Archive | Procrastination

Out of Sync

united-states-army-385786-h (1)I’ve been out of sync with my writing lately.  (And my blog posts, too, as you may have noticed.) Off my feed, unchained from my computer, thinking about things other than my writing.

I’m best when I write every day, or close to it. I get into a rhythm and it becomes just something I do, not a task I avoid, or a thing to obsess about (when I could just as easily be writing).  But as soon as something throws me off my schedule, I’ve got to find ways to get back to it.  I struggle a little bit, and sigh and wring my hands and think about how awful life is. How I don’t have any time to write at all, ever.

And then I remember that my life is pretty damn good and actually I do have time to write, if I would only take advantage of it. I quit sighing and struggling. But those are all just interim steps. I still have to find my way back to my groove.

Today, as I spent another morning doing something else very important besides writing, several items that will impact my procrastination fell into my lap. Well, more like my computer.  Anyway.

First was this article by Barbara O’Neal about how she started listening to dubstep and it increased her output exponentially.  I’m still experimenting with this. (And please don’t ask me to explain dubstep, I actually don’t even know it when I hear it yet.) And never mind that going to Pandora to find some dubstep led me to ponder if I should try Spotify. Of course the answer was yes, and that took a bit to set up an account and then I remembered that Beth Orton had a new release out and…you get the idea.

I really am out of sync.

But here’s another one, a TedX Talk about how to find fascination in the every day. It really is worth a watch.  Thank me next time you’re staring at a pile of dishes in your kitchen sink.

And then, trying to be positive, I thought about the things I’m doing to get back in sync. That would be writing in my journal every morning (call them morning pages if you like), playing around with writing to prompts, and rereading my WIP.  Organizing my craft closet (not by choice–a huge yarn avalanche occurred when I opened the door and fell all over my office floor). Thinking deep thoughts.

I’ll get back to it soon. I have to, because I have another rewrite to accomplish.  There will be deadlines and such. Or at least I hope so, because giving me a deadline is another surefire way to pull me out of a slump.

What do you do when you get out of sync?

Photo from an army contest in 2004. Go figure.

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Just Put The Words on the Page: Why is This So Hard Sometimes?

Soundsky-1229984You’ve heard it a million times, and so have I.  Hell, I’ve said it a million times: all you have to do to write is get yourself to the page and throw words at it.  And yet, sometimes this is just ridiculously difficult.

Like, for me, this morning, when I struggled with writing a scene. I let my attention wander to ponder a book I desperately needed wanted for research, and this led me down one rabbit hole after another.

All I had to do was throw words at the page until I finished the scene (which I had sketched out in note form already).  And I wasn’t doing it, until finally I strong-armed myself into completing the scene (which didn’t turn out half bad for a rough draft).  But it started me to thinking, once again, about why this happens.  We love writing or we wouldn’t be writers, right? And yet sometimes it takes the 10th army to get us to the page.

And I realized that for me, and maybe for you, too, its the constant carping of my inner voice.  When I listen to it, it leads me astray.  It says things like aw, c’mon just go check your email one more time.  Or, you know you’re a crappy writer and this particular scene sucks so why bother? Or, you’re stupid and so is your writing.  Or even, everybody hates you. (Now if that isn’t ridiculous, I don’t know what is.)

Yet when I’m able to ignore it, I go directly to the page and my writing flows.  I don’t waste time obsessing about what other people think of me or how my writing is going to be received.  I’m happy and I feel free.  These times have historically been few and far between, but they are getting more common with my understanding of the carping inner voice and some techniques to deal with it.

The inner voice is, of course, your ego and your ego’s job is to keep you safe.  S/he has done a good job up till now, because here you are, reading this in one relatively unscathed piece, correct?  And yet in your ego’s efforts to keep you safe, it sometimes often goes a bit too far.  Your ego would probably be delighted were you to stay safely at home, never risking venturing out into the big scary world.  This goes for the physical world and the mental world.  Free, unfettered creativity is the ego’s worst nightmare.

Because what if you reveal something deep and true and unique about yourself that people might judge?  What if those words you’re putting on the page become a book and people, gasp, actually read it? What if you succeed? What if you fail? What if people criticize you?  On and on the ego’s fears run, a constant litany and threat of doom.  If you listen to it, you’ll never get any writing done, trust me.

So not listening to it is the key.  But your inner voice is a persistent bugger, and it will continue to carp at you non-stop no matter how many times you scream at it to shut up.  Another way is called for.  That way is to acknowledge it and then let it go. As the revered meditation teacher and Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, just say hello and goodbye. This is surprisingly effective, especially when done over time.

And one of the things that has really helped me is something I learned from Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. Think about that inner voice as if it were a real live roommate in your home.  Would you give its constant chatter any credence? Would you pay attention to anything it said? Would you believe its crazy stream of words? Of course you wouldn’t.

