books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Procrastination: Myth, reality or your best friend in disguise?

 by Ruth Harris

I’d like to start this December 25 post by extending my heartiest congratulations to those Master Procrastinators who are still putting off their Christmas shopping. You’re the pros and we salute you!

Now to the rest of us:

My mission (and I chose to accept it) was to blog about The Big P so I turned to the global authorities on said subject. Not shrinks. Not self-help gurus. Not cubicle dwellers. Not housewives with a sink full of dishes & dust bunnies under the sofa. But … ta da!…wait for it!…the true, undisputed Rembrandts and Picassos, the acknowledged geniuses of the Art and Craft of Procrastinaion: Writers!

Who are able to luxuriate in every exquisite moment of guilt, self flagellation and despair. Who can wring every last drop from an orgy of self-loathing about not-writing. So, when I requested some info and insight, here is what I got:

            •           Humor, bitter
            •           Snark
            •           Promises to get back to me later (I’m still waiting)
            •           A single instant reply—which on closer examination turned out to be a
                        deviant form of procrastination
            •           Constructive, prescriptive recommendations
            •           Denial
                          

Jill Metcalf (Jill’s webpage) is the multi-published, award winning author of 5 historical romance novels. Jill took the competitive approach:

  “I would have answered this sooner but...I had to build a sand castle. Then I remembered, I don’t live near a beach. Then I remembered I had to make my bed...but it was made, so I un-made it and made it again. Then I remembered I had to do laundry, but I’d already done the laundry and it was dried and folded...so I washed it all again. Then I remembered...LOL.  I’m the Queen of Procrastination.”

As the Queen of Typos, I am honored to share my throne with Procrastination Royalty.

Still, all is not sand castles and laundry. Jill concluded by saying: “I have never failed to meet a deadline or an obligation. If I give my word, I keep it.”

Fact is, HRH, the Queen of Procrastination, has obviously found a way to make procrastination work for her. 

Shelly Thacker, (Shelly’s webpage) a bestselling author of historical and paranormal romances published by Dell and Avon, took a practical, constructive approach: “When it comes to beating procrastination, visuals work best for me. I like calendars, checklists, and charts. I keep a calendar next to my computer with page goals spelled out for each week, and a checklist of chapters completed so far. Watching those numbers go up is very motivating.”

For more tips, Shelly posted an excellent article which you will find here.

Shelly’s article is loaded with helpful—and very effective—ways to beat back The Big P. Her advice is practical, very doable and it works. She’s a pro who knows what she’s talking about.

Lawrence Block, (LB’s Blog) that sneaky devil, answered instantly (really!): Turns out keeping a beady eye on his email and replying quick-as-a-flash is Larry’s creative and (obviously) efficient way to devote himself to You Know What.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I must point out that LB’s method is certainly efficient. He’s been a bestselling writer for over fifty years, the author of the bestselling Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr series plus many, many, many more titles. Larry has written under a number of pseudonyms and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1993. His Liar's Bible: A Handbook for Fiction Writers and other books of writing advice are considered classics.

Consuelo Saah Baehr: (The Repurposed Writer) Years ago, Consuelo and I shared the famous/infamous editor, Michael Korda, when we were being publishing by Simon & Schuster. Consuelo’s been TradPubbed but now has gone digital. She’s the bestselling author of Nothing To Lose  and here’s what she has to say: 

“I was a procrastination junkie and, like all career junkies, I hid my addiction by doing hard things that looked good on paper but were not my real life's work.  Hey, I have a glamorous job, leave me alone.  

“Still, many mornings, I would get some whispers from the soul hole:   You haven't written anything new in years.  I bought a procrastination tape and wrote out my list. Write another book, lose twenty pounds, re-align my sinuses and my septum.

"’You are a doer,’" screamed the man on the tape. I listened to him every day.  Nothing.

 I tried magical thinking.  Nothing. Until about a year ago life shoved me in the path of the moving train called KDP.  

“My brain said "No."  Please.  Too hard. Two people told me it wasn't hard.  It was easy—Joe Konrath and Zoe Winters.  I thought, well, I can just put one foot in front of the other so I tried it.  I tried it early in the morning when I still had clear faculties and got lost in the work. 

 “I realized that the best antidote to procrastination is momentum. If you can take a few tiny steps and keep going, momentum will pull you along.”

Liliana Hart, multi-award-winning author of romantic suspense and mystery fiction,  (lilianahart.com) nailed it. Quoth Liliana: “Procrastination is commenting on your procrastination blog when I have 30k words left to write on a book that's due at the end of the month.”

