Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Writing and procrastination

by Maggie Toussaint

Have you ever noticed that if you have a chore you don't particularly want to do that you procrastinate? Back when I had to iron my husband's dress shirts for his job, he'd get down to the last one before I broke out the ironing board. And I never actually hated ironing; it is restful in a busy sort of way. What I hated was getting out all the stuff, taking ten minutes on each shirt and losing an hour or two of my day on something that I had to repeat over and over again.

Dusting falls in that category for me. In fact, I'd rather clean the bathroom than dust. There have been many times that you could practically eat off my bathroom fixtures but draw your name in the dust on my bedside table. My point in mentioning this is that I never dreamed those wacky attitudes would spill into my writing.

I love writing. But there are parts of writing that require more effort from me, and I find myself backing off from the challenges when I'm pressed for time. Does this happen to you?

Now that I have writing projects in all stages of completion, I find myself spread thin. I'm still getting stuff written, but there's a sense I have of operating in crisis management mode, and as a result, the hard parts keep slipping by.

Multi-tasking works for some people. It works for me on everything but creative processes. I need chunks of morning time to be satisfyingly creative. I can't create with two loads of laundry going, phone calls from friends and bosses coming in, the TV blaring, and competing nonfiction stories from my day job dancing around in my head.

What to do? Protect your writing time like a precious newborn baby. Turn off the cell phone. Turn off the ringer in your office landline. Turn the internet off (oh no, not the internet!!!). Park yourself in the chair and get it done. The rest of the world can wait an hour or two.

Don't let busy-ness disrupt your writing time. It's still procrastination, no matter how you look at it. Make writing your priority, and even the hard parts will get done.

Happy writing!

Maggie Toussaint
Writer Wednesday with Maggie at the Spa


CJ Parker said...

I'm famous for procrastination. I sit down to write and what do I do? I turn on the Internet. I check e-mail, I check MySpace, I...You get the point. I feel like an old car that you have to try the ignition a few times before it starts. It takes a few false starts, but eventually get the engine running smoothly.
C.J. Parker

Anonymous said...

Egads. Procrastination is my middle name. I'd rather dust than iron. I can relate to the one shirt thing. I don't pull out the iron and ironing board until I have nothing left to wear, then it's a huge task which makes it even worse. I do procrastinate with writing, too. Oh, just let me check the e-mail one more time. Oh, let me check out one more source. Oh let me play one more game of solitaire. My butt's already in the chair, I just need to open the right program! Thanks for posting.

Terry Odell said...

I'll procrastinate on the 'boring' stuff much more than on my writing which I use as an 'excuse' not to have to do the boring stuff. Granted, sometimes the writing goes very slowly, and admittedly, if I'd applied myself more efficiently, I could probably reach my word count goals AND do the boring stuff. But I don't. :-)

Debra St. John said...

Oh Maggie, you said it well. It's so difficult to write when there are other things going on. I get so caught up in the promotional aspects of writing, sometimes DAYS go by before I'm able to do anything related to "real" writing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Good luck on your projects!

Diana Cosby said...

:) Hi Maggie,
Hey, I'm procrastinating now! *G* What I do is lay out my daily plan, prioritize them, then focus on them one by one. That's my method to madness to achieve my goals.

Diana Cosby
Zebra/His Captive/Alexander MacGruder
Zebra/His Woman/December 08/Duncan MacGruder

Diana Castilleja said...

I'm awful at this. There's no rhyme or reason. I know I do it. Everyday in fact.

Penny Rader said...

I'm the queen of procrastinating. I'd join a support group, but I keep putting it off. ;) What if no one showed up because they were busy procrastinating?

Helen Ginger said...

Very true Maggie. Both about the procrastination and about how to stop it and start writing.

Not that it's easy to do, mind you!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi CJ,

It's so easy to procrastinate these days. Often times I'll even do more freelance work for the newspaper instead of doing the avoided part of writing.

It's that whole prioritizing thing. I have to remember to keep that writing time as sacred.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Kim,

It looks like this is a topic a lot of people relate too. A few years back I learned that a famous NYT author had 2 computers. One was for writing and was not hooked up to the internet. The other computer was for everything else. Maybe that's a good way to reduce temptation.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Debra!

How do you think I came up with this post? I had an hour to write and I wrote a blog post instead of working on final edits of my story!

Procrastination seems to be a universal temptation.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Diana,

You are the most organized person I know. Even when you procrastinate you are organized about it, LOL!

Maggie Toussaint said...

This one is for Diana Castilleja - you may procrastinate about some stuff, but I know you are a hard worker and you get a lot accomplished. I've never really psychoanalyzed this before, but perhaps it could be something as simple as our subconscious trying to tell us something else is more important, or maybe we have mis-prioritized our wish-list. I know for me, I sure hope the latter isn't true. I've worked hard to get here, and I want to keep on being a writer!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Penny,

I love your sense of humor!

