Procrastination. As a writer, I’ve built elaborate scaffolds of procrastination, making work that is really an avoidance of the work of novel-writing.
I’ve built a website. I started a blog. I created a new Facebook account. I began writing female-empowerment flash fictions to post on Facebook.
I made an Instagram account. I took photos of books. Photos of coffee. Photos of books and coffee. Photos of me reading books and drinking coffee.
I started a writing group and forum chat on my favorite writing platform, and our group edited and published two chick lit magazines– highlighting a variety of women writers from across the platform. Meanwhile, I entered a couple of writing contests–two more new short fictions.
Not my novel.
I was working. Sure I was. Am. Just look at all my work.
Meanwhile, at the back of my mind, a nagging voice (most likely my spoiled and silken-robed Muse) whispers, “You’ve created a platform, and you like playing on it, but what about your product? The product you want to sell to a publisher?”
The Muse is the gal with the ideas and inspiration. She’s the Queen. I’m the worker-bee tasked with getting the actual writing done, and while I’ve been doing the heavy lifting on the platform, the current novel grows every so slowly. I finish one chapter on a good week, two chapters on a bad month. Every day I tell myself I’m going to get pages done. Every week I give myself a Friday deadline.
Somehow, despite my good intentions, the novel gets pushed aside as I tackle other projects and tasks, like blog posts and reading and binging old television shows in the name of “engagement” and “research.” When I take a good hard look at myself, I must face the truth. I am procrastinating.
Procrastination, like rejection and frustration, is a valid creative obstacle. But as the Zen saying goes, “Obstacles don’t block the path; they are the path.”
This does not mean we give up, sit down, scratch our heads, and wait for the obstacles to clear. Oh, no. We are on a path, my dears. A path implies movement, motion, going forward. We walk. We run. We travel the path around the obstacles, picking a few daisies along the way, stopping to smell the roses. We get on with it.
But, how, you ask? Following are three cool ways to work around procrastination. Maybe they will work for you.
1. Make a task list every morning…and use it. Sometimes we procrastinate out of disorganization. Creating a list of tasks and checking them off gives us positive reinforcement and keeps us organized. No matter what format you choose–electronic calendar list or simple hand-written lists on a yellow legal pad, creating a to-do list is probably the most basic anti-procrastination tool in your toolbox. While making your list each day, keep in mind that every journey begins with a step, so dividing big goals into small, measurable steps makes an overwhelming task manageable, doable. Instead of “Finish novel” try “write three pages of the novel” or “write for two hours on the novel.” Remember to include non-creative chores like “cook dinner” and “walk the dog” on the list. They take time, too, and writing them down keeps the list realistic. Writing down what MUST be done and what you WANT to accomplish will help you prioritize, as well. Any tasks you aren’t able to complete can then be added to the next day’s list or evaluated for possible deletion. Remember, it is your list. You control it. I like using a bullet journal type list, checking the tasks I complete, x-ing out the tasks or events I missed, or putting an arrow on the tasks I didn’t complete but need to move to the next day.
2. “You only have to . . .” Sometimes we procrastinate out of fear. This is one of my favorite tricks to overcome the overwhelming worry that we can’t do what we need or want to do. For writers, this often looks like the dreaded “writer’s block.” There it is, this heavy cement block wall standing in your way and you without a grappling hook or Spidey-fingers or even a ladder to help you climb over it. So don’t. Don’t climb over. Go around. Sneakily. Tell yourself, “You only have to…” and end the imperative with a small start to your big task. I use this when I have a big writing project and feel dread and anxiety when I sit down at the computer. I trick myself by saying, “You only have to write three pages, and then you can be done.” Ninety percent of the time, once I get started, I do quite a bit more than the minimum number of pages, words, or hours I’ve given myself. Remember, inertia works both ways. It may be hard to get started, but it is also hard to stop once you do. It’s Newton’s First Law, my dears. Let inertia work for you.
3. Visualize yourself doing the actual work…not achieving the goal. Sometimes we procrastinate because we’re too focused on the goal. Bear with me here, friends. While researching how to use and make a “vision board” this week, I found a surprising number of psychology articles debunking the use of a vision board as a means of achieving goals and creating the lives we imagine. (More on this in a later post). What the counselors and psychologists learned through various scientific studies, is that people who simply “put it out there” and visualized themselves winning, or achieving fame and fortune, or driving a fancy car, or being married to a drop-dead gorgeous individual, or being fifty pounds lighter, were LESS likely to achieve those goals than people who visualized themselves doing the tasks that would get them there. This would be the difference between me a) visualizing myself speaking fluent Spanish while vacationing in Cancun and b)visualizing myself sitting at my desk with my Babbel app practicing verb conjugation and studying vocabulary words every day at noon. So, yes. Do some meditation. Take some deep breaths. Picture yourself with butt in chair, hands on keys, doing the work. Or getting up every morning, strapping on the sneakers, and sweating on the elliptical. Or ordering a sparkling water with lemon instead of that sugary pink cocktail the next time you go out for drinks with the girls. Whatever it is you want to accomplish, figure out what you actually need to do to get there, and see yourself doing THAT.
I hope one or all of these techniques will inspire and help you go around your procrastination obstacles.