Two main obstacles stand in my way to realizing my full potential as a writer: fear and procrastination.
Fear, I have some experience facing. I can talk myself down from fear. I can talk with other people about fear, and they’ll get it. In fact, there’s not much more American than good old fashioned fear. Just look at the news. Look at how the media deals with Ebola.
Procrastination is another story. It’s also American, for sure. If you call it laziness, you can dress it up with a baseball hat, hand it a hotdog, and march it around to Yankee-Doodle.
We all procrastinate, but we rarely celebrate it like we do fear.
Instead, we equate procrastination with weakness and poor character. We look at procrastinating kids and ponder the possibility that they might have attention deficit disorder. When someone is distracted, we wonder what’s wrong with them.
We scold someone for procrastinating, but we sympathize with someone for freezing up due to fear.
Maybe we’re being a little harsh.
Why do I procrastinate? When I’m working on a project, whether it’s writing or programming, why do I keep looking at my Facebook status? Why do I open a browser and start reading the news when what I should be doing is creating an outline for my NaNoWriMo story? Why do I check my twitter when I should be writing code?
Sometimes, it’s fear that leads to procrastination. The size of a problem can be intimidating. Sometimes, I’m uncertain about how well I’m going to do, and the manifestation of my fear looks like dilly-dallying.
It’s not always fear, though. Here are some other reasons I procrastinate:
Lack of clarity
This is easier for me to diagnose with my programming than it is with my writing, but the problem exists in both places. If I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next, I wander off. Sometimes, I’ll be handed a requirements document that is vague to the point of uselessness. Or, when I’m writing a scene, if I find myself looking at my phone, it’s often because I don’t know what comes next.
With writing, clarity can be found be taking a step back to take a look at the big picture. This might be a matter of consulting notes, creating new notes to fill in some of the gaps. Sometimes, it’s enough to just take a long walk, and let the ideas gel on their own. Since I started taking long walks every day, my productivity has gone up.
Other interests need fed
I like a lot of different things. I like music, both listening and playing. I also like movies. I have interests in religion and politics. And I love games, whether they are electronic or not.
If I don’t intentionally feed my other interests, I will find myself feeding them unintentionally. When I’m procrastinating, if I stop and take a look at what I’m doing, I usually find that it is something related to an activity I haven’t been indulging. When I stop playing video games for too long, I find myself opening solitaire or minesweeper. If it’s been a while since I’ve seen a good movie, I often divert myself by spending more time crawling through YouTube.
Lately, I haven’t spent a lot of time with friends, so I’ve spent more time on Facebook and Twitter than usual.
Often, watching videos on YouTube is just watching videos on YouTube. But if I’m spending an inordinate amount of time watching Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, maybe I just need to take a break and play a board game with friends and family.
The environment promotes distraction
There are places where I get more work done than others. The Starbucks I visit every Wednesday is a great place for me to get writing related activities accomplished. The kitchen table at home, on the other hand, is a terrible place, either because of the noise from the TV or because it is a high traffic area.
Sometimes, to get something done, I have to distance myself from the internet. A couple of weeks ago, when my family wanted to go to the beach, that was the perfect time for me to finish critiquing a story for my monthly writer’s group. There was no internet in the car on the way to the beach or once we were there, so I couldn’t distract myself with other pursuits.
The siren’s song of cat videos and internet memes can be silenced, and needs to be silenced from time to time. Other times, the noise is more real, like at the office where I work. I’m in a cube, and some of the noise at work leads to procrastination. That’s when headphones come in handy.
If your environment isn’t helping, change your environment.
Sometimes it’s just boring
This is a scary one, because if you’re bored with your story, how are your readers going to feel? Procrastination due to boredom can be a sign that the scene you’re working on needs to change, or possibly be eliminated.
It’s not always that, though. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell. For example, when I’ve “spoiled” a scene for myself, I don’t feel quite as motivated to write it. It’s not that it’s a bad scene. It’s just that there isn’t anything for me to discover, and all that’s left is the toiling over making words work.
Writers need to learn to enjoy writing sentences, and getting into the craft to sustain them through the parts where there is no discovery. I can do that most of the time. The rest of the time, I wander off, and opportunities are lost.
One answer is to push through, finding the enjoyment where you can find it, and just shoulder to the grindstone the rest of the time. Another answer, which I honestly haven’t taken advantage of, is to skip the boring part and move on to something more interesting. Come back and do the hard stuff later, when your frame of mind is better for that kind of writing.
Those are some reasons why I procrastinate, and even a few ways to solve the underlying problems. That’s not the only issue with procrastination, however.
Look at synonyms for procrastination, and you will find words with scalding connotations. Lazy. Loafing. Trifling.
One of my bigger problems with procrastination is how I treat myself afterwards. I need to learn to forgive myself. I just listed a number of reasons why I might procrastinate, and yet, I forget all that when I catch myself slacking off.
We’re not machines. Sure, the t-shirt that says “A writer is a machine that turns caffeine into stories” is funny, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for forgiveness. Especially if you’re like me, and you don’t ingest caffeine anymore.
Something I need to work on, and maybe you do, too, is rewarding success rather than punishing procrastination. I need to learn to set achievable goals, with milestones if the tasks are particularly large. Then, when goals are met, I need to give myself a treat. Positive reinforcement is going to go a lot further than calling myself a shiftless pretender.
Those are my thoughts on procrastination. If you have some of your own, please share. You know, if you don’t get too distracted.