By Liz, pondering life instead of working on book six.
I’m sure you’ve seen the meme on Facebook depicting the long timeline meant to capture a creative project. Basically, the beginning of the timeline is where the work begins. Then most of the rest of the timeline is colored in red with the words “F*** off” underneath. Then a small spot of yellow labeled “Panic.” Finally, a tiny patch of green labeled “All the work while crying,” until we reach the deadline.
Folks, this is often me. I kick myself for it every time, and swear I’ll never do it again. Sometimes I have what I think is a good reason to put off a big project, like my latest book (the day job, personal drama, moving, sick pets, fill-in-the-blank). Other times, my only good reason is that I’ve been watching too many Gilmore Girls reruns. Either way, good reason or bad, I’m stressing myself out for no reason.
I’ve always been this way. I remember the time in high school that I put off studying for my geometry final until 9 p.m. the night before – then asked my dad (a math teacher) to help me study.
“Sure,” he said. “What chapter?”
I looked at him with a puzzled frown. “Well, all of them,” I said, as if it were a perfectly reasonable request. He almost passed out.
Another time I waited until the day before a big paper was due to write it. And by write it, I mean sit at the computer and bang out the first and last draft. It was going well – until the computer had some malfunction (these were the VERY early Apple days) and the document disappeared. After a minor heart attack I figured out how to restore it, but it was stressful. Still, I finished the paper, turned it in and got an “A.” At least in this area, I’m fortunate that I’m good enough at it that I can operate this way. But it’s still not optimal for mental health.
As a reporter, I got used to writing under the gun. After all, most of the time stories came in at the eleventh hour and you had to run out, get the interviews, then run back, write, and file—usually within an hour or two. And usually with a scanner blaring next to your ear and an editor breathing down your neck. I know there’s a big difference between a 15- or 17-inch story and a 70,000 word story, but the goal is the same: To write something that informs/entertains/keeps the readers’ interest. And write it in the timeframe you’ve agreed to, whether that’s two hours or nine months.
So why do I continue this bad habit? I’m really not sure. I used to beat myself up about it, until I saw this quote by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way:
“Procrastination is not laziness. It is fear. Call it by its right name, and forgive yourself.”
If I really stop and think about it, she’s right. It’s fear of not being good enough, not doing it right, not living up to reader’s expectations, not being able to figure out the plot, you name it. In this case, it could also be fear of the end of a contract, without knowing if it will be continued. If I finish the book, will I have to say goodbye to my friends in Frog Ledge?
But part of this job—this life—is uncertainty, and learning how to live with it. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. So with that in mind, I’m going to stop putting off that next scene, and get back to writing.
Readers, what chore/hobby/job do you procrastinate?
Oh, boy. That was so me in high school, Liz (except my dad was a geography teacher, not math)! But I pulled off the A’s, too. Now I endlessly put off dealing with the minutia in my office. All those little piles of business cards and notes from master classes. All those printed photos in a stack in the the corner that really should get scanned in and then tossed. The pile over there beyond the futon sofa. And so on! It’s much more fun to just make up stories. ;^)
Ha! I hear you.
If I’m honest I think I procrastinate when it comes to quite a few things in my life, but definitely when it comes to exercising. I want to do everything else before doing that.
We always have that one thing, don’t we?
Wow. I could have written this post! I’m the world’s biggest procrastinator. I’ll think I have all the time in the world to do whatever–like write a book. I’ll take my time and before I know it the deadline is a month away and I still have 30,000 words to write. I do think fear is a good part of it. I worry over each sentence, rewording many times–at least until I hit that last month–because I’m terrified it’s not good enough.
Oh, the stories we tell ourselves, right Joyce? Let’s make a pact to believe that we are awesome!
The difficulty lies in figuring out whether it is procrastination due to fear or because your subconscious has not finished its work yet on the creative stuff. Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale once said in a presentation that if you don’t give the creative gods in your head time to complete their work, they will sabotage you. So go ahead and do that laundry or rake the yard and when you return, you can create. She is the one who taught me to set meeting times a little earlier and give people the first 10 minutes to socialize before calling the meeting to order. Otherwise, she said, the socializing gods in our heads will take over and keep interrupting the meeting. This has worked well for me for many years.
Very interesting, Claire! I panicked a week or so ago when I didn’t write for two days. The scene I was trying to write just wouldn’t come out. I know on some level for those two days I was working through it. The third day I wrote almost three thousand words — everything just flowed out.
That is really interesting. Hopefully the creative gods don’t wait until the night before my deadline…
My father said when he retired, “I used to hate all the personal chit-chat that took place in the first ten minutes of every meeting. I thought it was a waste of time. Now it is the only thing I miss.”
This is me, too – typing up the 20 page term paper the night before, on a typewriter, no less (!), first draft as the final, and getting an A. All my life I’ve been a procrastinator. But now, in my early senior years, my body now reacts so badly to stress that I have had to learn a different approach. It does feel good to get things off my plate earlier rather than later, but then thete’s always the next thing to do!
