This past week has been long and emotional. The muscles in my back and chest are screaming in protest, after coughing fits set off by smoke. I am due back to the doctor next week for a check up. It has taken all of my mental effort to get out of bed. My manuscript has been neglected. I had not written for over a week.
I have managed to revisit early Joss Whedon, via the first two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I jumped down the internet rabbit hole and just kept falling further and further into the troll-fed pits of doom (Note to self: do not engage. Do not feed the trolls. Do not let them drag me deeper into the depths of social media doldrums). I have stared, bleary-eyed, into the garden and watched the birds play in the unseasonal rain. In short, I have been honing my skills in the art of procrastination.
And I got really good at it.
It takes twenty-one days* to develop a habit; it takes but one to break it. During 2014, I worked to develop a habit of writing daily. I initially wrote four days a week and succeeded in an (almost) daily writing routine after quitting my full time job.
I really enjoyed the writing.
I was barreling along, with the end of my first draft in sight. Clues were piling up. Revelations were being, well, revealed. The fate of a major character was at hand. Cue a major attack of procrastination. Any excuse would do. Preparation for evacuation due to a local bushfire was a reasonable excuse. This passed. Minor upper respiratory illness was another reasonable excuse. My hard-earned, daily writing quest was vanquished. I achieved nothing.
I had excuses but what was the real cause for my apathy?
Why was I avoiding it now?
While down the rabbit hole, I scooted off down side-tunnels to research how fellow writers tackle the Many-headed Procrasti-beast. I then picked up my pen (which is mightier than than the sword in such writerly quests) and found some answers.
One of the main weapons of procrastination is fear: fear of failure, fear of completion, fear of rejection and the reluctance to kill off our darlings. (I will spare you Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition skit played out in my head just now). Fear has been my nemesis of late.
First rule of conquest – know thine enemy. So here it goes (in a more logical order of their appearance):
- Fear of Failure goes like this: Oh my god. A blank piece of paper. What if I can’t find any words? What if the words are rubbish? What if I run out of ideas? What if my muse abandons me. (Blaming an anthropomorphic personification of a conceptual ideal sure beats accepting responsibility for my own actions.)
- Reluctance to kill off my darlings. This can relate to particular pieces of writing or beloved characters. It starts with: I love that sentence. I love the sound, the images. Hey, I wrote that! It is from my soul. It is my precious. So what if it doesn’t fit the story? I don’t really have to edit it – do I? or
I have really grown to like this character. Oh dear. Do they have to die? But… what if I changed the story? Surely I can rewrite everything/come up with a plausible reason they survived being blown up by a volcano/Aw, come on! Do they really have to die?
- Fear of completion: So, I did not run out ideas. Phew. I can see the end in sight. The music is reaching its crescendo. The house lights are preparing to shine. Where do I go from here? Editing is not such a big deal, is it? Then what? What! I have to let people read it? Eep. If I don’t finish then I won’t have to take that next big, terrifying step.
- Fear of Rejection: That is it. I am finished. Huzzah! What? I have to let my work be judged? If people read my work, what will they think? Am I good enough? What if it is all crap? What if the story stinks? What if it was a waste of my time, their time? If I don’t finish, then I won’t have to face rejection.
I took a deep breath. I marshaled my defence:
- Organisation: Start with a plan of attack; write a list. First I wrote a list of what was causing my procrastination (see above). Next I wrote notes on the characters and plot – in an effort to avoid running out of ideas. As a (mostly) pantser, I find this challenging. I started with notes to the end of the chapter.
- Accountability: Hello, current blog post. If I write it, I have to do it. I hereby solemnly swear to pick up that pen and write something — anything.
- Productivity: It will take 21-66 days (or much longer) to develop good writing habits – again. I need to start now. I started today. 700 words done. Tomorrow I will write more.
- My Goal: Unless I move forward there is no way I can attempt to achieve my dream goal – complete a novel, have it published.
My dream starts here, today. Again.
*according to Dr. Maxwell Maltz. There have been many differing statistics. 28 days is commonly quoted. One study suggested at least 66 days are required.