Liliana was polite enough not to tell me to bug off with my stupid questions. And I wasn’t clueless enough to pester her again, either. I know a busy woman when I hear from one! And I also know Liliana will meet her deadline!

Now we come to the deniers. Or maybe they’re the realists. But there are writers who simply don’t believe in procrastination and/or being blocked (IME, very often the same thing).

Robert B. Parker(http://www.robertbparker.net/author) of the Spencer and Jesse Stone series, didn’t believe in The Big P. He thought writers should think of themselves as plumbers.

You’ve heard of plumbers who don’t show up when they’re supposed to but have you ever heard of a plumber who couldn’t fix a faucet because he was in procrastination mode?  No way. He could say his kid was sick, he could say his car broke down, he could even say he had a terrible hangover and couldn’t fix your faucet.

But if you called him and the message on his voice mail informed you he was alphabetizing his complete collection of Super Bowl tapes and couldn’t fix your faucet, he’d be booted out of the plumbers union. Basically, Parker’s advice was: “Shut up, sit down, and write.”

D.D. Scott, bestselling romantic comedy and humorous mystery author  (ddscottville.blogspot.com) and Reigning Goddess of WG2E sees it the way Parker saw it.

D.D. was succinct. And pithy, too.

 She said, and I quote: “There's no such thing as procrastination...just get your butt in your chair & get your BITCHOK Groove in full gear!!!”

“BITCHOK?” I asked D.D. “Wot’s dat?” 

She explained: Butt In The Chair, Hands On Keyboard.

I replied: lmao. Although on second thought, I probably should have said lmbo.

D.D. and Parker are pros and they have the impressive body of work to prove it. 

Yeah, Ruth, I hear you say, but what about you?

I’m strictly a minor-league procrastinator and indulge only infrequently. In my experience whenever I start diddling and futzing around, organizing my spices or rooting through my medicine cabinet to get rid of the expired aspirin and cold meds, it means that I’m stuck. My sub-conscious is sending me a message and the message is always the same: You screwed up. Somewhere. Somehow.

Whether it’s a problem with plot, voice or characterization, procrastination is an alert, telling me to figure out where I’ve gone off track. To do that, I go back to the beginning—I mean that literally, we’re talking Page One here—and read very, very attentively and carefully until I can figure out what the problem is—whether one of omission or commission.

So, if you’re like me, you will consider procrastination your friend. The ally who is sending you an important message and doing its best to help you write and finish your book.

To make one final comment about the myth/reality/agony of procrastination, here’s an anonymous observation—sometimes attributed to Monty Python:

“Procrastination is like masturbation.  At first it feels good, but in the end you're only screwing yourself.”

So have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year and, whatever else you do, stop diddling around & finish the damn book!

So, scriveners, what are your favorite procrastination techniques?


This just in from MWiDP! Anne's Hollywood mystery, THE GATSBY GAME is a Christmas freebie on Amazon for the next three days. It hit #40 in Free Contemporary Fiction yesterday. And GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY  is only 99 cents for a limited time.

37 comments:

  1. Why am I stopping to leave a comment? Ive got no time for this. I have a Linn's Stamp News column due in a couple of days...

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  2. “Procrastination is like masturbation. At first it feels good, but in the end you're only screwing yourself.”

    OMG! I love this quote.

    I've only got 19,000 words to write in this last week of December. I probably could have had it down to 10,000, but I've been to the movies three times this week and started a new video game that is sucking the soul from my body.

    I'll get back to work tomorrow. Or maybe Tuesday:-)

    Liliana

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  3. Procrastination is me sitting down today, Christmas day, and writing up new years writing resolutions instead of actually writing something.

    And there's no excuse for it. Those mummies are not going to shuffle around on their own.

    William Doonan
    www.williamdoonan.com

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  4. Procrastination is me sitting down today, Christmas day, and writing up new years writing resolutions instead of actually writing something.

    And there's no excuse for it. Those mummies are not going to shuffle around on their own.

    William Doonan
    www.williamdoonan.com

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  5. Larry, Why, indeed? ;-)

    Liliana, You're not forgetting Wednesday, are you?

    William, Ignore those mummies long enough & you never know what's going to happen! Shuffle, shuffle.

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  6. practination is like masturbation...awesome quote. Going to put it on the top of goals list, after I write it.

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  7. I have 20K left to go on a novel I wanted to finish by the end of Dec. That's not going to happen because I'm 6K in to a new short story that I want to finish before the end of December. I may just be able to pull that off.

