(Originally posted at The Mess That Is Me April 2013)
I was supposed to be writing, but I just could not make the words flow from my pen. I know what they say. You’re supposed to sit down and write even if you know you’re going to toss every word into the shredder, and usually I can do just that. Usually, but not always. Sometimes, I look for any excuse I can find not to pick up my pen. I really need to catch up on Castle. I should check the lint in the dryer. I need to see if the mail has come. And I do. Every ten minutes. Even after he came just in case he forgot something and came back. Or my nose hair needs braiding. Any excuse will do. I’ve already refilled the squirrel feeder five times.
I have always been a great procrastinator, believing I work best under pressure. It’s a fallacy. We work faster under pressure, not necessarily better. Our brains scramble to come up with anything and because it finally did we think it is pure creative genius. However, while it may be good, it’s not great. Time makes things better - time to revise, adjust, rethink; time to look at all possibilities and carefully choose the best one. We sacrifice the opportunity to assure the best by waiting until the night before a deadline and then just spitting it out.
Still, even though I knew all of this to be true, I still procrastinate. In my younger years this meant zoning in front of the television with reruns of Gilligan’s Island and The Monkees, going out to waste time with friends, or avoiding the chores my parents wanted me to do. Now I just avoid the chores the girls want me to do. However, if I procrastinate that way now, I’m not only behind, I’m very behind. The idea then is to turn my habit of procrastination into something that still makes me productive. If you want to make your dream a reality, you won’t always be moving forward, even if it seems as if you’re standing in place.
The way to accomplish this concept of productive procrastination is by performing what Teri likes to call the Maintenance Tasks. When the words are not flowing and I just can’t seem to get my attention to focus on any of my projects, I still have plenty that needs to be done. My idea notebook needs to be dumped into the more detailed notebooks for fleshing out. My bank account needs balancing, emails need answered and sorted, and my endless assortment of files need sorted and organized. I can also work on world building or character backgrounds, which require some creative unction, but less editing. I update my calendar and catch up on my networking. If I pick up a book during my work hours, I make it one on my craft or some research I’m doing for a story or essay idea. These things need to be done, but when I’m in the flow of scribbling, I don’t want to stop and do them. Saving these tasks for when I can’t bring myself to write keeps me productive and sees that everything is accomplished.
Over the past few weeks, I have used my bouts of procrastination to weed through ancient manuscripts and snippets of ideas to see what was worth salvaging and what needed to face the shredder. That task gave birth to fresh ideas as well as rekindled some old ones. Productivity!
Using the time this way also helps alleviate the guilt of not putting words to paper, because in the end it’s all part of writing. Researching markets, creating a story outline, or visiting a museum are all part of the process if one is going to make the dream a profitable reality. Don’t waste your creative moments with the Maintenance Tasks and don’t waste your procrastination when you can still be productive. As long as you’re moving forward in some way, you’re succeeding, even if at times it doesn’t feel like it.
That was one thing I had to come to grips with as I went to writing fulltime. If I wasn’t writing so many words a day, I didn’t feel like I was working. I had to convince myself that it was all part of the business, albeit not the fun part. Once I did that and made proper use of my procrastination, I could look at each day and see productivity. That made me feel better about my days and if I took a day off it was with a clear conscience because I had actually worked the rest of the week. It’s all about making proper use of your time. What tricks have you learned?
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Until next time, keep chasing your fantasies!