It’s Okay to Be Tired, It’s Not Okay to Give Up

I started writing this post more than a month ago as a pep talk to myself. Then I got tired, and for a while, I did give up. The blog is a thing I would get back to later, I thought. After all those other things that I would also get to later that were more pressing than the blog. After I got some sleep, and let my brain rest, and, and, and.

For me, procrastination is both easy and hard. Easy because even if I didn’t wholly grow up in the world of the immediate gratification of the internet, I certainly live in it now, and there are an endless number of endless rabbit holes to stray down even if I’m in one of those antsy moods where I can’t quite focus on things that I actually like to do. But hard because the looming specter of things to do causes me anxiety that distracts from the distraction, whether it’s a rabbit hole or a video game or some other consumptive experience. I can’t full enjoy it, therefore the procrastination becomes much less fun, because the thing that I am procrastinating on looms threateningly in my future.

I’m not sure if this is the reason, but my best guess is that the looming future thing occurs to me and not other procrastinators is because I always have this keen sense of the finiteness of the future. Not as much in a big existential way, like I’m mortal and will die some day and no one knows when that will be (though that’s true, too) but more in a I’m going to have to go to work, go to sleep, do this thing or that thing later no matter what, and if the thing I want to do isn’t done by then then I won’t be able to get to it, I’ll be late, it’ll suck, etc, etc, etc.

I think it’s a fair and real thing to just be too goddamn tired to deal with something in the immediate moment. To need sleep, or to be burnt out, or to just not have the brain space for it for whatever reason. The thing I’ve been catching myself on, though, is being too broad with that “whatever.” Do I really need to stay in bed and get another hour of sleep (sometimes yes) or do I need to get my ass up (also sometimes yes)? Do I need to wind down after work (often yes) right up until I go to bed thus spending my whole evening as a vegetable (no)? But brains are funny, especially our own, and I’m still working on the not-really-logical struggle of gauging my own need for rest vs kicking my ass to do the things I want and promise to do.

If I figure out the secret, to shifting from consumption to creation, to knowing when it’s fair to push myself and when I need to acknowledge my human limitations before I crash and burn, I’ll be sure to let you know. For now it’s pretty up in the air.

Places I Steal Time From

This week, I have:

  1. Written 984 words during a lull at work.
  2. Written for 20 minutes, though to be fair nodding off now and then, curled up under the covers at 6am after taking the dog out for a walk.
  3. Decided to write instead of watching another episode of Steven Universe. (After writing 825 words, I then watched another episode of Steven Universe.)
  4. Sat down to write, browsed Tumblr for 45 minutes, berated myself for browsing Tumblr for 45 minutes, browsed for another 5 minutes, and finally mentally kicked myself until I wrote 756 words.
  5. Kept saying “I’ll have all day to write tomorrow” and then used very little of tomorrow to write, but, ultimately, managed to use some of it.
  6. Sat down when I said I was going to sit down and written when I said I was going to write. Twice!

At no point did I not have enough time to write. Twenty sleepy minutes is enough. Hell, ten minutes is enough. And the truth is I could steal more time because there is time to steal. I like many humans am not really “so busy.” I am busy because I have pockets of time that don’t neatly align into large chunks of it, minutes here and half hours there that add up but not all side by side. I am busy because when I get up in the morning I say “later” and lounge around; I am busy because I get home and say I’ll relax for “just a minute” and it is never just. There are places to steal time from, places that time doesn’t need to be, like sleeping in, like falling down the internet rabbit hole, like all the TV I don’t even like that much but watch because human brains are silly.

If you want to write a book, you have time. Go do that instead of reading this.

On Delaying Dreams

I was supposed to be done with edits for my novel in December.

They aren’t done.

It’s March.

I can tell myself “I’ll do that later,” but not only do I not know if I will, I have no control in the grand scheme of the universe whether or not I can.

What I do have some control over, sitting in front of a computer, typing letters, is doing it now.

The Hardest Part is Starting

My particular brand of procrastination is putting off starting a task. Once I get going, the thing gets done–the hard part is over. But if I can put off the start of something, it’s pretty much guaranteed to never happen. I need to write today, but I’ll do it later. I ought to go for a run, but I’m tired so I’ll do it in the afternoon. I should get my lunch ready for tomorrow, but I can do it in the morning. Etcetera, etcetera. You’d think after so many instances of not writing later, of not running in the afternoon, of not putting my lunch together in the morning, I’d know better. And sometimes I do! I’m certainly cognizant of it right now, as I write this post, but me awake and fed and accomplished is a very different me than when I’m groggy or hungry or in the throes of an extended period of procrastination.

So sometimes I play tricks on myself:

1. I use Pomodoro off and on to trick myself into thinking “I just have to do this for a few minutes.” Then it always ends up being more than a few minutes.