If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, its a person who talks non-stop.  I end up tuning them out, ignoring them.  And yet I often let my inner voice run my life.  So I’ve given my inner roommate a name–Irene–and when she starts spouting nonsense I say to here, “Hello Irene.  Goodbye Irene.”  Then she can go off and spout away but I don’t have to listen to her.

This is a wonderful practice not just for writing but for every aspect of life.  It is such a relief to get away from Irene whenever I can!  And when I’m not listening to her, I can appreciate the present moment, and I can write with a whole brain and a whole heart.

Do you have an inner roommate who talks at you constantly? How do you tame him or her?

(Note: you may also be interested in posts I’ve written about our inner critics, a different but similar beast. You can read about that here or here.)

Image by seungmina.

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Procrastination for Writers

Pencil-tapping-distractor-213269-hMy newsletter comes out every two weeks without fail and usually I get the material for it to my friend who compiles it for me well ahead of time.

Not this week.  

Yes, life got in the way–I won't bore you with the particulars.  But I also procrastinated.  Because if I had really wanted to, I could have fit some work on it in the nooks and crannies of time.  I'm used to doing that.  I do it all the time.

Not this week.

I knew I needed to get the newsletter done in plenty of time for it to be scheduled, but I didn't do it. And then last night, as I was falling asleep, I realized why: because I didn't have the topic yet.  Bear in mind, I write posts for this blog a lot.  (Over seven years, I've managed to rack up over 1,000 of them.) So coming up with ideas and writing them is not often a problem.  But in this case, I didn't.

Until I realized I wanted to write about what was happening to me in the moment: procrastination. And here's the deal, the epiphany that occurred to me, the idea that made it all worthwhile:

Sometimes procrastination is a good thing.

Yes, I said that.  So let me explain why, and when you can use procrastination as a tool, and when it is just a plain old bad thing.  Okay?

When Procrastination is a Good Thing.

Sometimes, a story or a scene or an essay simply hasn't formed itself enough to be gotten down on paper.  Period.  You can try to force the issue as much as you want and it simply won't budge.   Stories are like that. And then you've got to let it come out in its own time.  (Which can look like procrastination to uninformed spouses but really isn't.) Some ideas that might help the process:

1. Take notes.  Gently, without trying to force anything.

2. Actively think about it.  Like, when you're vacuuming.  Or reading CNN.  Or doing whatever it is you do when you procrastinate.

3. Quit worrying about it.  Remind yourself that peaks and valleys are part of the creative process.

4.  Don't think about it.  I know, contradictory to #2, but that's how creativity works.  Put it out of your mind and do something else.  Sometimes this is what's needed for an idea to bubble up.

5.  Decide you're going to give up writing forever.  Kidding!  Sort of.  Because, in truth, sometimes these sorts of dramatic vows are what it takes to lift yourself up out of the procrastination morass. Because you realize that you really do want to be a writer and since that is the case, you better get to it.

When Procrastination is a Bad Thing.

While we all want to put a good face on the way we run our lives, sometimes procrastination is just that: procrastination.  And more likely than not, it is fear-based.  Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of putting yourself out in the world, fear that you don't know what to write.

I'm here to tell you that the best and only way to deal with fear is to walk through it.  And the best way to walk through it is to throw words at the page.  Bad words, crappy sentences, ridiculous paragraphs.  Or, if you can muster it, fantastic combinations of words.  But don't worry about that. Just write.  Anything.  Trust me.  The act of writing itself will lead you back to where you need to go–which is where you are at the moment:

Writing.

 

We All Suffer From It.

Well, maybe you don't.  But I do.  And most other writers do, too, if they will admit to it. (Procrastination is sort of like drinking too much or reading trashy novels in that nobody wants to claim it as a habit.)

But, if you find yourself procrastinating, just remember to use it to your writing advantage.  And then you call it something else that sounds much more industrious.  

Like composting.

Or, fertlizing.

Or, marinating.

Or, stewing.

(Almost all my metaphors have to do with the garden or food.  I think its time for me to get planting and cooking. Nah, never mind. I've got too much writing to do.)

Here are some other posts I've written about procrastination:

How to Procrastinate

Procrastinating on Your Writing? Try This

One Technique for Overcoming Writer's Block

Okay, come on, it's time to 'fess up: what's your favorite way to procrastinate?  Please make us all feel better and share.

Photo by Rennett Stowe. 

PS: A couple of you have not yet claimed your prizes on the birthday blog giveaway.  Come on over and find out if you've won.

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What is the Why of Procrastination?

Cartoon-clock-work-2676556-lThe subject line on the email read:  Lead by example and not theory!

