Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Art of Procrastination: CHAT

by Janine Ashbless

As a writer, I have this great job, see. I get to work from home and make my own time. I can sleep in on a morning. I get to spend all day with my dogs. I can wear whatever I feel like. I can buy porn and offset it against tax…

Of course there is a downside to this. If I want to get anything achieved I have to be disciplined – and believe me, doing that to yourself is a whole lot harder work than getting someone else to do it to you. (Cue dirty joke about discipline...)

So I set myself a goal of a certain wordcount per day. Then I go out of my way to do anything – anything – that will stop me achieving that. I am the Queen of Procrastination. It’s not that I dislike writing, oddly. I love writing: I am addicted to writing: I get a physical high from a good day’s work and if I’ve done nothing I go into self-loathing sulk. But I am scared to start. I am scared that yesterday’s work will, like fairy gold, have transmuted overnight into a pile of steaming horse-manure. I am scared that I will not be able to express the pictures in my head. I am scared that for some reason, without warning, today the words will not come.

So I procrastinate. I have this routine: I check my e-mail and deal with matters arising. I look on Lust Bites. I check the other blogs and websites I like to lurk on. I play a game of Spider solitaire. I check my MySpace. I update my blog or my website if there’s something new to say. I play a game of Spider solitaire. I check my e-mail and deal with matters arising…

On a bad day I can keep this up for hours.

The horrible thing about the internet is that it can be updated at any time, so hanging on the refresh button becomes habitual. But my nemesis is Spider. It used to be Alchemy, and Sudoku, in their time, but the pattern is the same whatever the game. I like Spider because it is a simple logical battle with a win-or-lose outcome. If you win you feel good about yourself. If you lose there’s no consequence, so you start the next game. Spider focuses the mind and leaves no room for worries about nuances, plot-lines, or the struggles of interacting human personalities (fictional or otherwise). It is clean. It is solipsistic. It allows you to taste triumph on a short time-scale – something very much missing from a writer’s life, where all real victories take months and months, even years, to win.

So tell me – what are your procrastination vices? What tricks do you use to put off that fatal moment of confronting your creativity and forcing it to do your will? Do you read other erotica authors “just to get in the mood”? Do you eat? Do you power nap? Do you make a nice cup of tea? (Yes, I do all those things too!)

And I will leave the last word on Working From Home to the magnificent Mitchell and Webb:


Megan Kerr said...

Uh - yeah. This is why I'm checking Lust Bites right now despite a quite terrifying deadline... I have the same 'word count' goal to keep me focussed and am equally pleased / self-flagellating as appropriate. But starting - god, starting!

I set myself a 10:30 starting time (I've tried to write before then, but I swear nothing happens in my head until 10:30). When 10:30 arrives, I realise I need to make another cup of coffee, and I don't have my oil burner with Appropriate Scents For Novel on the go yet, and then I need to open the 17 million documents relating to this novel, and then I just quickly check my 3 email addresses and Lust Bites one more time...

Then there's the procrastinating-while-writing. Every time I get stuck on a sentence my mouse drifts, of its own accord, back to gmail / lustbites. (I've weaned myself off facebook, at least) I hesitate over a word, and spend 7 minutes browsing before I realise my own vocabulary is actually better and more efficiently stored. I wonder about a minor fact and google for half an hour to make sure it's accurate before remembering - "Uh, I'm making this up, and it's set in the future." So then I start googling future forecasts. I begin describing a room and think "Hold on, let me just find a floorplan for the apartment on google image search, then I'll open it in Photoshop, look up standard furniture measurements, create the furniture, and rearrange everything in the apartment I've given them" or I'm describing a car and run a quick google search for car interiors. Because, obviously, I've never been in an apartment or a car before and so wouldn't know what they look like. When that all palls, I can return to Excel and run complicated equations to automate the estimation of how long the novel will take me to complete, if I write a set amount per day, which I'm not writing because I'm nesting IF equations on Excel, and then I think - "Hold on, wouldn't this be more efficient in a DATABASE?"

By the end of all of which, it's probably time to check my email and Lust Bites again. And I'll need another coffee before I really start.

Megan Kerr said...

P.S. And every time a writer tells me how long they spend on research, I think, Yeah, right, honey. You and me both. You just keep calling it 'research'.

Nikki Magennis said...

I have 6,000 words to write before Friday! Hello!

I don't call Spider procrastination. I use it as a kind of medatitive process. I can actually feel all my logical processes shutting down one by one as I click aimlessly on the cards, losing over and over until I've sort of hypnotised myself into the drooling phase, which means I'm able to look at the next chapter without crying. Mostly.

Who was it that had his valet lock him in a room naked, with only pen and paper and no furniture? And where exactly can I find one of these naked valets?

Excuse me, must google ...

Janine Ashbless said...

Every time I get stuck on a sentence my mouse drifts, of its own accord, back to gmail / lustbites.