    However, it being the end of Dec. my biggest tool for procrastinating is yard work, and that's really impossible right now. So I guess I'm stuck writing one thing or the other until I'm finished.

    Merry Christmas Ruth. Merry Christmas Anne.

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  8. Walks, or doing dishes, or laundry, I find those are good, if I can get my brain to actually think about what I want it too. It likes to go off and find Romance, pure romance, when I'm trying to write stuff with dashes of it... Hm I wonder if that's telling me something. :}

    :} Cathryn

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  9. I was going to be a writer when I was a teenager but I decided to hitchhike to the Black Hills instead. I was going to be a writer in my mid-twenties but I kept getting pregnant instead. I was going to be a writer in my thirties but my career in nursing management wouldn't allow such. I was going to be a writer in my forties but we started our organic meat business.

    So now I am 52 and I am a writer but I should have waited because it doesn't pay all that well does it?

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  10. When it comes to masturbation, I'm never one to procrastinate. :) Great post.

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  11. This is what I've learned from this blog: Procrastinating writers are funny and smart. Why aren't my friends this much fun?

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  12. Liliana, I loved that quote too! And you lucky woman--I have 30k words to write this last week of the month and I don't know how I'll be able to accomplish that.

    I'm a grand champion at procrastination with many techniques, which is one of the reasons I'm here posting to this blog instead of working.

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  13. Ahh, procrastination, hooray....

    Actually I've been remarkably good about it recently. I just remembered a few days ago about a competition I wanted to enter a novel into - immediately after I'd decided I was going to rewrite the whole thing with what seems like a completely different plot. Possibly it seems like that because it is. So I've been working pretty hard to rewrite/write an entire novel between December 15th and December 31st. Wouldn't be a problem if this was a first draft, but I'd rather it were coherent, wouldn't you?

    I think if I procrastinate long enough I just look at the clock and realise how little time I've got, and then I work. Fast. At the moment, I'm procrastinating. Admittedly, I have an ear infection in both ears and don't really feel up to editing as it is, so I think I'm slightly justified in taking lots of breaks.

    What I need is a deadline. On the 12th December I started editing, half-heartedly, a chapter at at time. On the 15th I realised the competition deadline was close. On the 16th I didn't write a word because I was at a Doctor Who Marathon. And every day since then I've done my best to edit as much as possible. Even on Christmas Day I wrote 5k of new material, and three handwritten pages to type up this morning!

    Admittedly, I was probably hyper from the haribo my parents foolishly put in my stocking....

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  14. Louise--Hope you're getting busy on that goals list! ;-)

    Anne--Ah, yes, yard work. The gift that keeps on giving! And you mustn't forget that housework offers the same endlessness.

    Cathryn--I don't know if you're asking for my advice but if you are: Always listen to your brain. Especially if romance is involved. lol

    Donna--Your procrastination techniques have wiped away entire decades! You're no mere amateur & might even quality for the Procrastinator's Hall Of Fame!

    Roy--You certainly have your priorities in order. Congratulations!

    Consuelo--Your friends must have other fine qualities. As for funny & smart, you have us to rely on!

    Alexis--Glad you, too, appreciated that quote. As I was researching this post, I came across it & knew immediately that I had my ending.

    Miriam--You've pointed out one of the cures for The Big P: A deadline. Works for lots & lots of writers. Nothing like being under the gun to provide motivation!

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  15. I'm not so sure my problem is procrastination. More of an organizational weakness. I am easily sidetracked from what I should be doing. Start off planning to write, but have to check my blog(s) first. Then see what friends on Facebook are up to. And, oh, I should Tweet something less my followers think I fell off the edge of the earth. Got to check e-mail, too, and there I find a message with a link to a cool blog, so I stop and make a comment. Then I stop to clean the cats' litter box. Forgot that earlier. My husband calls my approach to getting things done, the Pop-Up approach. I do whatever pops up next.

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  16. I very rarely procrastinate for significant amounts of time. For one thing, my muse bitches until I give in and write. When she doesn't, I know I need a break and stop writing for a while.

    On the rare cases I do feel like procrastinating, I try to keep it constructive, by editing something unimportant but that will become important as soon as this WiP is done, or by writing up histories/bios etc.

    :-)

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  17. No denial here - I am fully aware that the new games I received for Christmas will cause me to procrastinate the writing of my next book even longer. And for at least another week, I'm all right with that!

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  19. Maryann--Organizational weakness? The Pop-Up Approach? But definitely NOT The Big P? Couldn't agree more...lol

    Misha--Very sensible approach. Sometimes writers need a break. Much different than procrastinating.

