Ramping Up to Writing: Dealing with Procrastination

SARK’s Micromovement Wheel

By Corina Koch MacLeod

In a previous post, I discussed how timed writing can help anyone to overcome writer’s block. It’s an effective technique if you can actually find a timer, sit yourself down, take a deep breath, get your pen or fingers in the ready position and hit that metaphorical start button. But what do you do if you have a difficult time setting yourself up for writing?

Teachers, you know the student I’m talking about. He or she is the one who can never seem to locate a writing utensil – and if she does find one, it’s run out of ink or it needs to be sharpened. This realization is generally announced publicly and subsequently involves surveying peers for a pen or pencil they’re willing to share (or more accurately, part with forever).
If the student is a little less social and a little more DIY, he will skulk about the classroom for an abandoned utensil on a chalkboard ledge. Skulking may yield, more often than not, a dusty pencil with a broken lead (of course), which will then require no less than four exuberant attempts at the electric pencil sharpener, which will then jam.
The pencil sharpener will then need to be taken apart to remove the lead that has jammed it, and the sharp point of a compass (or a peer’s eyebrow stud) will be needed to remove the lead. It goes without saying that the receptacle that contains the shavings will be dropped on the floor at the precise moment that someone opens the classroom door. Ten minutes later, the student arrives at her desk with a pencil that’s more appropriate for a Lilliputian hand.
Take heart. Professional writers face the same struggles (with higher stakes – writing puts food on the table). Many of them work at home with abundant distractions. Drab everyday tasks begin to look inviting when there is a blank page to face. There is always a dish to wash, a floor to sweep, or more increasingly, a social media site to get lost in. One of my favourite writing teachers, Amy Friedman, would often remark that she’d rather scour her oven than face a blank page.
What’s going on? Why do procrastination and writing often show up together? I think that every writer – students and professionals alike – know that writing is hard work. Beginning means that you’re committing to a process that will occupy a reasonable chunk of time and a great deal of effort and discipline. However, distracting yourself with seemingly purposeful tasks (yes, that pencil sharpener does need emptying at some point), only delays the inevitable. So what’s a writer or a student of writing to do?
SARK, author of Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper suggests that writers need to create space for procrastination in the writing process. Rather than ignore the need to procrastinate (and then feel guilty by falling prey to it), writers need to find a way a way to make procrastination work for them. Her tool, humorously named the Micromovement Wheel of Delight, enables writers to identify and capture those tasks that help writers ramp up to writing. Here’s how it works:
  1. Identify your writing project. Record it in the middle of the wheel.
  2. List five or six tasks, or “micromovements” that relate to your writing project between the spokes of the wheel. This is key. Tasks like taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn or texting a friend do not relate to your writing project. Sharpening a pencil (students might have something here…) or doing a quick Google search on the writing topic do. Each task must be on topic and should take no more than five minutes.
  3.  Pick any task and do it.  Micromovements are small.  Anyone can commit to a two-minute task. Continue until all the tasks are done. The student is now closer to completing the writing project. If a student has completed her wheel but she’s not yet finished with the writing project, have her create another wheel with six more tasks to complete.
SARK’s approach to dealing with procrastination acknowledges the psychology of the writer. Writing is a monumental task, yet every monumental task can be broken down into tiny movements. Writers can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment as they knock off those smaller tasks – all of which are designed to chip away at the bigger task. By thinking in terms of micromovements, you create, well, movement. Movement in the right direction.
You can use SARK’s micromovement wheel for nearly any task that seems too big to consider right now. If you teach your students to think in micromovements, you’ll supply them with a valuable tool for conquering procrastination in all areas of their lives.

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