Maybe you are one of those writers who works best under a do or die deadline (no actual death involved, just a set timeline at the publishing house)??

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Helen,

It's easy to talk about procrastination. It comes so easily. It's much harder to talk about getting work accomplished, and harder still to get it done if you've already procrastinated it once or twice. It's better to get it done the first time. Once that barrier is in your head, its harder to gain momentum.

I wish I "got it" every day, but there are some days that seem to lead me astray...

Maggie Toussaint said...

Whoops! I almost missed Terry Odell. I hear you on the word count. Somedays I'm like a kid watching the schoolhouse clock wind down to the final bell. The quality of writing in those times isn't as good, but it supplies the bridge to get me to another part that will be better. And then there's always editing.

Thanks for stopping by SRNwrites.

Terry Odell said...

My rationalization is that anything related to writing counts as writing. So, if I'm doing promotion, or even doing critiques or judging contests, that all helps improve the craft.

And, since I'm always 'head writing' I figure I'm making progress.

I have mixed feelings about writing to a deadline. I haven't had the luxury/terror of having to do that yet.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Terry,

Interesting turn of phrase you used there - the luxury or terror of writing to deadlines. I'm a goal-oriented person. I give myself treats when I reach a goal. Perhaps its a walk outside once I reach my goal for the day or week. Perhaps its taking the afternoon off. Those rewards could be seen as procrastination, but I think it best to celebrate little successes along the way.

For me, with 3 books out this year, I have separated promo time from writing time, otherwise I wouldn't have gotten anything written this year. Now I keep mornings for writing, and afternoons/evenings for promo. I try to keep the proportion of time more toward the writing end of things, but it varies.

Hywela Lyn said...

I'm another Queen of Procrastination. At the moment it's 'Promo' that's stealing my time. There never seems any end to it and even when I've spent hous at it, there still seems more I should be doing - and the writing's on the back burner!

I think your idea of allotting time slots to promoting and sepparating it from writing time is an excellent one. I'm going to try it tomorrow. My problem is I am running a home business as well so I have to check the emails first thing - then one thing leads to I will be more organised from now on. Procrastination, get thee behind me!

Maggie Toussaint said...

I also work from home so I understand the need and temptation to check email first thing. However, and this takes real discipline, I only answer emergency emails first thing on Saturday through Tuesday. My book writing comes first on those days.

Then I make a pass through emails and loops at noontime. Works for me.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I have another tip. I don't know what utility you use to check your emails. I use Outlook and have loop email automatically sorted into folders as it comes in. Then I only look at the posts in my inbox or in selected work folders.

Unknown said...

How timely, Maggie!
Days ago I reached the distressing conclusion that I was a much moroe productive writer before I converted my house to wireless. Part of the problem is that I've psyched myself into believing that if I'm surfing the internet for writing-related stuff (emails, loops, blogs, etc.) then I'm still moving forward with my writing goals. Maybe it's time for me to take the laptop low-tech....

Linda Banche said...

I find that writing takes a little prep time. Maybe someone can just sit down and write Pulitzer prize-winning prose, but I doubt it. I find that thinking about my book while I'm doing something mindless like folding the laundry gets me in the mood, so I accomplish something when I finally do sit at the computer.

Then, of course, there's always promotion, which takes all your attention, is necessary, but is a huge time sink.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Stephanie,

The reason this was timely is that I was procrastinating doing something else, LOL! I'm a master at procrastination, but then I make myself get moving. Just got to get up off the fence and go some days, know what I mean?

Thanks for stopping by.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Linda,

I need prep time before I can launch into writing. I don't call that procrastination. That is my orienting phase. I do it each morning with something mindless, like you said. That gets me going.

Conversely, if I'm procrastinating, I'll keep finding reasons not to come in here and sit in front of the monitor. Big difference for me.

Penny Rader said...

Maggie, I definitely do better with a deadline. Not a "do this by tomorrow" deadline, but enough of a deadline so I can still breathe a bit. Because, of course, I'll still get it done by the skin of my teeth. Did I mention that I was born ten days late?

Judith Leger said...

Procrastination? Oh, yeah! And I thought I had the monopoly on it! Thanks for the great post!

Maggie Toussaint said...

AHA! You're a prenatal procrastinator! I'm glad to know that you understand your processes and know how to dangle that carrot before your nose. Good going, girl!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Judith,

I find it hard to think of monopoly and procrastination in the same breath. It seems to me that someone who is a procrastinator wouldn't have the foresight to get a monopoly!

Bottom line, this seems to be a universal challenge for writers. We just need to be cognizant of our own motivations and keep that end goal in mind...


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