Woman writing in a notebook instead of procrastinating.

Is the Formality of a Word Document Keeping You From Writing?

I used to attribute not wanting to write to procrastination. After all, I fought hard for the crown of Queen of Procrastination in college. Waiting until hours before the deadline to start writing most assignments. But procrastination always has a cause, and maybe the cause is the word document is too formal.

A few weeks ago, I took a class on how to overcome procrastination. The facilitator offered several tips that had helped her get words on the page over the years. As someone who put the “pro” in procrastination, I was skeptical that she could offer any ideas I had not tried before but I also tried to keep an open mind. So, I sat among many other squares in a Zoom call hoping to find an elusive cure for procrastination.

That is not to imply that there is one single cure because there are so many causes of procrastination. There will never be a one-size-fits-all kind of cure, but maybe she could offer a little tidbit of information that could help me with one cause.

To my surprise, that tidbit did come, almost unassumingly, toward the end of our hour together when she mentioned that sometimes opening a word document to write feels too formal, especially for a snippet of an idea or even a first draft. I realized there was some truth to this. There is a lot of ceremony around opening up my computer, turning it on, waiting for it to load, and opening up a fresh, clean word document.

By the time I do all of this, whatever brilliant idea I had scurries back into its little hidey-hole inside my brain. I may still try to type out a few uninspired lines because many people say to be a writer, you must write every day. Set a minimum word count and strive to meet it. #writergoals

But what brings more torture to a writer’s soul than to sit at an open, blank document and watching that thin line of a cursor blink at you, taunting you to write words, laughing when you delete the words because they make no sense?

I always thought that when this happened, it was writer’s block. And I thought of writer’s block as my creativity well run dry. Many times over the years, I have heard that one way to overcome writer’s block is to pick up a pen and paper because writing by hand uses different areas of the brain. It is thought that exercising different brain parts will help you overcome your writer’s block.

Now, I understand why it helps – for me at least. The formality and ceremony puts undue pressure on my muse to perform. When I am in the first drafts of something, trying to figure out the main points, the screen is not a friendly place.

I used to reserve writing with pen and paper for writing poetry. It felt natural to scratch out lines of poetry on paper. But I am finding myself reaching for my well-worn notebook or even a scrap piece of paper more and more often to write. This article and a condensed version for my email community (you can join here!) were both written on paper first, then transferred to the computer. Doing it this way also gives me an automatic editing process, and I know the words written on the paper will not be the final version, which is another way writing on paper first takes some of the pressure off when getting ideas down. 

Since being introduced to the idea that opening word documents can be too formal for creativity, I have found many writers who feel like writing on a screen stifles their creativity, but they feel invalidated in their theory that the reason is the formality of writing in a word document. Nobody really talks about it in this way – the formality and ceremony – versus chalking it up to vague terms like procrastination or writer’s block.

Perhaps the next time you sit down to write and the process of opening up your computer feels like too much, start scratching out some words on a piece of paper floating around on your desk. It’s worth a try, right?

Join me for Everyday Writers, pop-up writing sessions to help you get words on the page!


The Procrastination Workshop was taught by Fiona Thomas.

Photo Credit: Canva

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