Friday, June 24, 2005

Twenty procrastination-busters

At one time in my life I was the Queen of Procrastination. I would tidy my desk, duck out to Officeworks, scour the aisles for that illusive cardboard calendar, or the pen the astronauts use to write in space. I needed these things. And I needed them now. I would do anything but touch pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Now I am reformed! I’ve come to identify these procrastinatory tactics for what they are. A fear of not being perfect. As a wise person once said, the triple PPPs 'Perfectionism, Procrastination, Paralysis' are the greatest threat to creativity.

Now, I know what the warning signs are, and I can identify them before I head out and buy yet another 500 pages of recycled paper, or that fluoro pen with dazzling gold bits in it. To save you some time, and perhaps some cupboard space, I’ve created the following list of procrastination-busters.

20. Stop right there buddy. Put down that dusting cloth. Ask yourself “Is this really helping me write?” Creating an environment conducive to writing is important, but is this the tenth time you’ve stuck a cotton bud in between your keyboard keys today? Can you see your face in the varnish? Time to put that bald headed Mr Sheen away.

19. Is it really necessary to have all your post-it notes neatly and evenly spaced around your computer?

18. Your stapler can be re-filled at any time. Leave it.

17. The house, car, dentist, chiropractor, electricity, water, gas and credit card bills can be paid at another time. This is the time you have allotted to writing. They can wait until the lights go out, or someone repossesses the car. Don’t worry, you’ll hear it being towed away.

16. This is an important one. Don’t revise your work more than once before you have finished the manuscript. Excessive revision is a form of procrastination. If you revise more than once before you have finished writing the manuscript, you can end up in a nowhere land where you keep cutting and cutting, and then there is nothing left. Or what you have left is so polished that it no longer resembles the flow of your writing. To go on seems an impossible task. So many manuscripts end up in a bottom drawer, a warm home for cockroaches, because of this procrastination tactic. I’ve shelved two of my own books this way.

15. Oprah tells us the best way to lose weight is to ignore that little grumble in your tummy when you feel it. If you keep writing and ignore that urge you will not starve. Unless you are my old writing teacher, who wrote and wrote and wrote and forgot to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and eventually collapsed in front of the class. As we sarcastically applauded him (we thought he was acting) we realised he was foaming at the mouth and it was very hard to fake foaming at the mouth. The moral of the story is you can ignore the niggle of a need for food, but make sure you remember to eat when your body needs food.

14. Set a timetable. I will write at this time every day. Or every three days, or whenever you’re capable of writing. It could be 3 am when the baby has just fallen asleep, or 4 pm after a long post-lunch siesta. It’s totally up to you.

13. Set a minimum word limit for the week. It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 words or 4000. Just be realistic. Before Douglas Adams died, his publisher stipulated that Adams could live in a hotel free of charge as long as he produced some writing every month. Unfortunately the publisher didn’t put a minimum limit on the word count and some months walked away from the hotel with a manuscript on which was written a single word such as 'the'. Thanks Douglas. You may not have produced another book, but gave me a nice little reflection for my blog.

12. Write your word count and timetable in your diary every week, and tick off your goals every week when you have achieved them. Give yourself a treat for having achieved your goals. A new Macintosh PowerBook will do just fine, thank you very much.

11. Pick a topic and stick to it. There’s no point running with a commentary on the importance of the New Romantics movement of the 1980s, a concise history of China, the advantages of adopting international law as domestic law in East Timor all at the same time. This is a most insidious form of procrastination. It seems like you are doing at least five things, whereas in reality, you are doing none. Writing deserves 100% of your concentration on one topic at a time.

10. Research. Oh, of course you have to get your facts straight, yes of course. And sometimes you can never know enough. But sometimes you have to just set a limit and say that’s it. If you find yourself overly researching then perhaps your topic was too wide to start with, and you need to narrow it down. When I was in sixth class we were asked to write an essay on an animal, any fury little animal we chose. I chose the human being, and endeavoured to draw and explain the skeletal structure, nervous system and the skin (which is called something I can’t remember right now). I spent half the semester, researching, drawing, visiting the doctor (who started believing that I can a severe case of hypochondria). As someone who was only 11 years old and had a word count of 500 words I had somehow over-extended myself. Be honest. Set your time for research and stick to it. Don’t eat into your writing time to do extra research. You are doing the skill of writing a disservice.

9. Shut down your email program and open it again only once every two hours. Really, the Bush/Howard jokes can wait. Ditto, Explorer/Netscape. I know you got broadband so you could keep it open all day and night, but it’s killing your creativity. Murdering your imagination. Leave it be.

8. Pick a font you can read and stick to it. Don’t try changing this word to “Times” and this word to “Times New Roman”. No there isn’t a difference, or not one that anyone would really appreciate, so get on with it.

7. The blank screen is mocking me. Writing a poem or a story about lack of inspiration is probably one of the most boring, predictable, slip my neck into a rope type of things, anyone could ever do. And we all do it at one stage or another. You don’t feel inspired about anything? Don’t give me that. Everyone is inspired by something, you’ve just got to pick the topic. If Jung doesn’t inspire you then why did you pick a Doctorate in Psychology? Don’t try to tell me that someone forced you to write this. We all make decisions to study what we’re studying at some stage. Unless you’re in primary school; then you’re a total tool of the system, and all my love and understanding goes out to you.

6. Your make-up doesn’t need doing.

5. Your hair doesn’t need brushing.

4. Your teeth can harvest that piece of spinach for an extra day.

3. It does not have to be perfect, it just has to be written.

2. Leave the formatting alone. If you are planning to send this to a publisher most publishers strip out all formatting, so all your efforts will be wasted.

1. Stop reading this article and just do it.

If you can follow these 20 simple rules you too can be healed of the malady of procrastination.


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