Yes, there’s never a shortage. Glad you’ve managed to overcome the procrastination habit, Avis!
Raising hand, another procrastinator here! My dad was a math teacher too and we had several similar experiences.
Must be something rebelling against those organized numbers people….
I’d love to think that panic helps us think better, so waiting until the last minute has a purpose (yeah, right!).
But if it’s any consolation, you reminded me of one of my high school classes–AP History, senior year, full of the best and brightest of my class, all hard-working and college-bound. We were told early on that we would have to write a term paper that involved research, with a specific due date. The week before it was due, our teacher asked us how ours were coming along. He got a lot of blank stares. He asked how many people had started theirs. Maybe two hands went up. Turned out most of the class hadn’t even begun. (He cancelled the term paper.) So you are not alone!
Wow – he cancelled it! That’s crazy!
I’m a terrible procrastinator myself—though I now keep intricate to-do lists that try to keep me on track (even with large projects). At least I’m not alone here!
Does it work for you, Art?
Sometimes better than others….. In the thick of the semester, I have trouble keeping anything in order, but other times I’m able to focus….. Still, the to-do list reminder is there nagging at me… always, always. 🙂
I am totally conscientious with my editing work, but I procrastinate on submitting. Usually I do it in one sitting, several stories at a time, using Submittable, then I bask in the glow of my half hour of glory.
In my personal life, I despise cleaning up but I am also a germaphobe, so I grit my teeth and clean up like the house is going to blow up any second and I have to hurry, hurry, hurry to get the place straightened before the blow-up. Which makes no sense, but there it is.
At least you get the cleaning over with, Ramona!
You crack me up, Ramona! I can picture you running around cleaning while the digital clock from “24” beeps in the background…
I used to procrastinate a lot more. Now I have so much to do, I have to schedule it (this is the time to do X, this is the time to do Y). It’s the only way anything gets done.
Yeah, tried that too. Then I procrastinated the scheduling piece.
I definitely procrastinate writing and I do think fear has a lot to do with it – what if I can’t do it again/what if I only had one book in me; it’s so vast, a whole world full of people waiting for me to decide who lives and who dies and what the living all have to do; and, finally, the fear of how nasty the internet can get (obviously, I don’t mean here or other blogs in the writing community) when ‘they’ decide you didn’t write to their standards or with a viewpoint they don’t share.
It’s daunting and laundry is not. 🙂
Agree Aimee – so daunting. But we always prevail, right?
Liz, absolutely. There is nary a full laundry basket to be found in my house. 😉
I relate, Liz! I used to work in the news business too, and I genuinely enjoyed rushing to meet new deadlines each day. I also agree with what you said about fear. I thought A LOT about that while writing my series. I had two conflicting thoughts: “I believe I’m meant to write this” and “I feel incapable of this.” The latter tempted me to procrastinate, of course. Only one of those thoughts could win, and I chose to have faith. For me, that meant faith that God/a Higher Power would help me accomplish what felt almost impossible. I tried to pray before each writing session, and it helped. So did setting short-term goals. Thanks for your honesty about this relatable subject, Liz! 🙂
Thanks, Susan! I love hearing about what’s worked for people.
I’ll post a comment on this post later. 🙂
Seriously, I always put off the things I am most afraid of being hard or difficult. I’ve gotten better at just plowing through them because they often aren’t as bad as I think they will be. They are still bad, but they are doable.
Of course, something fun can always distract me from what I should be doing. Like reading blogs instead of leaving for work.
“I’ll post a comment on this post later.”
You are too funny.
That’s hilarious. And you’re right – the worry makes the task worse than it is!
Um, yeah. Working on this as part of my 2017 goals 🙂 Returning to work FT, in the book business, has given me extra challenges. Hang in there, Liz! Procrastination x Perfectionism = Fear. It’s an equation that always has the same answer. I just wish it was easier to change the variables!
Thanks! And cheering you on, Susannah.
Oh, man. You just described me to a T. You also may have helped me understand why the 3rd book killed me and the 6th book is killing me now. Fear of the end, fear of the unknown, fear of the future. Yikes!
Oh God! I forgot about the 3rd book in the contract curse! I hope this isn’t as bad as my book three…
I am a classic neurotic so procrastination sits very badly with me. When I can control the situation, it’s fine, but if the actions need to be performed by others I can be a terrible nag. However, I’ve gotten better… And if I haven’t my family lets me know asap! 😄
Oh, boy – you’d not be happy with me! 🙂
Liz, great post! So many writers relate. We stare at the due date on the calendar then stare at the blank screen and worry. Then find some much more doable and suddenly urgent task to avoid writing. Deadlines always motivated me as a reporter. As an author I get to add “contractually obligated” to my list of motivations!
Ha, thanks Vickie!
Cleaning, because if you do it once you’re only going to have to do it AGAIN.
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