Do you spend most of your time thinking “I should be writing”? Here are six ways to free yourself.

How much time do you spend feeling guilty that you’re not doing what you should be doing? If you’re an academic, you probably spend a great deal of your waking hours (and possibly some of your REM sleep) preoccupied with not writing. The amount of time you spend berating yourself is almost always disproportionate to the actual amount of time you spend writing. And the only thing this worrying manages to do is to generate dread about writing.

How do you stop feeling guilty and start enjoying your writing? Here are some ideas:

1. Throw yourself a party

Celebrate what you’ve already done. Look at your work as being a step in the right direction rather than a long way from your main goal. What can you celebrate about your work right now? What if you started to believe you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be?

 

2. Acknowledge the ways that you’re making progress while not writing

Measuring progress with hours spent and words written only tells half the story. Academic writing requires a lot of thinking time. And I don’t know about you, but my best thinking almost never happens in front of a computer screen. I do my best thinking when my body’s moving – when I’m swimming, cycling, or hiking.

I ask myself a question or define the problem before I start my workout, and then I forget about it. Movement stimulates my creative thinking; more often than not ideas start to bubble up. If you’re forgetful (like me), it helps to carry a small notebook and pencil or use the voice memo feature on your phone.

How do you make progress away from the page? Identify it and acknowledge it.

 

3. Take a break (no, really)

Unless you have a deadline in two days, take a freaking break. A day off is not going to kill you. In fact, it’ll help. A lot. But you know what won’t help? Taking a day off and spending the whole time thinking, “I should be writing.”

So take a break from that, too.

 

4. Take notice, then take a deep breath

You might need to learn how to step out of the pattern of guilt-ridden thinking. And—surprise!—I recommend you try meditation to help you focus on the here and now.

You don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor or repeat mantras (but go for it if that's your thing). You just need to notice your negative thinking, take three deep breaths, and carry on. Ideally, the more often you catch yourself listening to the highlight reel of guilt, the more often you’ll be able to tune it out.

 

5. Write for 10 minutes, then step away

This has become a tried-and-true approach when the dread of working on a task has paralyzed me. I talk myself into setting a timer for 10 minutes and working for only 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, I step away. Taking this small step helps to reduce the magnitude of the problem in my mind and create some momentum.

 

6. Put on your rose-coloured glasses

Do you motivate yourself with punishment and shame? I did this for a loooooong time. I’d kick myself for being lazy and I’d call myself a failure for not accomplishing what I set out to. All it did was make me feel worse.

Instead of giving yourself a hard time for not writing, try being gentle.

Try thinking about how much closer you’ll be to your goal if you do write, rather that how far you are now because you didn’t.

 

Which one of these will you use to break the "I should be writing" pattern of thinking? Tell me in the comments!

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