Tag Archives: Procrastination

It’s not all about the vegetables

Yes, another glorious spring weekend, another full green bin and another couple of days where the garden won out over the computer.

But just in case you thought I was only concerned about getting my zucchini, pumpkin, silverbeet and tomatoes in on time, I thought I’d prove that there is more to my garden than edibles.

Snapdragon flower white
White Snapdragon

 

Flowers to keep bad bugs away
Marigolds

   

Lovely flowers
Flowers that start with 'r' - I was never very good at botany
Hopefully I’ll be able to show you some vegetables next month. Gotta love spring!

Willpower

I think a large number of writers suffer exactly the same problem that I am often lamenting about in here, a lack of progress. We call it different things; procrastination, laziness, lack of motivation, lack of time, competing priorities and even writer’s block. All these things we know we need to take ownership of, but they all come down to one thing, willpower.

The non-fiction book I’m reading at the moment is Maximum Willpower by Kelly McGonigal, and even though I’m only half way through reading it, I would highly recommend you get your hands on a copy. For anyone who is not getting what they want to do done, or if you keep doing something you no longer want to do, this book can really help.

There are so many tips and hints, exercises and honest self-appraisals in here, but perhaps the one that has helped me the most (so far) is the suggestion that next time you want to ‘spoil’ yourself, act as if you will do that thing every time for the next week. So in my case, if I want to just sit in front of the TV and relax after work, I have to ask myself ‘would I commit to doing that every night for a week?’ Suddenly the impact of that action on my long term goal has a lot more weight. If you consider every sabotaging act in this same long-term-effect way, you suddenly find yourself working more toward your goals, and less in favour of treating yourself.

Obviously I’ve tried to express in one paragraph what Kelly McGonigal takes a whole chapter to get across, so if what I say doesn’t make sense to you then read the book. But seeing the impact on my writing productivity from doing the willpower exercises and being aware of my willpower lapses when they happen, just in this week, has made me realise how important willpower is to getting where you want to be. Goal setting alone is not enough.

Whether you want to write a novel, quit smoking, eat more healthily, progress in your career or simply stop watching so much TV, mastering your willpower will make all these things so much easier. By understanding how your brain works in these matters you can minimise the pain of making a change. Don’t believe me? Try it.

Kelly McGonigal Maximum Willpower

Writers write

Sometimes writing is like pulling teeth. You clear out your requisite two or three hours of you day, you make sure the room is warm or cool enough, the tea supply plentiful enough and all your housework is complete so it won’t nag at the back of your mind…

And then you stare blankly at the screen for the next two hours. You are unable to squeeze out a word, more importantly, the next word. The word that will lead you to the next sentence which starts the next paragraph that takes you effortlessly into your next 1,000 words. And no matter how many false starts you make, that word eludes you for your entire writing break.

Don’t panic!

Maybe all those false starts needed to happen. And if there were none, I can promise you the thinking around what should happen next DID need to happen. It also sends a message to your subconscious mind that you need an answer, so could it please go off and work on it while you do other things.

This time is never wasted, but it does prove one point which I learned a long time ago, but still do not heed; you need to give yourself more chances to sit and not write.

You need to make writing a priority. A couple of hours every Sunday morning is not going to cut it if you want to do more than short stories. You need to say no to the needy partner, to the social invites, the dirty floor, the Master Chef inspired dinner for friends, and most importantly, to the TV. Explain what you are doing and you might just find they support you. Well the TV won’t support you, but its complete indifference should indicate where you are in the TV’s priority list (the floor will always support you, dirty or otherwise).

And right there you have the difference between those who write, and those who want to write. Writers write.

Whether the weather is right to write?

We are going through the change of seasons at the moment from a wet, cold winter to a (no doubt) hot, dry summer. Some days are warm with balmy evenings, others so cold as to inspire you to light the fire. This has underscored a fallacy of mine which I have secretly suspected, but have now been forced to face.

There is no such thing as writing weather.

In summer I delude myself into thinking that in the cooler season I’ll be more likely to nurse the warm laptop and tap out the opus. In winter, shivering under my blanket, I think about how much freer I’ll be to type without having to worry about opening a gap in my tepee when I write in summer. Really, it’s all just bollocks.

When summer and winter come on top of each other in two concurrent days, as they have just recently, you are forced to face the fact that the writing either happens, or it doesn’t and the weather has absolutely no bearing on that whatsoever.

