I think I’m a reasonable person. At least most of the time. But still, pretty often I find myself doing a very strange thing. I procrastinate.
I know what I like to do and why. I know what goal I want to achieve and what exactly I have to do to get there. But I don’t do it. I used to look for excuses, like, I have no time, I am not ready, I need to learn more about how to do it… Now I know it is all crap. These all are made-up reasons not to do what I have decided to do. So I don’t look for an excuse anymore. I just don’t do anything. Yep, as simple as that. I don’t even promise myself I’ll start next Monday. I know so well that Monday will come and go, and I won’t move a finger.
I believe every psychological issue has a root, and there’s no sense to try to fix yourself until you find this root, the seed that caused the whole problem. Looking for this seed, I have read so many articles explaining reasons for procrastination. They all make sense, but something is missing. I understand why people procrastinate, in general; I understand it, really, but I can’t apply this knowledge to change my own route, my personal approach. All those ready answers, like fear of failure or fear of success, don’t help; they don’t seem to be right or personal enough to explain what forces me to sabotage my own plans when I have developed a step-by-step strategy and a strict schedule. Am I that lazy or don’t I care enough? Maybe my goals are not really mine? Maybe I’m nuts and ask too many absurd questions?
“My doctor told me I shouldn’t work out until I’m in better shape.” This is my vicious circle. Thank you, Steven Wright, for putting it in words for me. I can’t start changing until something changes, who knows how and when.
Can it be that procrastination is my destiny and all I have to do is surrender? I think it can be, especially if I choose Steven Wright as my best adviser. “I bought some batteries, but they weren’t included.” Yeah, exactly, I know what he’s talking about.
I have enough time to read and I can find time to reread anything if I want to. But I don’t as there’s another problem I have to deal with. It’s called procrastination. I never thought this word would stay between me and sweet pleasure of reading, but it does.
I have started about a dozen books and, of course, I want to read all of them till the very end. Eventually. One day. Maybe. I’m not sure when (or if?) it happens as whenever I decide to read one of them it comes to my mind that I have another one that is much more interesting.
It takes some time to weigh the options and decide which book is more important to choose. When, finally, the choice has been made and I’ve read a couple of paragraphs I start having doubts if the book I preferred is the right one ‘cause I’m so not into it right now. I switch to the second option and begin thinking about the third one. In the end, after the fourth and fifth change of the cover, I watch Parks and Recreation sitting on the pile of books opened in the middle.
What’s wrong with me? This is the only question I need to answer because I can’t blame the books for being boring. Or, at least, I can’t blame all of them. The books I want to read differ in style and subject so, theoretically, they might suit any of my moods. But they don’t. I can’t pull myself together to stick with any of them for several pages. Sometimes I think I should drop all the books I started and open a new one to see if it makes any difference, but I know it won’t work as I repeated this trick ten times already. I’m sitting on the pile of books, remember?
Probably, I should blame stress even though I don’t have any. Also I can blame weather; it’s always a good target, or maybe the government, it’s even a better target, for sure. But I don’t blame anyone: it requires too much energy and concentration. I go the easy way. I watch Parks and Recreation. And if I ever get off this strange orbit of reading curse I will reread Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I really could use a ride here. H’m, maybe I should try it right now?
I see procrastination as a guilty pleasure when you give yourself a chance not to do what you are supposed to and, while doing something easy and funny instead or not doing anything at all, you still remember that you are cheating and the punishment will come.
By my nature, I’m ready to postpone anything. Everything with a tug ‘must’, no matter if it’s cooking, writing or buying an ice-cream cone scares me off. If there’s ‘must’ I will make it in the last moment possible or, with a bit of luck, never.
I know procrastination is my enemy; it keeps me away from achieving things I want to achieve. Besides, the pleasure of doing something unnecessary would be much more joyful without the dark shadows of guilt and fear of retribution. So I decided to fight postponement off. In search of the right weapon I read a hundred articles on the subject describing reasons for procrastination and the ways to overcome it. None of them worked for me. I kept sitting on the couch thinking how overwhelmingly difficult it is to come out, cross the street, enter a little shop and dig out a cone of blueberry ice-cream from a big fridge.
I had to come up with my own solution based on all the material I had read. When I realized that it wasn’t the ice-cream journey itself that blocked my will power, but the ‘mustness’ of it I invented a silly trick. I imagined the tag ‘MUST’ glued to the ice-cream cone and burned it. Before the fire faded out I was on the other side of the street holding a portion of ice-cream in my hand.
The key is to burn the ‘must’ tag. The stopping power of this simple word is limitless and inexplicable so it’s better to put on a wizard’s cloak, wave with the magic wand and make the tag burn in hot colorful flames. Then you can step over a pinch of ashes and do what you have no obligation to do. You will cook because you are hungry. You will write because you want to say something. And the ice-cream… After burning the curse I can’t even remember what could keep me from it all this time.
Reading about writing is much, much easier than writing, and it is the best way to procrastinate positively. That’s what I’m doing these days, I’m trying to be positive while not being able to write anything.
I have just finished reading Writing Tools. 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, and I find it amazing. The author is Roy Peter Clark, ‘America’s writing coach’ (as his website claims), senior scholar and vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Honestly, I had no idea who he was when I started reading, but it didn’t matter. The book that first appeared as a series of online articles must be read.
There are many books on writing, but almost all of them require your sifting out something that works for you personally. Here, every one of the tools offered by the author is useful. At least for me.
The book is full of tips and advice which can help you polish your style and, even more interesting, redirect your thinking in general, make you pay attention to things you never thought of.
How to build phrases so that even the longest ones stay readable?
How to vary the length of sentences and paragraphs to create expressive and convincing narration?
Why should you be careful with adverbs?
What is the most important thing in storytelling?
What is an internal cliffhanger? What is a gold coin?
How to write cinematically?
How to deal with writer’s block and procrastination?
How to find help and inspiration in other art forms?
How not to be scared off by big daunting tasks, and how can file piles help you?
These are just few of the questions answered by the book. Step by step, it teaches you a lot of things, and within them lies the idea that analyzing, or, how the author calls it, ‘X-ray reading’ books, newspapers, online articles and everything else including sitcom plots can help you learn and use other writers’ secret tricks.
It is not the first book I read about writing and definitely not the last one I will read, but so far it is my favorite, definitely favorite, just because, as lazy as I am, I love when jewels are handed to me in the open palm.