Procrastination in Writing: What to do?

With the last two weeks being dedicated to midterm exams, an outpour of students came to the Writing Center to have their papers checked before having to submit them. A common issue I noticed was that many students had a big essay due in a matter of days, and yet had not managed to start it.

We have all been there: it is midnight and you still haven’t written anything. You tell yourself that you will start after this episode ends, only to find yourself at 2 am still having accomplished nothing. Procrastination is something we have all probably faced at one point or another (or, like myself, all the time! 1 ). Whether it was a topic you couldn’t stand or a fear of failing, procrastination left you stressed, overwhelmed, and usually with a subpar paper.

Being a procrastinator, people would often tell me I did it because I was lazy. This is not the case. There are actually many reasons why people procrastinate.* Whatever the reason for your procrastination, everyone can agree that it is a hassle, and a habit we would rather get rid of.

For this reason I have come up with some tips and techniques on how to rid your life of that enemy we call procrastination.

Break it up

This is a commonly prescribed technique and I consider it very effective. The day you are given your writing assignment, sit down and break it up into bite-size pieces. Start off by dedicating one day to come up with ideas to write about. This way you can see what you already know, and start generating ideas of where you can take the paper. On the second day, write a thesis statement. This is a simple one sentence statement that tells the reader exactly what your paper is about. On the third day, write your introduction. Keep doing this bite by bite until you have finished writing your first draft. Getting started can be the hardest part , but once you have something written down, it becomes easier to get the rest out.

By separating the big paper into little sections, you alleviate the pressures of trying to tackle such a huge project. Also, having a game plan allows you to know where you are going next, and to see how much time you have to accomplish the task. No more rushed papers written at the last minute. This technique gives you time to go back and make changes to your paper, to make it stronger.

Working on a research paper? Check out this handy little tool for breaking down the assignment.

Time for commitment

At some point you have probably come across a paper that you found uninteresting, and therefore difficult to work on. It’s very easy for anyone, even those who are not normally procrastinators, to put an assignment like this off. For those of you who struggle with this issue, this is the strategy for you.

Remember when you were younger and parents would make you work on a homework project for an hour before you could go play outside? You would immediately get to work; you wanted to go play outside as soon as possible! This technique uses the same idea. By forcing yourself to work on the project for an hour at a time you get your paper written, and can treat yourself by doing something else that you want to do. 2 Your writing remains fresh when you aren’t trying to write your paper all at once, fighting to keep your eyes open.

Comrades in arms

Often times, procrastinators are not safe when left alone to their own devices. Even with good intentions in mind, reverting back to old habits is common. Therefore, getting together with other students who are working on the same paper is a good idea. You can bounce ideas off of each other, clarify details, and keep each other focused. Plus, having people around can keep you from feeling that you are missing out on your social life, so you are less likely to blow a project off to go hang out with friends.

A peaceful oasis

Sometimes the simplest solution is often the best solution. When we are supposed to be writing a paper, things such as a T.V. often manage to steer us off path. How much easier would it be to avoid these distractions if we simply worked in a place that was free of them? Whether that means removing that beloved television from your room, or finding a room to work in without one, a distraction-free environment can be the key to the success of your paper. There are some distractions however, that just cannot be removed as easily . . .


With more and more professors wanting papers to be typed, the computer has become somewhat of a necessity in college. While the computer may offer a faster method of writing papers, it also offers what may be the biggest distraction of all… the Internet! With sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Hulu, the internet has a distraction to please any person’s taste. So how are you supposed to avoid watching hours upon hours of “epic fails” on YouTube all night?

Since the Internet can prove to be such a distraction, why not block certain sites, or the internet all together, during certain periods of the day? While parental controls are used mainly for the protection of children, they are also great for anyone trying to keep their distractions to a minimum. This guide tells you exactly how to set them up. To avoid going around the parental controls make sure someone else has the password to the account where all the controls are set. Now you can give that research paper your full attention, instead of checking to see what your friends are doing on Facebook.

Center your writing

Of course, visit the Writing Center! The consultants (myself included) are there to help you formulate a path for your paper, we would love to help you. Stop by and bring with you a copy of your prompt. Don’t be shy, we don’t bite! Sometimes just having a fresh pair of eyes, or someone to talk to, can make all the difference.

While these techniques may be useful, they probably won’t cure you of your procrastination habit. Knowing why you procrastinate is a good step on the road to stopping the behavior for good. This website lists some of the most common reasons why we procrastinate as well as additional tips for avoiding it.

The next time your professor hands you a writing assignment, don’t panic. Use some of these techniques and watch that stress slowly fade away. Take a deep breath and relax. You can do this!

Last Updated: 3/16/2015 4:14 PM