Our sage hound asked, “To what degree does procrastination affect your writing projects? Do you have any theories about WHY you procrastinate on certain projects… or at certain periods?”
I’ll answer the second question first. I’ve always been busy, and there have been many times when I’ve “dropped the ball” on one or more things because I didn’t set aside time to get tasks done. I learned to keep a planner and put as much detail into it as I could, and designate the most time for the things that were most important. But I’ve always had trouble staying on task for an extended period of time. I talked to a psychologist friend once, and his observation was that I had so many things going that I had difficulty shutting other things out while working on a particular project. For example, I might be sewing on a quilt, but as the machine is running, I might be wondering if I have all the ingredients I need for the salad that I’m bringing to a potluck, and wondering what I’m going to wear. If I have a number of things that have to be done in the same week, I’m likely to work on the thing that needs to be done first, while worrying about the second and third thing. And if a writing project doesn’t have a deadline, it’s going to be pushed farther and farther down on my list of priorities.
Now to discuss procrastination’s effect on my writing. Placing writing lower on my priority list means that it takes more time than it should. I’ve mentioned before that I depend on lists to keep myself focused and get things done. A written list is my reminder that certain things need to be completed by a certain time, on a certain day. Writing this blog post is always on my Friday and Saturday to-do list. Even though the post doesn’t go live until Monday, my iCal (on my laptop, ipad, iphone, and Apple Watch) reminds me on Friday so that I remember to start thinking about the topic. It reminds me again on Saturday so that I’ll actually DO it. That leaves Sunday for rewriting, editing, uploading, and revising. The actual amount of writing time might be less than half an hour, and the uploading, formatting, and finding an appropriate image might take another half hour, but from the time I sit down until the time I consider the job finished, several hours have usually gone by.
I’m not ashamed to admit that procrastination is probably one of my greatest talents.
I can even procrastinate while procrastinating! As I’m writing this post, I’m in the middle of packing for our move. I need to sort through boxes of stuff and figure out what can be tossed, what should be kept, and how to organize so that eventually I’ll find the things I want to keep. But the words “WRITE BLOG POST” are written on today’s list, so I’m putting the packing aside for a bit. I have to figure out what I want to say, and how I’ll say it. Rather than stare at the screen, I’ll get up and find something else to do – such as eating. First, I’ll go for the healthy stuff: cheese, fruit, a tall glass of iced tea. Then I’ll graduate to the salty stuff – popcorn, chips, and crackers. About the third time, I’ll hit the chocolate. My library book is due in a few days, so I might pick up a book and read. Eventually, I’ll come back and finish this post, but I’ll probably do two or three other things while I’m up.
I’ve tried to limit my distractions by using them as a reward for getting something done. Finishing a paragraph is a great excuse for taking a short break. Right after I wrote the previous paragraph, I checked my email, caught up on social media, and sorted through another pile of stuff. Tomorrow, my son-in-law is coming over to help me move heavy boxes into our storage unit, and I want to make sure there are enough packed boxes to make the trip worthwhile. And then my husband woke up from his late afternoon nap and turned the TV on. The Detroit Tigers are playing, so of course I have to cheer them on. And cheering on your favorite MLB team means having a suitable snack on hand, so I popped some popcorn and poured some iced tea. A paragraph that took less than five minutes to write resulted in fifteen minutes of “other stuff.”
Since my life is hectic right now, I’m depending heavily on my local writing group’s virtual write-ins. One group meets twice a week for three hours on Zoom, and two other groups meet once a week. At these write-ins, we meet at the top of each hour, state what we’re going to work on, and then turn off our cameras and microphones while we get to work. At the top of the next hour, we’ll turn the cameras and microphones back on and compare notes. Sometimes one of us will share a plot problem that we need help with, and all of us will brainstorm for a few minutes before going back to our writing. Having this structured writing time is the only way I’ve managed to add anything to my current manuscript the last three or four months. Knowing that I have to be accountable at the top of the hour keeps me working more efficiently, even though I’ll often get up to get a snack or answer my phone. But I always come back to my manuscript because I want to be able to report some progress. Meeting with other writers to write makes sense to me, because for years I’ve met with groups to work on scrapbooks, make quilts, create greeting cards, and perform music.
It would be easy to say that if I weren’t dealing with moving and family medical issues, I’d probably write more, but I know better. I’d probably find other things to distract me. I’ve come to accept that. I’ve come to accept that I will always have distractions, and that I need to have strategies in place – such as meetings dedicated to certain tasks, making lists, setting timers or electronic reminders – to get things done.
How do you deal with distractions and/or procrastination?