Thank the gods I do my actual writing on a seperate laptop with no Net connection or Spider (just Freecell, ahem), so at least once I start I'm relatively safe.

If you want to see the ultimate Mitchell and Webb sketch about writing, take a look over here. Portia sent me the link and I had to put it on my blog because it was so horribly accurate that I had to do something with it, like an oyster with an agonising piece of grit.

And that wasted about 40 minutes yesterday when I could have been writing...

Megan Kerr said...

Just off to get another cup of coffee before I really PROPERLY start. Had to quickly check the Lust Bites stats first. Did you know we have 7000 visitors a month? Of course, that's not procrastinating because it's essential businessy-type info that we can all look at and go "Oooooooh!", as we're not actually marketeers and don't really know what to do with these numbers. Analyse them? Do powerpoint presentations? God, I think people who work in offices have got the art of procrastination REALLY waxed. At least I don't make jumping pie-charts in powerpoint.

Megan Kerr said...

More seriously: procrastination isn't laziness, it's fear. Identifying what you're afraid of is usually more helpful than flagellating yourself for laziness. Writing is fabulous - but it is, also, a bit like jumping off a cliff in the dark with a parachute you made yourself.

(Right now, I'm terrified that the last scene was useless and that the novel will be 30 000 words too short. I never like what I've just written, and always like it later; months later, it looks so good that I fear I'll never be able to write to that standard again. As for writing short of the goal-length - my entire writing career from school essays to published work I've overshot the margin massively. So these fears are a bit silly, really.)

Eloise said...

I realise this is heresy, but I don't only read porn... and I do read the blogs of some of the other writers I love reading.

One of them publishes on a weekly basis a progress bar - a bit like the ones you see outside a church when they're fundraising, towards a total. Sometimes it's words, sometimes it's progress through the plot points, sometimes it's chapters she shows.

I'm not sure how much time she spends procrastinating, but week by week you can see her new book progressing. I suspect the rather public nature of it acts as a spur to her.

As for procrastinating - gReader is my deadliest problem as well as an essential tool. I only subscribe to about 250 RSS feeds, but on a busy day that can be - as it was today - over 100 posts to read when I've only been in bed a little over 5 hours!

Madelynne Ellis said...

But you could, Olivia. You could...

Message boards and email are my main procrastination devices. YouTube is only a problem if I'm working after midnight. However, I do have another stumbling block, I can't work if there's anyone else in the room/house. I just can't concentrate.

Deanna said...

I so agree. Message boards and e-mails, I have to check those first, after all there might be something of earthshattering importance waiting there for me.

I mean to do so much and then at the end of the day I realise I have achieved virtually nothing.

I need deadlines, not self-imposed ones, but actual ones from my editor to keep working as hard as I could.

At least it isn't just me. By the way I've yet to appreciate the pleasure of 'Spider', because to be honest I've no idea what it is.

Erastes said...

Ah Yes, my favourite Olympic Sport

My routine!

On a weekend: Get up, if hungover wipe off day completely. If not, follow these instructions.

-Feed cats
-sit limply on settee
-watch something you've already seen like Dancing on Ice
-Log on (specially in the middle of something you want to watch, meaning that you miss half of it)
-check emails
-check friends list
-check myspace
-check facebook
-check emails
-do some work on [name of blog here]
-think about doing a book trailer - waste two hours looking for images.
-check emails etc as above
-watch afternoon film
-have bath. Vow to work after bath
-hungry. Go to shop. Buy wine
-eat. feed cats.
-check everything as before
-start on wine
-IM with various Americans who are now up and around
-get drunk. decide no writing possible.
-go to bed. vow to do better tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I was nodding away as I read this post recognizing all the various ploys I use myself, but I actually jumped when you mentioned Spider Solitaire. I will confess my guilty secret here because nobody knows me.

According to the statistics I have won 1337 games of Spider and lost 2917. I fear I am addicted (as well as not being much good at it, obviously). In my defence I have finished a 70,000 word novel, but I wonder about the power of that game.

I have a friend who was writing a non fiction book and she had to remove Spider from her computer until she'd finished it.

Erastes said...

Oh and my games:

Animal Keeper.
Jewel Quest 2
Free Cell (have to do it in order, or it doesn't count)
Spider is just too HARD.

Janine Ashbless said...

I have a friend who was writing a non fiction book and she had to remove Spider from her computer until she'd finished it

I'm seriously considering this!

I tried to cut down on the number of blogs I read by taking some off my favourites list. It didn't work - I just type them in longhand now.

Oh woe.

Megan Kerr said...

At least I don't play games. (I say it's because they're a waste of time, and avoid the fact that I'm just crap at them.) But my house is FAR too clean...

Anonymous said...

I have just started working in my local library. God, you should have heard me bitch about it not having wireless internet.

*whispers* That fact might actually save my career

Madeline Moore said...

Yes to everything.

Isn't it interesting that we resist beginning something we love to do?
I find that incredible. Why? WHY?
I malinger, I'm sorry to say.

