(Oops, forgot to set this to auto-post.)
Cartoon courtesy of Inkygirl: Daily Diversions
As I mentioned, Friday on Fumbling with Fiction we’ll be looking at some of the biggest ways that writers can drop the ball, so to speak. And what better mistake to start with than one that I struggle with constantly? Procrastination.
I don’t even want to think of how productive I might be if I never procrastinated. It scares me. If I didn’t surf the web. If I didn’t rearrange the books in my bookcase. If I didn’t look at random people’s pictures on Facebook.
So I got to thinking about why I procrastinate. Because, to be honest, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that like me so many authors love writing, couldn’t live without writing, and yet put off the very act of it with a level of creativity that takes almost as much energy as sitting down and putting words on the page. It’s crazy, right? Have you seen the number of twitter updates a day about procrastinating alone.
Did you know the Free Dictionary defines “procrastinate” as “To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness.”
What’s more, when I googled procrastination I was bombarded with about a million ads asking me if I suffered from ADHD.
At this point in my research, I’ve got to tell you, I’m alarmed. Because (1) I’m not a lazy or careless person and (2) I have an incredibly long attention span. So what’s going on? I start wondering if maybe I don’t love writing. I start worrying that maybe it’s not my dream. Because I’m not careless with other things. I have a long attention span when I’m watching a four hour Lifetime Original. Do I not care about writing as much as the latest Lifetime Movie I’ve never heard of? Surely, that can’t be true.
That’s when I decided to do some research. There had to be more people out there like me and there had to be another reason.
And guess what? There is!
If you’re a Type A individual like me and can’t help but procrastinate, I think you might be suffering from a case of the care-too-muchs.
See, it’s not that we don’t care enough, that we don’t want to do the work, it’s that we are so afraid of not living up to our own high expectations of ourselves, that we’d rather not start in the first place. We’re sabotaging ourselves.
Maybe you did this in school, when you had a paper that you waited to write at the last minute. Maybe you do this at work. But, caring too much can really get the best of you. In fact, you’d be much better off caring too little.
And when I read about this syndrome, it made so much sense to me. Until I can figure out how to do something perfectly, sometimes I’d rather not do it at all. If I can’t set aside enough time to complete a task or make a solid dent in it, then sometime’s I’d rather not start it.
What excuses do you make? Don’t know the first line of the book? Don’t know where the last plot twist? Aren’t sure the stakes are high enough for your characters for anyone to care?
These are all things that make us put off the work to a point where it can feel almost debilitating. And then when you think of how much time you’ve wasted, it can almost make it worse! It’s an ugly cycle.
So, while I think understanding where the urge to procrastinate stems from is helpful in itself, what can we do about it?
Here are a few tips I’ve learned from looking into the subject that may help:
1. Aim for a C+. This is basically a different way of the common advice of allowing yourself to be bad. Especially in the first draft. But for some reason this clicked with me–probably because I’m still in school. Still, maybe it will help you. Aim low. Tell yourself that your goal is to get a C on your manuscript. That’s your goal! Ok? This isn’t an instance where I’m telling you to aim for a C and then somehow you’re just so magically talented that even when you don’t try your manuscript will be worthy of an A. No, write a C manuscript. If nothing else, you’ll have something to show for all your angst. You can submit a C. You can show a C to your agent and get help on it. You can’t show a blank page. Write a C. Know that you have a C under your belt, then when you have time, polish to an A.
2. Ask questions. I read this as a tip to use at work, but I think it applies here, too. At the workplace, a tip suggested when you’re assigned a project to drop everything the moment you receive it. Look at the project. What does it entail? Compile a list of questions to ask the assigning supervisor, then be sure to take notes during your brief meeting. This advice serves two purposes. For one, when you are supposed to have already started something, but you haven’t and you just now realize you have a whole bunch of questions, it is a huge deterrent to have to go ask those questions this late in the game. Two, the questions help clarify the task at hand, helping you know where to start and how long the task will take. So, in your writing career, typically you are the assigning supervisor. So, unfortunately, the questions need to be directed to you. Therefore, your execution of this tip might look something like this:
You have set aside a chunk of time to write this weekend. Ok, although you don’t have much time prior to the weekend, push your current distractions aside and take a moment to plan. What do you need to accomplish before the weekend starts in order for you to make the most productive use of your time? Realistically, how much time do you have for writing this weekend? What can you accomplish in that amount of time? What do you not know about the project that you need to before you can start? Do you know which scenes you plan to write? What the main conflict in those scenes will be?
3. Finally, my last simple tips because this is running long. Maybe I’ll add some more later because I do have more to share. Limit your time online. You can space out the blogs you read. Maybe read one per day and rotate. Check Facebook once a day. Remember why you are writing and sometimes it can even help to remind yourself about a few of the naysayers who think you can’t get it done. In other words, channel that Type A in you and be competitive.