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QWSW: Productive Avoidance


Productive Avoidance

What is it?

You will find there are often a number of things that will show up and keep you from writing. These are called productive avoidances.

For me it is checking my e-mail (just real quick) and then I find myself involved in other computer activities that keep me away from my writing. We all do it, yet we do not always recognize that these little tasks are keeping us from productive writing.

Productive avoidance is something you do instead of writing that:

  • Appears to be a task a responsible adult would do;
  • Seems to be a task that just cannot wait;
  • Gives you a reason to pat yourself on the back for doing;
  • Is something most adults put off; and,
  • Is not writing.

Other examples of productive avoidance:

  • You sweep the garage.
  • You clean out your filing system.
  • You go to the library to return a book that is not due for another week.
  • You decide to freshen the living room and wash all the curtains.
  • You alphabetize your books, CDs and DVDs.
  • You do your laundry.

If you find you are busy, but the number of your new draft pages aren’t increasing, then you may be in the throes of productive avoidance.

Why Do You Do It?

It may be you are afraid to disappoint yourself. You may have set your expectations and standards too high, and are afraid you cannot live up to your goals.

How Do You Identify Productive Avoidance?

You recognize that these symptoms seem to hit at, or around, the same time you plan to sit down and write.

Get Yourself Out of Productive Avoidance?

Acknowledge you are in the throes of productive avoidance. While you are out in the garage checking the air in the tires, even though you are not going anywhere, accept that productive avoidance has a hold on you—but you can fix it.

Lower your writing goals. Take your work and break it into bite-sized pieces. You will be easing your stress and anxiety if you lower your expectations, so go smaller. You will find it easier to achieve lower goals.

And once you are back into writing, the cans in the pantry that are not all turned in the same direction will stop beckoning you.


You will often find frustration and productive avoidance holding hands and nudging each other. They are born from the same high expectations and fear of failure.     

Recognize that you need to readjust your goals. Start low and increase them as you become more involved in your novel and have your project under your control.

If your expectations are that you are going to write a perfect first draft, you will find productive avoidance and frustration sitting in your chair—just waiting for you to join them. Then it won’t be long before you are out of that chair and organizing your plastic hangers by color.

Your goals and expectations may rise as you accomplish the following:

  • Turn your ideas into rough notes.
  • Turn your notes into an outline.
  • Turn your outline into a rough first draft.
  • Rewrite, edit, revise and spit-polish your first draft.

Just remember to raise your goals and expectations at your speed and comfort level, then if you find yourself visited by the productive avoidance and frustration fairies, take it down a notch.


Time needed: 45 minutes

  1. Find and List the Problems and Obstacles to Your Writing.

    What is keeping you from doing the amount and type of writing you want to do?

  2. Look at Your List.

    What can you do to overcome those obstacles?

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