides a rush of adrenaline and what leaves you feeling paralyzed.
Since no two writers are the same, the worst-first strategy may not work for everyone. You may also try doing something on your list that makes you feel energized (like writing a poem) and THEN immediately tackle that difficult or unpleasant task. The important thing is that you make a conscious decision to tackle it that very day.
It’s so easy to let the day’s distractions and interruptions provide a perfect excuse not to deal with tedious or unpleasant writing chores, but by tackling the worst first, you avoid letting those chores slowly bump their way down your daily to-do list, causing you stress.
And then you can move on to tasks that you truly enjoy as a reward. You’ll feel lighter, more energized, and proud of yourself for taking care of business!
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. —Mark Twain
For many writers, the submission process itself is the most stressful part of the writing life, but if your aim is to be a published author, it’s crucial. Start by breaking the process down into manageable chunks. Then take advantage of your prime working mode—when you’re full of energy and mental stamina—and tackle the hardest part first. (Check out Time Management for Writers for more tips.)
And don’t forget you’ve got Writer’s Relief in your corner. If the prospect of submitting your work is making you break out in hives, give us a call. We will identify literary agents for your book manuscript, find the best literary journals for your poetry, short stories, and essays, and create your query or cover letters. Our submission strategists will help you make more time for the writing tasks you love. Then you can sit back, relax, and reward yourself with a pumpkin latte. Learn more about our services and submit your work to our Review Board today!