Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Care and Feeding of Procrastination

This is not a lecture about procrastination.  We all avoid in different ways, anyhow.  I am a non-traditional procrastinator.  Being a restless soul, when it comes to writing, I can fill pages easily. I OCD-edly revise; I once worked on fiction while one of my kids was throwing a tantrum not twenty feet away.  

In my life, avoidance looks like productivity.  I sometimes fill pages to avoid the harder task of examining where a story is going.  Sometimes the hardest thing is to Not-Write; to wait, to trust the brain's hidden wisdom. 

Whether you're like me or a more garden-variety procrastinator, the cure is the same: Focus on small progress and do what you can.  Doing a little bit is better than doing nothing. Today at my Cape Cod writing retreat, my  task is to find the single word/phrase that drives the main character through the plot of my novel.  (Much as in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants one thing: To go home.)  My goal of coming up with a single phrase is "enough" for a days' work. It's more than enough. My whole plot hangs on that, and I'll save myself a whole lotta rewriting once I nail this.  

Yeah, it would have made sense to focus on this before writing several drafts of the book. I feel kind of foolish, actually.  But if I let that feeling segue into avoidance, it can become a black hole.  

There are always valid reasons to procrastinate.  But whether the issue is sitting down to write at all or finishing a story, starting with a few steps can lead you home.  



11 comments:

Torrey Shannon said...

Typo alert! If there is a challenge this week to find the typo, I call it first! (look in title)

Great post, Helen. I can relate to this!

Rita Fierro said...

Helen,

Thank you for this. As you know, I interview mothers and then write about them, and this post made me feel better about the long morning walks trying to figure out what the hell I will write about that day, and the long weekends where I'm doing the same thing. I'm learning how to write smarter, and understanding one's drive is one of those precious components. Thanks for the wisdom that procrastination can look like productivity!

HelenQP said...

Wow, Torrey! That is one serious-ass typo. That's what I get for posting in haste. If you're willing to send me an address, I will mail you an utterly random gift culled from years as a UFO castaway posing as a respectable Northern European-American human housewife and mother. (Phone home, anyone?) hmallon@navpoint.com

I will correct my typo. Posthaste. So to speak.

Rita, I'm really glad this was helpful. I'm sort of fierce re: what we consider as 'legitimate' writing time--because it's too easy for us writers to beat ourselves up for 'not doing enough' when we're doing research, thinking, outlining, etc. Would anyone criticize a concert pianist for practicing scales? Thanks for the encouragement!

Mary L. Tabor said...

Doesn't there always seem to be other's needs to attend to ?

HelenQP said...

Hoo, boy! That is more than a blog post unto itself...

Catherine Stine said...

I like to procrastinate by lolling around in my candy PJs, not to be confused with little monkey PJs. No, really, I can think of a million other things to do instead of writing, but I do try to cram in a couple hours each day... even if I'm not inspired.

HelenQP said...

I think your antidote to procrastination is the best one: The Nike approach: Just do it. Inspiration be damned.

Joanne said...

One step at a time, one word at a time, and eventually we get to the end of that yellow brick road with a complete manuscript. I like to think that each step moves us along...

HelenQP said...

Yep. Perseverance is everything. For several great illustrations of this, consider reading Joan Acocella's book 28 Artists and 2 Saints. Essays on writers/dancers (and 2 saints!) who exemplify tenacity and guts in different ways. Thanks for your comment, Joanne!

Sarah B said...

i love that you quoted The Wizard of Oz here. I have a theme going right now and the universe keeps bringing it back to me: If I only had a brain.

Just learning how I am the Scarecrow! Thanks for the reminder!

HelenQP said...

Sarah, Having just looked at your blogs-in-progress, I can tell you with pseudo-medical authority that you most definitely have a brain. The photo of you and your daughter is totally whacked. I aspire to whacked and the most i can manage is witty.

Blog more!