The Fine Art of Observation

Yesterday I wrote about ways we writers might find to avoid facing the page.

It is one thing to write about it, but yet another to find ways to stop such unproductive behaviors and get onto the fun work of writing.  So how does one conquer these procrastination habits? 

If I had the answer to that I’d be selling the secret on this blog for a million dollars.

I don’t have the answer but I do know something that can begin to help and that is observation.  It works because it is a way of tricking yourself, or as the Zen folks might say, tricking the ego.  You don’t have to make a solemn vow that you will never, ever, procrastinate again, all you have to do is agree with yourself that you will observe your behavior.

Since you are a writer, you may even want to write your observations down.  So, say you have a block of time and you want to use that time to write.  But down you sit at your laptop and no words come.  Instead you decide that what you really need is a snack.  And then you go and fix the snack and sit and read the newspaper or the latest issues of O, or worse, People, and before you know it, the time you had allotted for writing is gone.

The usual reaction to wasting time like this is anger and this is when our I’ll never, ever do this again reaction sets in.  We vow to reform.  We vow that tomorrow we will sit down and write words that will win us a Pulitzer Prize.  But tomorrow comes and the same thing happens all over again.

So next time, quit with the solemn vows and judgment and agree simply to observe.  Write down your observations in your journal.  That is all you have to do.  You don’t have to change the behavior, or get mad at yourself.  All you have to do is observe.

Physicists have recently discovered that the act of observing a subject changes the subject.  The act of observing yourself is no different and a funny thing happens.  Once you start making the behavior conscious–you’re writing about it, after all–it can’t help but change.    

You might be surprised at what path the change takes, but change you will.  One caveat: the art of observation is like the fine art of letting go.  You can’t set out to observe and force the ending.  Just observe and see what you see.  You may come up with something completely unexpected and delightful.

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3 Comments on "The Fine Art of Observation"

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Don
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Don
02/20/2008 12:33
Hi Charlotte, it’s been awhile since coming here. Every time I come, I notice your old post on top, and thought that you weren’t posting for some reason? Your old post, “Character Arcs and the Make-up Theory” doesn’t have a date! You might have to give it one, unless, of course, you want it to be there all the time, which, I might say is confusing and makes it seem that you are not posting regularly. If giving the old post a date doesn’t work, you might have to do what I did: cut and paste the old post and… Read more »
Scott Sheperd
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02/21/2008 18:48
First of all I agree with Don’s comment about your top article. It is a little confusing. I totally agree with your idea of “The Witness”. Observe, note and do not judge. I also think, at least sometimes, that it can be useful to explore the dynamics of the procrastination. I think it usually comes down to fear of something – failing, admitting limitations, looking like a fool, maybe even letting yourself down or the art of writing down. It can be like being afraid to have a child because you are afraid you will not do the child justice.… Read more »
Derek
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02/22/2008 04:50

“But tomorrow comes and the same thing happens all over again…” I’m going to be a little naughty here.. 😉 Tomorrow never comes. When we are living in that “time-space” called tomorrow, when is tomorrow? But it’s OK to have this sort of fun with semantics. With this sort of awareness, what can happen to procrastination? 🙂

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