Great post! Thanks.

Angell said...

Although I'm not a writer in the sense of the word that all you lovely lusties are, I too know the horror of procrastination in the creative process.

I have about ten different outlines lying around that I know I should work on, but just when I sit down facebook calls to me (literally - my friends status updates, my messages and pokes get directed to my cell), and so then I must jump on to see what's new - photos, fights that I must mediate or do a last minute jump for my team on fight club.

And I can also relate to the lure of the SPIDER. Once I discovered that wonderful little time waster, I was hooked for life.

Of course, there's the common ones: email (I have ten different accounts - don't ask why), MSN chat, blogs (because my friends will be so offended if I don't stay caught up - at least I tell myself that), the latest book that's sitting on my nightstand waiting for me to pick it up, the lure of a hot bath, or making myself a drink....

Too many ways to procrastinate, not enough ways to keep my mind focused....oooh look, SHINY THINGS.

Megan Kerr said...

Terror, Madeline - thinly veiled terror.

But we tweak the nose of terror and laugh in the face of danger, bwa-ha-ha-haaaar!

I do wonder, how on earth did I procrastinate before facebook, blogging, etc, etc? Did I just stand in front of the fridge eating bits of cheese and repeatedly boiling the kettle? (Hmm. Must make more tea and eat a bit of cheese.)

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

Oh gods, do I have a slew of procrastination tricks! Blogs and email are huge (I'm doing it right now). I often procrastinate by doing useful things that I'm not supposed to be during writing time--exercising, running errands, doing housework (sometimes I like it--especially when my characters aren't cooperating and I'm sure I suck--at least the dishes get clean and the fur's off the couch), cooking and baking (we need to eat, sure, but Himself always knows the writing's not cooperating if he comes home to cookies, bread, and an elaborate meal). And then, of course, Himself is HOME and I have much more interesting ways to procrastinate, although some of them can also count as inspiration if I ever get my ass in gear to write!

I've managed to avoid computer games because I know I'd be doomed forever.

And now I'm going to copy my WIP onto a flash drive and go attach myself to the laptop--it works. I do have wireless, but if I don't connect it, I have to think before I get online and that'll usually stop me. Usually.

Unknown said...

Yes I am a surprise there. I 'have' to check all the blogs, message boards, myspace, Go Fug yourself, etc etc before I start writing-and again in the afternoon before I start writing again :)

I also eat jelly belly's in a very specific color order as I read through a couple of the previous days pages before I get started, colors go least favorite to favorite. I line them up in color-code and eat them slowly.

I have a minimum word count of 1000 words a day which I usually meet. I have 3 books to write again this year and edits, copy edits coming back at me for 3 more...I need to focus people!!!

If anyone has ever seen the Sponge Bob episode called Procrastination? that's me :)

Great post!

t'Sade said...

Oh, I'm horrible at stalling. When I write, I write fast. But when I hit even a small road bump, I find my mouse drifting over to Freecell (515 game winning streak right now), random games on Linux, the games I found on the indie game site, or even my own programming. Then of course, the Wikipedia surfing, or the desperate checking of forums (including BL's) for ANY conversation; but that gets bad because I don't want to flood any forum, so I don't start many and y'all probably notice I'm damn wordy when I do respond. :)

Portia Da Costa said...

Sleeping, watching DVDs, sleeping, watching the telly, checking emails, check various message boards, forty winks, check Cute Overload, ICanHasCheezburger, Stuff on my Cat, The Daily Cute, The Daily Kitten, power nap, watch more telly, chat about carp with my buddy... that's my day.

Occasionally I write...

Jeremy Edwards said...

All of this reminds me of a bit of dialogue from the cliche-inverting Python sketch in which the jet-setting playwright, portrayed by Graham Chapman as a working-class northern traditionalist, berates his coal-mining son, portrayed by Eric Idle as as posh-talking artsy London type. To update it: "Checking e-mails ... over to Facebook and MySpace ... IM with publicist ... that's a full working day, lad, and don't you forget it!"

limecello said...

I'm terrible and procrastinate at everything - even eating. In fact, I'm procrastinating now, and have been for the past 2 1/2 hours. I check about... oh I don't even know - over 100 blogs every day? And well over 50 yahoo groups, check all my email accounts, multiple times, and watch tv shows online - abc, fox, tbs, they all have them. I might even call a friend or two to chat. Cook, do the dishes, even clean (though this hasn't happened recently.) Then, I might read some.
Meanwhile, my papers, things to edit, readings, class assignments and work just... sit. And pile up. Panic. Ack.

Janine Ashbless said...

over 100 blogs every day

I'm awestruck.

limecello said...

it's... bad. sometimes, in the dark secret places of my mind, I wonder how I haven't failed out of law school yet. [Not that it seems to be that hard to do.] My parents have seriously asked me how I managed to graduate from college. But I did. (And damn well.)