Saturday, June 12, 2021

Understanding How Our Emotions Fuel Writing Procrastination

by Beth K. Vogt @BethVogt

Procrastination seems to be a common problem among writers.

If I could, I’d ask you to raise your hands if you procrastinate about writing. I’ll assume the majority of you would admit to ignoring your various deadlines, choosing instead to clean out your junk drawer or to organize your sea glass collection or to read another author’s book that’s languished too long on your to-be-read pile.

I’ll also admit writing this post is an act of procrastination. Don’t get me wrong, I had a deadline to meet for this blog, but I also have a novella deadline. Right now? I put off that project by focusing on writing today’s post.

Sneaky, right?

We could talk about how to stop procrastinating. I could list 5 easy steps or 3 quick tips to conquer procrastination. But as I considered how easy it is for me to put things off—even things I want to do, things I know I need to do—I wondered why. 

Why do I procrastinate? 

I found an interesting answer to that question in a 2019 New York Times article titled “Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do with Self-Control).” In the article, Dr. Fuschia Sirois, a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, said procrastination is irrational. Thank you very much! She added, “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of the inability to manage negative moods around a task.” 

Okay … Professor Sirois says we procrastinate because we’re moody.

Sort of.

In the same NYT’s article, Dr. Tim Pychyl, a professor of psychology and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University of Ottawa, said, “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.” 

In other words, certain challenging tasks, such as writing a first draft or meeting a deadline, create negative emotions like anxiety or doubt or frustration. We cope with these unwanted emotions by procrastinating. However, putting off writing only increases our anxiety, doubt, and frustration—creating the “irrational cycle of chronic procrastination” mentioned by Dr. Sirois.

Makes sense to me. 

I procrastinate. You procrastinate. But it’s not that we need time management hacks. It’s that we need to understand—and manage—our emotions better. 

When the urge to avoid a writing project hits, we need to stop and evaluate what we’re feeling. 

Self-doubt? Resentment? Insecurity?

Why do I procrastinate about writing my novella? I’m anxious because I always get interrupted multiple times when I write (and I do mean always). Interruptions frustrate me and cause my creativity to fizzle. Why start writing when I’m going to be interrupted? 

So now I understand the specific emotion fueling my procrastination.

Next step? To finish writing this blog post and get back to writing my novella. Yes, I’m anxious, but I can deal with that by putting on my headphones—great way to block out distractions—and announcing, “I’m writing!” to my family. A verbal “Do Not Cross This Line,” if you will.

Anxiety and frustration dealt with. Blog post written. Time to write my novella.

How has learning our emotions fuel our procrastination helped you as a writer?


Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” Having authored nine contemporary romance novels and novellas, The Best We’ve Been, the final book in Beth’s Thatcher Sisters Series with Tyndale House Publishers, releasers May 2020. Other books in the women’s fiction series include Things I Never Told You, which won the 2019 AWSA Award for Contemporary Novel of the Year, and Moments We Forget. Beth is a 2016 Christy Award winner, a 2016 ACFW Carol Award winner, and a 2015 RITA® finalist. An established magazine writer and former editor of the leadership magazine for MOPS International, Beth blogs for Learn How to Write a Novel and The Write Conversation and also enjoys speaking to writers group and mentoring other writers. Visit Beth at


  1. Okay, this helped me immensely! I do procrastinate, but now that you've pointed out the ... "the inability to manage negative moods around a task” I was gobsmacked! It's TRUE! I do it with each book I write. And I know exactly why now. That, my friend, is the game changer I needed to break the habit. Thank you, Beth!

    1. Ane, I'm so glad this post helped you because writing it helped me, too. The "why" is key to understanding procrastination -- and conquering it.

  2. Wow, great insights. Now I know why I used to put off writing college term papers until the night before they were due. That being said, I got the best grades on those. In that case, the emotion of anxiety fueled my creativity. Of course that's not a good idea for writing manuscripts.

    1. Roberta: I understand what you're saying about working well under pressure. But think about what all that stress does to us emotionally and physically. I'd rather manage my negative emotions over the long haul and determine if I have to work under pressure or not.

  3. Beth, great post! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Glad you like the information, DiAnn. I'm still mulling over the insight from the NYT's article.

  4. Beth, is also read that the negative cycle starts creating a groove in our brain and it keeps getting harder. The brain science is interesting. Some say that writing rituals, including the habit of a practice the same time, same days, will help. I have certain hours 6 days a week and rituals that include a walk down the long driveway every hour of writing time as well as a hot drink and ambience videos playing.
    However once school let's out for the summer I'm shipwrecked! My quiet hours are high jacked by squabbles, snacks, and loud TVs or music.
    We need a writing retreat!

  5. I agree, Dalyn, that brain science is so intriguing. And yes, writing rituals help. Knowing what works for us as writers ... even figuring out how to handle the summer non-schedule. Writing retreat? I vote yes!

  6. Beth, you hit this one on the bullseye! I need silence, lots of coffee and no interruptions. Don’t say squirrel!

    1. Daphne: So glad this post hit the mark for you.

  7. I've never thought of it like this, but negative emotion or anxiety would be insecurity about whether my writing is good enough.

    1. Hi, Felicity: The NYT's article was eye-opening for me. I'm certain this realization that procrastination is fueled by negative emotions is a game-changer for me as a writer.