That's easy, I thought smugly.  I set a good example by getting up at 5 or 5:30 every day to write. Why, I was up early at that very moment reading the email.

Yeah, reading the email.  Not writing.  Reading.

Caught in the act.

I was procrastinating, no two ways about it.

I stopped and asked myself why?  The answer–because I didn't know where to go next.  I'm working on a new novel, and I wasn't sure where to take my heroine in the next scene.  I like to know where I'm going in a scene.  It prevents me from drifting.  (When I drift, I can get way off course.) 

But sometimes I know more than I think I do, and if I just quit resisting and start writing, my hands tell me where to go.

So I told myself to just do it–put words on the page.  Begin.  Commit to doing it three minutes. 

And so I did. And once I was in the middle of it, I remembered: this.  This is what I love doing. This is what I want to do all day.  This.

This always happens.  Once I'm in the middle of my writing, I remember how much I love doing it.  So why is it sometimes so damned hard to get to the writing in the first place?  These are some of the reasons I came up with:

Overwhelm.  At times your brain is just too full up to think anymore.

Fear you're not good enough, or more to the point, your writing isn't. 

Anxiety.  External worries about  money, career, or relationship can be awful distractions.

Not knowing what to write, as mentioned above.

And I would be remiss if I didn't offer antidotes, now wouldn't I?  Try these:

1.  Do a brain dump.  Earlier this weekI realized my mind was going in a million different directions with projects I wanted to start, and ideas for works in progess.  I had slips of paper all over my desk with notes, ideas and reminders on them.  Worse, I couldn't seem to focus on anything for longer than a minute or two.  Then Milli Thornton told me about Todoist, which is a simple website on which to create to-do lists.   And I used this to do a brain dump of everything I wanted to work on.  Once everything was on the page, I could think again.  Note: this also works for when you're struggling with anxiety.

2.  Massage the inner critic.  The fear pops up when your Inner Critic rages.  At the Karen Drucker women's retreat a few weeks ago, she shared what she says to her Inner Critic:  I know you're there, I acknowledge you, but that's not what I choose to believe today.   

3.  Know where you're going. Do your best to always have a place to go in your writing.  Ernest Hemingway famously quit a writing session in the middle of a sentence.  You might not want to do that, but it can help to rewrite your notes before you go to bed the night before, or review in your mind what you're going to do next.  This is probably the most useful tip against procrastination that I can give you.

What are your favorite procrastination busters?  Please leave a comment.

And by the way–stay tuned, because I'm cooking up a Christmas give-away for next week!

Photo by dan4th.

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Procrastinating on Your Writing? Try This

Metal_mechanics_type_221267_lI'm all over Steve Chandler these days.  I have no idea where I first heard of him, but I've been reading his book on time management, Time Warrior, and I've learned a lot.  Since I subscribed to his newsletter, I also got a free PDF (which I sent to my Ipad to be read on the Kindle app) of his book Wealth Warrior. Chandler talks a lot about mind set–but I guarantee you his stuff his different from the same-old, same-old you're used to reading.

Usually I dislike male business types making pronouncements about how I should do things, because they are just so, well, male, in their orientation.  (No offense to my beloved male readers, it's just that I prefer a more holistic female approach to self management, which is less rule-oriented and more dispersed.)  But Chandler's approach really resonates with me.

He talks a lot about action (and let me also make clear that he follows his own advice, having written 30 books).   What I really like about his advice is twofold:

1.  He emphasizes the benefit of taking the emotion out of your choices.  How many times have you whined about a task (writing, even), "I just don't feel like doing it."  Chandler says that "warriors" don't wait until they feel like doing something, they just freaking do it.  

2.  He talks a lot about the present moment, and taking the future out of your day.  In other words, we spend half our time thinking about how awful its going to be when we're engaged in whatever chore we don't want to do.  Thus, we're focused on the future, not the present moment.  But if I you just quit projecting yourself into the future and do the chore without emotion, you'll accomplish a lot.

And here's the tip mentioned in the headline:

Whatever it is you gotta do, commit to doing it for three minutes.  Three measly minutes.  This will accomplish one of two things:

–You'll at least have connected with the project for a bit.  Don't downplay the importance of this, because it creates momentum, and momentum is what gets books written.

–You'll most likely get wrapped up in what you're doing and work far longer than three minutes.  But, by telling yourself that you only have to work for three minutes, you've enticed yourself to the page.

I've used a variant of this, telling myself I only have to work 15 minutes, for years.  But I like the three minute idea even better.  Because, really, anyone can commit three minutes to something–even you. Right?

I encouraged a friend who was struggling with a paper for a class to commit to three minutes on it and she texted me an hour later saying the paper was done and sent in.  This little trick of the mind works, people.  I now use it on myself all the time.

Do you procrastinate?  How do you get yourself out of it?

Photo by clix.

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