    Alex--Maybe that week with your new games will bring you tons of great new ideas for your book. Happens that way sometimes!

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  20. Just stopped by on my daily rounds of reading what other people have written instead of writing something myself.

    I owe procrastination a debt of gratitude, actually. If it weren't for procrastination I wouldn't actually feel the excruciating pressure of an impending deadline until, you know, the actual deadline is looming. As my husband points out, I don't really do anything until there's a drop-dead, life-altering, career ending threat hanging over my head :).

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  21. I guess you could call it procrastination when I reorganize my shelves, etc. etc. But I prefer to call it taking a break from the chair. I really need to move physically about or my brain gets sluggish! Anyway, that's my excuse, and I think it's a good one (ha!).

    And then there's blogging. But this keeps me in touch with the world "out there" when my care giving duties preclude me from physically going "out there." So I will continue to do this, and call it not procrastinating from writing but feeding my soul.

    Look forward to more of your excellent posts with their wonderful links, Anne & Ruth, in the coming year!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

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  22. Actually, procrastination isn't exactly a sin against the Holy Ghost. It has its uses. I wrote a column called "Creative Procrastination," it's a chapter in Telling Lies for Fun & Profit. Sometimes putting off work is a very useful part of the creative process.

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  23. Roberta--Yes! For many writers a Ddeadline is THE procrastination-buster. Works wonders.

    Ann--Totally agree about moving physically. A body in motion is a mind in motion. At least, that's been my experience.

    LB--Yes, indeed! Creative Procrastination is nature's way of letting your subconscious (& your conscious) do the work that needs to be done before the writing starts.

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  24. Awe-shucks, Ruth...thanks bunches for the BITCHOK Groove shout-out!

    You are a hoot, and I just luuuvvv sharin' the Indie Epub Journey with you!!!

    Happy New Year to all of you and Cheers to a 2012 filled with some big-time BITCHOK Groovin'!!!

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  25. Great article. Am a big fan of both Robert B. Parker and D.D. Scott. Happy to see them hanging out together. And in such good company!! THANK YOU. I'm gonna go read it again now .... (Creative Procrastination?!!)

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  26. Yes I am a procrastinator and like some others I do what needs to be done by the deadline or just before!

    There always seems to be something else, other than writing which needs to be done. I think part of my lack of writing stems from feeling guilty spending time writing when I need to spend that time looking for paid work...which I wish I did not have to do :-)

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  27. D.D.--Thank YOU for the BITCHOK quote. What would we do without you & your writerly wisdom? Thanks for keeping us (me!) on the straight and narrow!

    PJ--Creative Procrastination indeed! We actually need to think & process our ideas before we begin to write & CP is often the ideal method for accomplishing said thinking & processing. Other times, tho, procrastination is just putting off the inevitable, and a writer needs to learn to distinguish between the two.

    Ann--The demands of real life—the need to find paid work—hardly equate to time-wasting procrastination. Try not to be so hard on yourself and good luck in your search for work—and in your writing.

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  28. Mine is laundry. I hate doing laundry, but suddenly I'll have a need to wash anything, even one item to keep me away from the computer. I hate folding the laundry, but will if it keeps me from the computer. Then the guilt sets in and with a folded basket of clothes next to me, I might writer a paragraph, or two, to make feel better. I still hate doing the laundry.

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  29. Lee--lol...don't forget when you're finished with the laundry, there's the supermarket, the drug store & the dry cleaner. Oh, and don't forget: the dog needs to be walked.

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  30. Great post, Ruth! So many helpful insights. I would have commented sooner, but between the after-Christmas clearance sales and keeping the kiddos entertained during their school break, it's been hard to steal a moment to compose a coherent thought. Wait, I think I've just discovered another form of procrastination: motherhood!

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  31. Shelly, Right. Motherhood. That'll give you grounds for procrastination for at least a decade or two. lol

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  32. Lots of LOLS here! (And I don't use that expression often.)

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  33. Nina—Here's to lots of LOLs every day! Where would we be without them? LOL!!!

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  34. Ruth - According to Jimmy Buffet "...we'd all be insane". :}

    Or at least clinically insane and put away into a mental institution. Personally I prefer being half a bubble off a plumb. *giggles*

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  35. Blogger procrastinates for me. It's taken so long to let me in to comment I've forgotten what I was going to say!

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  36. Cathryn--Or else we'd be très laid back in Margaritaville. ;-)

    Mark--So you outsource your procrastinating. Very professional of you. I'm impressed.

    A very happy, healthy and wealthy New Year to all!

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