So instead of planning my writing calendar by the weather report I’ll just force myself to sit down and write every day. EVERY DAY! And if things work out, I shouldn’t even know what the weather is doing.

The drug of a nation

This weekend I saw an excellent exhibition on the machines of Da Vinci, and while he might not have invented the Cryptex (as claimed by Dan Brown) he was certainly no slouch. When he wasn’t painting, drawing or sculpting masterpieces, he was inventing things which have made all our lives better, and in some instances he invented stuff for things that weren’t yet invented (like pitch and roll measures for aircraft –yikes).

This of course left me feeling completely incompetent. The only thing I’ve ever invented was a delicious chicken/caper pasta sauce and a hot drink for getting rid of colds which tastes like sweet dirt and smells like well-used wet sandshoes.

But I am not alone. A lot of people I know have never invented life-changing contraptions or created beautiful works of art. So why was Snr Da Vinci so prolific and the rest of us so useless? I think The disposable heroes of hiphoprisy might have hit the nail on the head within the lyrics of their song; “Television, the drug of the nation, breeding ignorance and feeding radiation.”

When Da Vinci and his compatriots finished a long day at the office they did not flop home to watch the latest unreal reality TV or endless enigma within a riddle within a red herring drama. No, they entertained themselves. They invented things. They got creative.

So this week, in  the lead up to WriMoFoFo I’m going to record any ‘must see TV’ (of which I might add there is very little) and I’m going to see if I can get my creative juices flowing by banning the idiot box (as my mother likes to call it). I’m going cold turkey… Starting tomorrow.

Nat

To love a thief

Not long ago I put out a call to a bunch of friends asking for their favourite books. I wanted something un-put-down-able. I needed both distraction and inspiration (ie I was looking for further procrastination and ultimately its cure with regard to my own writing). It was a great success, and I got a heap of suggestions which I am slowly working my way through.

Now without giving away what I have read, so far I have been amazed by the difference in my reaction to these much-loved books of my friends. One I enjoyed in parts, one was as much fun as a visit to the dentist, and one I devoured, not wanting to put it down when the clock rolled around to midnight and I had to be up by 7 the next morning.

This got me thinking about the different aspects to a novel and how unique combinations make the perfect mix for each of us. It might be the story itself which grabs you, or the characters, the writing style, the moral, the originality or one of a million other things within the book. None of us are exactly alike, and probably what is going on in our lives when we first read the novel also plays a part, so even we are not a constant. There cannot be a perfect book!

I’m going to keep this in mind when I get my next rejection. An editor needs to love your story to print it, and if among my own friends (where we have similar interests and experiences) we have such differences in opinion about what is good, then I should keep faith that soon I will find the editor who shares my mix of ‘what makes a good story’ and will pick up my manuscript.  

For the record, the book I always recommend is Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief which isn’t really even spec fic. For me it was a beautiful novel which got the mix just right, well my mix anyway.

Happy reading.

Incommunicado

Look at me
In my previous household it was not uncommon to email or electronically message others in the home to ask if they wanted a cup of tea. We sat side by side on the lounge, tapping away on our computers, and only spoke to each other when we wanted to share a funny video or crazy conspiracy theory we had stumbled across. That was back in the time of wireless internet.

Now, not only am I limited to cable-delivered internet, but the only computer it is hooked into is a geriatric machine that lives out in the family room –which also contains the TV. Had I wanted to get online for most of the previous week I would have had to share my time with the Australian cricket team (and all my father’s passionate suggestions about how they could improve their game).

Like many of those with a technology diet imposed upon them, I was surprised by how improved my day was by the lack of internet. Don’t get me wrong, my social life has suffered, and I got so sick of FreeCell that I don’t think I will be able to play again for a while, but my writing has been the real winner. I’ve edited nearly 23,000 words of my novel since this time last week! That would have to be a record for me.

Perhaps now I should admit that I have insisted on an upgrade. So the wireless modem will arrive soon and I’ll be back to tweeting, blog reading, emailing and all the other things that take precious moments each day. But maybe the real lesson I need to take from this is to force a few internet free days upon myself. I owe it to my writing to do it; my time off work is too quickly drawing to a close and I still have so much to do.

Anyway, I’ve got to go, you don’t want to know what Mum and Dad are watching on TV now…

Nat

Words: 0 Cupboards cleaned out: 4

Yes, WriMoFoFo has not started well for me. I’ve been a bit stressed by the move and in an effort to appease the little monster that sits in my brain when I lay down to sleep and recites all the tasks I need to do before moving day, I have started packing already. Both the recycle and the rubbish bins are full, but the nifty WriMoFoFo spreadsheet that Liz did up for us is empty.

