MISTAKES WE MAKE: PART 5

PROCRASTINATION

There are several specific times when procrastination can be a writer’s biggest challenge. They are when a writer:

starts a new book
is in the middle of writing a book
has just finished writing a book
has just received a rejection letter on a book s/he has written
is ready to submit a book to an agent or an editor
has just read an excellent book by another author
has just read a lousy book by another author
is going through a rough personal time
is going through a rough professional time
is personally or professionally content
is anything else, going through anything else, focused on anything else.
reads this far and none apply, but washing dishes or mowing the lawn seems urgent

Starting a new book is intimidating–especially if you’ve just finished one. Why? Because you’re leaving behind characters and plot and a world you’ve built and lived in for months for a new world filled with new people–an unfamiliar world.
It isn’t that you’re not excited about the new project, or that you lack enthusiasm. It’s that it is easier to stroll along a path you’ve walked before than it is to blaze a new trail. And we tend to like to stroll. It doesn’t demand as much from us physically, emotionally or spiritually. We like to stroll. We are comfortable strolling. We’ve already invested heavily and we reap the benefits of that investment in having ideas feeding on ideas, and fully developed characters driving plot. Motivates and conflicts are clear and our vision is vivid. In starting a new book, we aren’t at that place yet–and won’t be until we do the work.

There is but one cure: Discipline. So recognize the challenges, accept them as valid, and then dive in and get to work, avoiding the mistakes.

In the middle of writing a book, the writer has burned out that initial burst of enthusiasm that comes with starting a new book. That fire in the gut that demands you write the book. Along about chapter three, it fizzles and then fades, and often the writer is worn thin at all the creating–new world, new scenery, new characters, conflicts and motivations–that s/he wonders why s/he wanted to write the book in the first place. Yet there is an investment that was and is still worthy, and s/he loves the story, and so s/he must write on. But without that initial burst of enthusiasm, which blocked out thoughts of any and every thing except the book, it hits the writer that continuing on with the novel is going to be REAL work and other things in life, both both professional and personal intrude, stealing focus.
While this is normal and happens to every writer, some make the mistake of allowing the theft to progress without a whimper much less a wail. And once the momentum is broken, it is so much harder to pull yourself back to working on that book.

There is but one cure: Discipline. So recognize the challenges, accept them as valid, and then dive in and get to work, avoiding the mistakes.

When a writer just finishes a book, whether or not it is already sold, there is a sense of accomplishment that is hard to beat. It’s a deep satisfaction of creating something from nothing and for a writer, few things in life can compete with those feelings. We’ve worked hard. We’ve sweat our blood and tears, sacrificed things we wanted to do when we wanted to do them to meet this goal of completion, and now we want to play!
The mistake some writers make is they play too long. They have broken stride in working and have had a blast playing and even though it is time to get back to work, they’re enjoying themselves just too much to give it up. So they continue to play and play and play. And then they then find themselves in a position where they’re late on their next deadlines, or under a crunch where they must produce an unattainable number of pages per day to meet the next deadline or adrift in writing at all.
Again, momentum broken is difficult to reclaim. The reason is that when you break it, you lose the ground you’ve gained and the ground you would have gained. Think of the ripple created in water when you drop a rock in. It keeps going. If you drop a second rock, it doesn’t stop the ripple of the first, just creates swells behind it. No rock, no ripple. No second rock, no swell. Now image a day’s writing as a rock. See how the impact grows?
Another challenge is that the last book finished is always the best we’ve done. The reason is our familiarity and immersion in it. And the idea of starting over with a totally blank slate appeals about as much as a root canal. But to finish again, we must start again. (A tip is to overlap. Start the new book while doing the final edit on the last book. Then, when you turn focus to the new slate, it’s not blank.)

There is but one cure: Discipline. So recognize the challenges, accept them as valid, and then dive in and get to work, avoiding the mistakes.

Rejection letters can dampen enthusiasm like nothing else–if you let them mean more than they do mean. Our work incorporates so much of us, the human being, that we wrongly attach rejection of a work as rejection of us. It isn’t so. Often rejection has nothing to do with us or the quality of the work. It has to do with marketing, publishing trends, the publisher’s current list of writers and acquisitions–a thousand things that have nothing to do with a specific writer or work. And yet many writers make the unfortunate mistake of taking a rejection personally.
Some writers are so emotionally distraught that they can’t function for days–sometimes longer. That’s heart-wrenching–and a total waste. Even the best rejection letter in the world is only worth five minutes of emotion. FIVE MINUTES ONE TIME. After that, the writer needs to look at it again, see if it hold wise gems, as these letters often do, decide whether or not to incorporate those wise gems, and then get on with the business of writing.
The more time and energy spent on wallowing in that rejection, the more time and energy will be required for the writer to dig him or herself out of that black hole. Remember, a rejection is a subjective opinion. One agent or editor’s “no way” is another’s “Yes, let’s!” And if you’re wallowing, procrastinating because you just can’t take another rejection, get over it. Accept that rejection is part of the work and that you’re not going to find the “yes” so long as you’re indulging.

There is but one cure: Discipline. So recognize the challenges, accept them as valid, and then dive in and get to work, avoiding the mistakes.

