Friday, October 3, 2008

I need to... oh look, a butterfly!

Time once again for a monthly AW Blog Roll. (Semi-monthly... there wasn't one for September.) This time we got started with Ralph Pines and his post Of Anxieties, Frustrations and Self Imposed Deadlines. The other day I caught the title and had one of those "heh" moments. But I wasn't next, so I waited my turn, and I'm glad I did because Unfocused Me followed up with his post about Novelus Interruptus. Sound familiar? It should. There's a similar theme going on here... procrastination. Everyone does it, some more than others. Some of us even claim that there is no way we can do anything different. It's just "how we are."

But, thank jeebus, procrastination is something you can un-train yourself to do. How, you ask. Let me tells you it, says I. (Says the person who holds a PhD in procrastination... hush, I'm working on it.)

***(TLDR warning. If you're allergic to long posts, leave now. Come to think of it, if you don't like book-sized posts, why are you reading my blog??)***

Here's where I start making my class lessons useful. There was an entire section of our book dedicated to procrastination. I was like "heh heh heh" before I read it, and then I read it and went "... oh." I'll skip the part about how to identify if you're a procrastinator. I'm pretty sure you know by now.

Or do you?

Common Characteristics:

-- They brag about it (like me saying I had a PhD in procrastination)
-- "They pride themselves on being able to do things quickly, at the last minute, and under pressure." (hmm... that's like every student anywhere, ever)
-- They wait for a push of some kind to get them going: a threat (DEADLINES! *cough*Ralph*cough*), a crisis, or some other outside force.

Warning signs:

-- Avoidance. I need to do this, this, and this, but I'll save that for later. Like you clean the whole house... except for the kitchen.
-- Excuses. I didn't start this because this came up and then I got distracted by this and then, and then, and then...
-- Quitting. Stopping halfway through or close to the end.
-- Busy Work. Start multiple tasks, jump between them all, make the smaller ones seem more important than they really are. Or, basically, aimlessly keeping yourself busy. Ties in with avoidance. (This is why I forum troll at work all day, to avoid my actual work.)

Some reasons you may procrastinate:

-- Lack of Interest/Motivation/Purpose: Boring! Who cares? Why bother? If it gets done, it gets done. If not... oh well.
-- Overestimating Time Needed: I dread doing this. I know it's going to take longer than what they told me. (big fat CHECK there)
-- Low Self-confidence: I just can't do it. What if it's not good enough? What will people think? (more than I'd like to admit, akshully)
-- Too Difficult/Complex: I don't get it. It's too confusing. Maybe it will make more sense tomorrow. (this happens during second draft phase when you try to "fix" too many things and get overwhelmed by it)
-- Overextended/Overcommitted: I already have too much on my plate. There's no way I can start that now.
-- Lack of Skills/Know-How: No one told me how to do this. How am I supposed to know what to do? (also happens in second draft phase. might even happen in first)
-- Bad Environment: There's too much noise and no place to work. I'll do the work on the weekend after I clean and when everyone is gone. Maybe. (Guilty as charged!)
-- Underestimating Time Needed: This won't take long. I'll have plenty of time to do it later. (this, my friends, is known as the "famous last words" phenomenon)

Okay, that was painfully educating, but what do I do to fix it?

I'm not going to list every single thing my book gave me. Your eyes would glaze over and you'd probably just move on to the next blog post. Here are the ones that are probably the most important when combatting procrastination and frustration:

1) Prioritize and stick to the order. No cheating. Don't skip over things you don't want to do, or you think will take too long, etc. I will add to this and tell you to do the most difficult things first. You should know this already. Now start doing it.
2) Take charge and take responsibility. I need to do this, damn it, and I will not make any more excuses.
3) Don't be such a perfectionist. It's okay if it's not perfect. As a writer, that's what revisions are for (and even then, don't expect that your revisions will be perfect). Don't get hung up on the description of your MC's house and why everything is decorated in pink because you feel it's extremely important they understand some underlying psychological thing about your character and omg if you don't do this right it really messes up some other things... stop, take a deep breath, move on. This is like battling procrastination with procrastination, but it kind of works. Move on.
4) Face your fear of failure. Who cares if you fail? Mostly, just you. This is the part where you start pooping rainbows and say "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!" Don't think you're going to make that deadline? Well, you can stop now and fail even worse, or you can keep working and make what you DO have look like the best damn thing ever. Do eet!

Or, if you happen to like being a procrastinator and stressing yourself to an early grave, just be like this guy:

... and now that I just threw half a chapter at you, I just realized I didn't answer either of the previous bloggers' questions. Oops.

Ralph -- So, my fellow writers, how do you overcome these hurdles. Do you simply plow through? Use unusual tactics to defeat the chattering naysayers squawking in the back of your mind? Does the joy ever come back?

This is called hog-tying your inner editor with an obligatory ball-gag and sticking him (or her) in a deep, dark closet somewhere in the depths of the earth. My problem is that I silenced mine for so long she is now rebelling against me and won't work when I want her to. Don't know how to silence your editor of doom? Sign up for NaNoWriMo this year and train yourself. And yes, the joy comes back. It happens in little spurts like when you get some part of your WIP just right or maybe you typed TEH ENDZ.

Unfocused Me -- So what about you, Sassee? Do you outline, or do you just start throwing words onto the page?

Heh. O boi. Well, it's like this, see. I'm an organic seat-of-the-pants writer. I don't know why, since we *always* did outlines for our assignments for high school and I know perfectly well how to construct an outline. But I think part of it is that I get overwhelmed when I start doing an outline, I start thinking about it too much, so instead I just write and see what happens. I agree that outlining would probably be easier in the long run, but I'm one of those people that needs to be pushed into the deep end to learn how to swim so that I don't psych myself out of it. I jump in, flounder around for a while, figure out what I can handle, and THEN I start planning. I too have promised myself that I'll do an outline but realistically I don't know that I ever will. I should though, just to try something new. It might make me a better writer or something. Expanding horizons, and all that.

Psst, Feathers! You're next!

Need more to read? Follow the chain!

Neither Here Nor There...
The Unfocused Me
A Blog, I Has One (you're already here... honestly, do you need a link?)
Spittin' (out words) Like a Llama
Life In Scribbletown
Organized Chaos
South Asia Fair
Fifties Nostalgia
RoseMerrie: Christian Woman

Quote of the day:

(My Name is Earl)
Earl: A purpose is a great thing to have. It gives you a reason to wake up every morning.
Randy: So, a purpose is like a box of powdered donut holes?
Earl: Exactly.



FreshHell said...

I have been procrasting writing up a query letter for an agent I'm meeting with on Friday. That's on today's to-do list. Really.

colbymarshall said...

I personally set small word goals for myself, say, 200 word chunks at a time. Because usually if I get going on 200 words, I'll write a LOT more..and if I sit down to write that much, it doesn't seem so imposing, and I get more done than I'd planned. It makes it seem manageable.

Anonymous said...

My problem is prioritizing. I can write the to do list, but I end up handling the tasks that are the noisiest, not necessarily those that are the most important.

-Kelly Meding said...

One of my favorite pieces of advice was don't be a perfectionist. It's so easy to get bogged down with making one phrase sound right, or having the exact name of something RIGHT NOW. You look up from research and an hour's gone by.

I've gotten so much better at simply putting "NEW WORD" or "GROUP" as a placeholder, so I can come up with the word I need later. It keeps me in the flow and gets that first draft done faster.

Razib Ahmed said...

I agree with the advice of Kelly that we should not be perfectionist. My problem is that I set up lofty goals when I plan something and then suffer.