But there have been a lot of good moments during the packing when I’ve found little writing gems that I had completely forgotten about. As much as I procrastinate and find every excuse to not write in normal life, I’m actually quite good at keeping journals when I travel. I found one from my year in the UK which had me laughing and wasting at least an hour of packing/writing time. Here is an excerpt from my time working as a carer for a grumpy old lady and her dog.

She had a beautiful chocolate brown dog, Merlin, who had taken a fancy to me and I to him. Occasionally we escaped together for a brief walk, but due to his advanced age, his major hair loss and extensive arthritis the walks were short in both time and distance. I was also responsible for giving the dog his drugs, which he took in half a Milky Way (despite my protests that chocolate was bad for dogs; “maybe in Aus-tra-lia, but it is fine here”!?!?).

It was a whole week and a half before I stole one. I ate one of his sausages barely three days into the stint. I was hungry and he ate better than I did. He didn’t mind sharing, I asked him first. Besides, if I’m going to hell for any of my sins, it would be for giving the old lady the finger through the walls, not eating the dog food.

Perhaps a job as a carer was not the best career I could have followed, but it made for some particularly funny journal entries. This shows that we are constantly collecting material, even when we don’t know it. It also proves that the bottom drawer is no place for old writing, you need to have it out where you can see it and revive it.

Happy writing!

Nat

I just need to…

I’m moving interstate. It turns out that I own quite a lot of stuff that I want to take with me and after 16 years of life in Melbourne, I have a lot of loose ends to tie up as well. The universe might as well have handed me a ‘get out of writing free’ card with a credit limit of at least two weeks. I am currently swimming in the most dangerous form of procrastination, that which appears necessary.

Getting moving quotes, cleaning, packing up and closing various accounts should not be a full time job, yet that is what I have managed to turn it into. So how do you get around these unavoidable bumps that life throws at you without hurting your writing? You use whatever time you are given to the best of your ability.

A big writing challenge I have to face is learning how to write in small snippets of time. A friend writes on the train/tram in the mornings and sometimes manages to do as many words during her commute as I do in a whole day at home! Sceptical, l tried it out on a 20 minute train ride sitting in an overcrowded carriage with people looking over my shoulder. I wrote over 300 words!

Bringing that habit home can be hard, especially when you are dealing with life stresses (like moving). At home there are too many other temptations for short spots of time; eating, reading, packing or (worst of all) TV. But you need to be strong and work out what is the best use of your time. What would it be good for you to do in that 20 minute window?

So don’t use time limits as your excuse, you do not need hours to get a few more words on the page, minutes can be enough. It all comes back to my standard writer’s block advice; just write! Besides, most tasks are best done when planned in advance, so if possible plan a block of writing time, and then a block of ‘life event management’ time. But if you can’t do that just write when you can, it will be more often than you think!

Happy writing,

Nat

Excuse number 357

Recently I realised something I am embarrassed to admit; I make up excuses, a lot of excuses. It was pointed out to by someone asking, “And what number is that?” in response to one of my detailed and plausible reasons for not doing something that I should have done. I looked at him blankly and he broke it to me (not at all gently), “You have an excuse for everything, so I figured you must number them for easy reference, and I was just wondering what number excuse that was?” As if that wasn’t bad enough, he now asks me for the excuse number EVERY TIME I come up with an excuse (or even something that could be misconstrued as an excuse). It has got to the point where I just add the number once I have reeled off my explanation.

In reality, excuses are not very helpful. If you make up a reason for not doing something, it is probably because you should be doing it. And before something becomes a ‘should’ it was usually an ‘I would like to’ (get my tax done, write the novel synopsis, go to the dentist). If you just did these things as soon as they were identified, instead of wasting your creative energy on making up reasons for not doing them, think of how much more progress you would make in all aspects of your life, not just your writing.

I have a bunch of useless writing excuses;
# 357 I don’t have time to boot up the computer to write before I have to go out.
# 286 I need to wait until I’ve researched that thingamajig before I can write any more of this story.
# 155 I have to finish the washing/vacuuming/trinket dusting before I can write.

They go on, but I’m sure you get the idea…

So next time you hear yourself making up an excuse, no matter how credible it might seem, ask yourself for the excuse number. It will open your eyes to how often we put off progress when instead we could be driving it!

Happy writing,

Nat