When a writer is ready to submit a book to an agent or editor all kinds of fears and doubts strike at the heart. Is it ready/ Should I go over it again, see if I can possibly strengthen anything else? Is it good enough? What if I send it and then see errors–and you will! Do I really want to put the work–me–out on the line?
It’s amazing how much we can love the book and doubt it at the same time. We’re resourceful, I have to admit. And some of this, provided it isn’t debilitating, is normal. We want others to love what we’ve written, our stories are meaningful, purposeful to us. The fact is that some will love them, some will hate them, and some will be indifferent toward them. It is also a fact that this is a good thing or we’d need one writer and one book. So do your homework to find your best agent/editor match, submit and hope. That’s where your control ends, and not realizing that is a mistake too many writers make.

There is but one cure: Discipline. So recognize the challenges, accept them as valid, and then dive in and get to work, avoiding the mistakes.

When a writer reads an excellent or a lousy book by another author, s/he can be tossed into a tailspin. If the book is excellent, then s/he starts comparing his/her work and feels inferior. The current work might be brilliant but the writer is never going to see what s/he’s done as equal. Why? Familiarity and our propensity to be our own worst critic. We are not the best judge. That’s fact.
If the work read is lousy, then fears that some other reader will consider our work lousy intimidates and inhibits us. We don’t want to look or feel or come across to others as inferior.
And so we procrastinate because we don’t feel we measure up or fear we won’t measure up.
Self-esteem is a tricky rascal. Too much and we’re worthless as writers because readers don’t relate. Not enough and we’re worthless as writers because we don’t relate. But there is a balance and it’s found in honesty. If you write honestly, then you express the fears and doubts and vulnerabilities and frailties through emotions that are universal, and to those both the writer and the reader relate well.

There is but one cure: Discipline. So recognize the challenges, accept them as valid, and then dive in and get to work, avoiding the mistakes.

Rough times, professionally or personally, make for wicked writing. It’s extremely difficult to write when your personal life is in the toilet and you’re up to your backside in alligators. When no one else cares if you write. When there are so many demands on your time and attention that you’re too scattered to write.
Often writers are crippled by grief, turmoil, upheaval in their relationships (family and/or trouble with or losing an agent/editor/publisher). The thing is if life–work and home–ran smoothly and there was no conflict, then the writer wouldn’t have a thing to say in his or her stories. Conflict is the foundation of writing–the spine of your stories. To understand conflict and its effects, its impacts on human beings, you need to experience it. And we all do.
So rather than procrastinate your way out of writing during tough times, use the emotions you’re feeling in your writing. Because the fact is that without emotion, conflict isn’t conflict. It is our reaction to what happens and our understanding of why it happened that makes the story.

There is but one cure: Discipline. So recognize the challenges, accept them as valid, and then dive in and get to work, avoiding the mistakes.

Contentment. We all strive for it, for peace. But in writing, when we are content, we lack passion. We need fire to create. We need to be touched to care enough to feel the fire and create. When we are content, we glide. When we are not, we struggle, we endure, we sacrifice. We are determined and dedicated–we have purpose.
Contentment can be a purpose, but the truth is, human beings are basically lazy. If we’re strolling along and all is good–our needs are being met (physical, emotional, spiritual), then we don’t typically feel driven to do much of anything. It’s when our needs (actual or perceived) are not met that we push ourselves to accomplish. Remember the old saying, “Necessity breeds invention.” Well, it got to be an old saying because it’s true.
I’m not suggesting that you create turmoil in your life so that you can write. I’m saying don’t procrastinate because you’re content. Invest in things outside yourself. If you do, you’ll never run out of fodder.

There is but one cure: Discipline. So recognize the challenges, accept them as valid, and then dive in and get to work, avoiding the mistakes.

In just about any situation, for just about any reason, a writer can justify procrastinating. There are all of the usual suspects–wanting to get out and just have fun, wanting to do something else–but there are unusual suspects, too. Brick walls in the work, needing to write a scene that makes you uncomfortable for any of a dozen reasons, or a lack of certainty on where to go next in the story. There’s also fatigue, the grind of constant production, overwork and hyper-stimulation.
Writers must daydream. It’s part of the creative process. The key is to not daydream to avoid work but to revel in it–and to know the difference.
If you’re procrastinating and you don’t know exactly why, then finding out must be your priority. It could be you’re lacking support for your writing, that you’re at a juncture where you’re not sure what you want to write, or any of the reasons discussed above. It could be for another reason entirely. The thing is that if you identify the root cause, then you can find a constructive solution. Until you identify the root cause, you’re going to flounder and be one unhappy writer.

There is but one cure: Discipline. So recognize the challenges, accept them as valid, and then dive in and get to work, avoiding the mistakes.

I’m sure that by now you’ve noted a recurring cure. You can tag it as you wish, but there truly is but one cure for any of these ails that are rooted in procrastination: Discipline.
You must make a choice to not procrastinate. You must look at what you’re doing, why and by your own will elect to change.
No one is going to tell you that it will be easy or painless or that your world will be rosy if you succeed. If someone does, I’d think twice about listening to any of their advice and/or comments, because they’ve clearly never faced this demon.
What I will tell you is that it’s hard work but if you manage to face the demon procrastination and succeed, then you’ll be in a better place because you’ll be making conscious, informed decisions that are your own. These should be your calls.
Why?
Because it’s your life, your career, your responsibility. You’ve exercised the discipline, recognized the challenges, accepted them as valid. You’ve done the work–and you’ve avoided the mistakes.

And that brings us to what we want most–the topic in MISTAKES WE MAKE: PART 6. We’ll address that next time.

I hope this helps!

Blessings,

Vicki

Vicki Hinze
©2006, Vicki Hinze

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Author: Vicki Hinze

USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social N Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

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