For the love of writing: my favorite tool to overcome procrastination

I love writing. I have loved writing all my life. Except when I haven’t.

I have a visceral relationship with writing, and I have determined as an adult that writing is a tool without which I cannot think. After a period of time without writing (varying from hours to days), a sensation fills my chest cavity. It is as if an open faucet has been filling my chest over that time, and it has now filled me up. Writing is the mechanism by which I pour it out. On the page, I can identify the contents clearly. If I don’t empty the container, the thoughts float around in murky places, and I cannot clearly see them, understand them or work with them. I will sneak out to write in the same way a smoker will slip out of a social situation to smoke. Inhale. Exhale. Ahhhh, relief from the craving. 

And yet, despite this drive, I still find ways to procrastinate. I’m completing my memoir these days, The Wilderness of Motherhood. I will self-publish it in April. I have now gone through a couple rounds of edits, and I’m completing yet another in order to get the document to an editor who will help the final fine-tuning process. When I get into it, I love it. I love working with the words, re-reading what I’ve written and finding it to be good. “When I get into it,” is the operative phrase here. I have managed to waste hours, days, weeks, even months avoiding those edits. I don’t understand the mechanism of it, but I am working actively with the method of getting past it. I suppose you could call it ironic that I haven’t yet gotten around to understanding my procrastination. I’ve previously written on this blog about procrastination; I have also taught classes addressing it. Frankly, at this point, I am ready to stop using my examination of procrastination as a means to procrastinate from my writing.

My most powerful tool to get past the procrastination is community accountability. I started a Google Group called “Project Clock-In” for the express purpose of getting my own stuff done more effectively (Check it out, and if you’d like to join, drop me a note with your email address. I’ll send you an invite). I invited other people in, and they seem to be profiting from the group, as well. I had really selfish motives for setting it up in the first place: I know that when I state my intentions and plans for the day to other people, I am significantly more likely to fulfill those intentions than if I think about them or even put them on my calendar. Other people’s witnessing of my plans shines a light there and helps me to focus and to overcome my selective amnesia. I have goals for my writing, my business, my personal life that, if I don’t have reminders of their importance, I simply forget how much they mean to me in the course of the day. Noisy, minor crises take over my day, and the more meaningful projects that fulfill my calling quietly languish.

I’ve written recently about 2014 being the “year of rigorous tracking.” I’ve tracked my use of time and money. Time is a resource that flows through my fingers at the same rate, whether I use it well or not. The benefit of tracking is that I recognize sooner when I’m not using my time for what’s important, and it helps me to identify my patterns that work well and that don’t work so well. For me, and for many others who find social supports to be invigorating and focusing, accountability can make the difference between getting that beloved writing project done or not.

 

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Biggest blocks to writing: Procrastination, Perfectionism, Fear & Overwhelm (Part I)

I coach writers on a daily basis. I know very well that  it’s important to know your goals, your genre, your audience; to build your brand, your website, your business model. It’s important to learn new skills and to organize your time. You have to market, network, set up our accounting systems, form our LLC or C-Corp or S-Corp. All of these things are great, and they’re critical to a functioning business of writing. And, of course, we need to do the actual writing! Most writers I work with, however, face the specters of their own inner workings as they attempt to accomplish the outer work. The first one we’ll look at together is procrastination (and in later posts, we’ll work with its roots: perfectionism, fear and overwhelm).

Procrastination is a great place to start. It’s the most visible, outward indication of our inner workings. We see it: it’s the Facebook page open in front of us instead of our word processing. It’s the load of laundry in our arms instead of our laptop. It’s the email we’re staring at instead of our task list.

We can find a lot of advice about time management on the internet and in books. Those tools are all helpful, but they often sidestep the fact that the roots of procrastination go beyond those tools: those tools attempt to chop the head off the dandelions, when we need to dig out their source from the bottom-up.

Some key questions to ask ourselves about our procrastination follow. Take time with them (now!). You have to understand the weed and its nature before you can effectively destroy it:

1. What do I procrastinate on? Make a list. Notice if it’s just the dreaded stuff of your life, or if it also includes the positive, life-affirming stuff. Get to know yourself here.

2. What is the cost to me of procrastinating in these areas of my business and life? Write it down. If you want to change something, you have to find your motivation for doing so. If the costs add up to more than you’re willing to pay, you’ll have the motivation you need to change them.

3. What would my life look like if I didn’t procrastinate in these areas? This question often leads to some interesting information. Yes, your life might be more peaceful – but would it also be a little boring? Yes, you might move at a more steady pace, but is the shot of adrenaline you’re getting from last-minute work covering your underlying fatigue?  Would you be unable to work without it?

Now ask yourself one more question, and answer it honestly: is this something I want to change, or am I happy enough, productive enough with it in place? If the answer is that you’re fine enough, don’t go any further. It’s not always the time to fix everything, and if it’s working for you, why change? Just because someone, somewhere thinks you should isn’t a reason enough to do the hard work of changing habits and their causes.

If you do want to change, and you’re ready to do the work, it’s time to look at the roots. Our next topic will cover perfectionism, one of the most common roots of procrastination.