2. I motivate myself with streaks. I’ve been getting ready for work the night before for the past two nights in a row, so if I do it again tonight it’ll be three, then the next night four, then five… Don’t break the chain! HabitRPG is my general habit streak tracker, while 750words is my writing streak tracker.

3. Once I’ve started one thing, I use that as momentum to start everything else. Today I got up and went for a run. I got back and started the laundry. I got out of the shower and chopped up salad for lunch. I got all that done and started this blog post that I’d been procrastinating on. Once I overcame the hurdle of getting my ass out of bed and beginning one thing, beginning everything else got easier.

Once I’ve started that productivity, even just for a minute, the next minute is easier, and the next minute after that.

Productive Self-Deception in the Fight Against Procrastination

It’s always nice when science backs up the efficacy of tricks I’ve been playing on myself. When we as funny little human beings weigh the pros and cons of procrastination, our thought process can look like this:

“I can do this thing now… or I can do it later.”

When that was the script in my head, it always ended up being later. Then later again. And again. And again. That’s how I went most of my four years as a creative writing undergrad without doing much creative writing.

Lately, as I make efforts toward being a responsible grownup in bits and pieces, often with one step forward and two steps back, I’ve flipped the script to something like this:

“I can do this thing now, feel great about getting it done, and have time to do some other fun thing later… or I can feel anxious about not doing it now, and have it hang over me, and then finally do it later.”

Since, let’s be real, that’s usually how procrastination goes. It’s not that we enjoy the time during which we are not doing whatever “the thing” is. We’re thinking about the thing. The need to do the thing looms menacingly in our future. It’s not fun. But if the thing is done, a weight is lifted and we can enjoy ourselves.

It doesn’t always work, but it’s working more often than the old way.

On Disastrous Goal Setting and 761 Days

I didn’t start my successful writing life saying “I’m going to write The Next Great American Novel.” Which isn’t to say I didn’t start my writing life that way–in middle school and high school that was the dream, emphasis on the dreaming and total de-emphasis on the actual writing.

I still harbored some delusions of grandeur in college, not at all helped by being one of the few “serious writers” in my classes that were frequently occupied by premed students looking to boost their GPAs. (Nevermind some of those premed students took the assignments more seriously and produced better stories than I did. That this was not their career aspiration somehow made me superior by default, even when the comparison of our work suggested strongly otherwise.)

Then, mercifully, somewhere in my early working life I realized my lack of writing was getting in the way of that grand dream being a reality.

And the lack of writing, in turn, was a result of that dream being so grand.

The more aware I was of my lack of skill, the harder sitting down to write The Next Great American Novel became. It was so far away. Every step I took didn’t seem to even move me in a forward direction. It was easy to get discouraged and give up.

Another mercy came when I somehow got it in my head to keep dreaming big, but goal wise maybe set things closer to home.

So, 761 days ago, I started writing 750 words a day minimum. I didn’t start out saying “I’m going to write a novel” or even “750 words a day for the rest of my life.” I just said, “Today, I’m going to write at least 750 words.” Then I said the same thing the next day, and the next.

Then it became 761 days later.

Things I Read: Once Upon a Time

Hello imaginary friends. I’m still working on how to make this space useful for me and you, and do it in a systematic way. In the meantime here’s some things that I read that I’d suggest other people read too!

Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century and similar lists have become my go-to for “what’s worth reading.”

The Power of Negative Thinking is a good primer for writers like myself having difficulty with the butt-in-chair formula of writing.

Steve Martin’s Advice for Building a Career You Love is one of those lovely pieces that takes the magic and mystique out of creative pursuits: you have to work, and that’s okay.

Want Your Message To Stick? Tell a Story. Though it’s also okay to not have a message.

10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas because 99% of my ideas are going to suck so I’d better keep coming up with more to find that 1%.

 

Setbacks of Supposedly Mythic People

I still have problems thinking of published authors, especially popular published authors, as real human beings. Surely not! Surely they have achieved something few do because they are a particularly special kind of human, totally free of the failings of mere mortals. Well, of course they are special, of course there is skill and talent that’s often been honed for years. But to paraphrase People Magazine, Authors: They’re Just Like Us! Or rather, they have problems like we do, too, problems with actually sitting down and writing, with confidence, with finding good ideas, all that.

It’s heartening to me that all my failings now are ones that successful people, too, have had. That is not to say I will be successful, not without effort, but that having these failings doesn’t mean success is out of reach.

Great SF authors share their their biggest writing setbacks — and how they triumphed at io9

Fear of the To-Do

Yet another argument in favor of just getting started already, the blog Frictionless lays out how our brain builds up projects that, really, when we get started, are not nearly so horrible as we made them out to be.

So just get started already. Type gibberish if you have to until real words come out. It’s that much easier to see, hey, this isn’t so bad. And now look, I’m already writing, so I might as well keep at it.