By Kerry Schafer
A fascinating topic -- one I can spend hours discussing, analyzing, and lamenting as a lovely (and valid) evasion from whatever task I’m procrastinating from.
Now, I know procrastination has a bad rap, and a lot of people think its roots lie in sheer laziness. This is a myth that must be dispelled forthwith. Proper procrastination is a skill, indeed an art, which generally requires much more energy and creativity than would have ever been expended on the original project.
Sometimes procrastination makes perfect sense. If the task to be avoided involves removing green food from the fridge (and by this I mean foods that were never intended by nature to be green), or if the bathroom needs cleaning, or a teenager’s room needs to be mucked out with a shovel and a rake - then procrastination makes perfect sense.
But we also procrastinate when the project on the agenda is something that we love. Take writing for example. Most of us who write are passionate about the process. We talk about how we love writing, how we couldn’t live without it.
I asked my writer friends on Facebook a simple question: Why do you write? Here are some of the answers:
“I write because I have stories in my head that need to get out.” ~ B.e. Sanderson
“I’m not right if I don't write...there's some piece of happiness in the process for me. If there's no work in progress, momma ain't happy and if momma ain't happy ain't nobody gonna be happy ~Linda Robertson
“1) I love telling stories and weaving tales. 2) I'll read a book or watch a show and think, 'Not bad, but it could have been better if they'd done this.' 3) There is a story in my head and it will drive me nuts if I don't get it out of me.” ~ Todd Leatherman
“The voices! The voices in my head!!!” ~Trudy Morgan Cole
“It’s what I was put on this earth to do.” ~Aurelia Blue
“I love to paint with words.” ~Judy Phillips
“Because there are still books I want to read that only I can write.” ~James Ray Tuck Jr
You’d think with this level of drive and enthusiasm (and possibly mental instability, given the number of people who mentioned the need to silence voices) we’d all be typing away at every possible moment, getting those stories down on the page with vim and vigor and great enthusiasm.
Alas, this is not so. Writer procrastination would be a national sport if writers were a nation. Come on, admit it. As much as you’re driven to write your story, to get the voices out of your head or the words down on the page, how often do you find yourself doing something - anything - else?
Honest answers now:
Which is your preference :
a) Facebook b) Twitter c) Pinterest d) Other
Which is your default procrastination game:
A) Spider Solitaire B) Farmville C) Candy Crush D) Other E) I don’t waste my time on stupid games, I get real with WOW and the equivalent
True or False: I’ve been known to do housework to avoid writing, possibly even cleaning green things out of the fridge.
Bonus Questions: sneaky procrastination activities that look a lot like writing, but aren’t.
- Engage in IM chats that are supposedly about writing but delve deeply into other inanity?
- Engage in plotting that goes on and on and prevents you from writing?
- Engage in writing preparation activities like making coffee or other beverages/snacks to consume while writing, setting up music playlists, cleaning off your desk, until your writing time is over?
If you are not a procrastinator, go away. We don't need your overcharged, driven, annoying type here. If you are a procrastinator and you actually took the quiz: good for you! You have earned a cookie.
There are a lot of reasons we might procrastinate on writing, but I think the biggest bugaboo is perfectionism. We care deeply about the story, about the words. We feel a responsibility to the characters we create and want to portray them accurately. We also want readers to love or hate them as much as we do. We want readers to love our work. The whole project sometimes looks too big, too scary, too much. If only a novel could spring fully formed from head to page, as beautiful and complete as we envision it, then all would be well.
But the words come out rough and bumpy, characters fall flat, plots lack in pacing and suspense. It’s damn hard work to fix and polish and bring the story anywhere near the shining thing we want it to be.
And so we delay. After all, if the story is still perfect and lovely in our heads, then we haven’t yet failed to bring it into being.
What is a procrastinating writer to do?
Well, you can suck it up and power through. Install internet blocking software on your computer and lock yourself in a barren room without distractions. Chain yourself to a chair. But where’s the fun in that?
Ann Lamott pretty much nailed it with her book Bird by Bird. If you’re a writer and haven’t read this book yet, click the link, buy the book. Read. Read again. Do it NOW. Yes, I know you plan to do it later. I also know how that will likely turn out.
Some of the best resources for overcoming procrastination and perfectionism come from SARK. She has written a couple of wonderful books for creative people: Make your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day; and Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper.
If you’re anything like me you probably don’t have time to read a book to help you with procrastination right now. You’re busy. (Checking your Twitter feed, cleaning the fridge, etc. These things take time.) So here is a link to what I’ve come to believe is the best cure ever for most varieties of procrastination: SARK's Micro Movements.
The basic idea is akin to Lamott’s advice to take things “bird by bird.” You set yourself a micro task that will require no longer than five minutes of your time. For example, open a new document and give it a title. Write one paragraph. Or even one sentence. That's it. You're done. You can carry on if you feel like it, but you don't have to. You get to feel the satisfaction of crossing something off your list, rather than looking way down the road to a long year of thankless writing…... ahem. Sorry about that. But you do see my point - it's easy to get so mired in the epic scope of what you've undertaken that you can't ever get anything done.
I used to do hour long writing sprints to get my word count in. This was highly productive IF I managed to make myself sit down and do it. Not so long ago my critique partner got me started on 15 minute sprints. You know, I can concentrate for that span of time even on a bad day. And if I do about four 15 minute sprints, it often works out to about a thousand words.
Here’s an opportunity for you to try micro movements on your own. Come on, give it a shot. All you have to do is click this link to have a look at SARK’s micro movements. Who knows - maybe you'll be inspired to give the method a try.
Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books