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Friday, November 7, 2014

Procrastination and Too Few Hours in the Day

Before NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I posted an article talking about how to get ready for the big event. Among my suggestions included writing up blog posts in advance so they wouldn’t take up precious writing time during November. Guess what I didn’t do in preparation for NaNoWriMo.

Yep. It’s the evening of November 6th, and here I am just now writing the post for November 7th.

Why didn’t I follow my own advice? Because I got busy and procrastinated. It’s a common affliction among most humans, so I hear.

On a number of occasions in the past few weeks, I thought about writing up my blog posts, but I was always in the middle of something and determined that I’d do it later. The funny thing about later is that, after a while, it catches up with you, and here I am in November with no blog posts written in advance. My only saving grace in this is that I spent most of that time working on edits, so it was at least writing related.

How often have you been in this position? It’s easy to develop a very long to-do list and suddenly realize you’ve missed a thing or seven. It’s easy to let things slip when you’re trying to get other stuff done. It can be particularly difficult for writers to avoid this problem because, for the most part, we make our own goals, hours, and decide how hard we’ll work. It sounds like a nice deal, and in many ways it is, but there are moments when it’s a pain.

For me, running up to November involved a lot of editing to try and knock out a project before I started my NaNoWriMo work. Well, that editing still isn’t done, not because I’ve procrastinated on it, but because it’s taking longer than I’d hoped.

With every day, I mentally calculate how many words I’ll have to write each day of what remains of NaNoWriMo to reach 50,000. Had I started on November 1, it would have been 1,667. Yesterday, it would have been 1,924. Today, it would be 2,000, and the day this article is published, 2,084. By Monday, it’ll be 2,381. It adds up fast.

But whether it’s NaNoWriMo or any other month, procrastinating and running short on time are commonplace for writers.

When you’re new to writing, it’s easy to procrastinate any sort of writing. Excuses become habitual. I can’t think of anything to write right now. I’m tired. I’m busy. I don’t feel like it. I really should vacuum my living room for the fourth time this week. Oh, look, I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages.

Once you develop a routine of sitting down to write no matter how you feel and on a regular basis, the excuses change. Something needs a little extra research that isn’t technically necessary. Oh, but I really should get on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Google+/Current-Time-Suck; it’s promotion after all. I just need to fiddle with this last manuscript one more time, even though I’ve already polished it to a near mirror glow. I can’t think of anything good to write today. Oh, look, here’s that book I’ve been meaning to read again, and I need to vacuum my living room for the fifth time this week. (Some excuses just don’t go away.)

When you’re starting to publish, procrastination takes on more public consequences. My editor needs line edits done by the weekend, so I’ll drop everything to comply and let all my other goals fall to the wayside. While this is completely reasonable, it can really mess with personal goals. Or, more commonly: I need to find yet another promotion opportunity, make another contact, figure out a new giveaway or contest, etc. It’s very easy to let all the things a published writer does get in the way of actually writing.

And none of that deals directly with the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week, and 52 weeks in a year. Oh, and during that time, at some point we have to eat, sleep, and let our loved ones know we acknowledge their existence and appreciate their saintly tolerance of our writer eccentricities.

And all of that is if you’re a normal writer. If you’re prone to procrastination, it gets even worse. If you’re very, very good at scheduling and somehow making it work, all the rest of us envy you.

So, now that we’ve acknowledged this challenge, how in the world do we handle it?

First, recognize that it’s normal and will happen no matter how hard we fight it. (Excuse me while I try to subdue the part of my brain that’s denying this is even a possibility and is screaming in panic that I’m so behind. Okay, I stuffed her in a barrel, so she’s at least muffled.)

Second, do the best you can. Procrastination is going to happen at some point, but do your best to avoid giving in. Stay focused and work hard on steadily moving toward your goals.

Third, prioritize. For example, I decided that finishing edits on one manuscript was more important than diving into NaNoWriMo. For some people, NaNoWriMo would be more important. Prioritizing is a personal and subjective business. The key is to ensure your priorities match the goals you’re aiming for and to recognize that when you boost one thing, something else will suffer. In my case, devoting my time to editing means I now have to take time during November to write blog posts.

Fourth, remind yourself of what’s really important. Yes, it may be important to ensure you post regularly on social media about your book or blog. Yes, it’s certainly important to get the edits done in the timeframe your editor gave you. Yes, it may be important to get that manuscript finished by New Years. But stop and remember why you’re writing. Remember the real people around you. Remember to take a deep breath and live a little. (Hmm, is that voice in the barrel getting louder?) It’s easy to get caught up in avoiding procrastinating or doing something that we think has to be done for our goals--it’s even easy to get caught up in procrastinating--but we should also remember that there’s more to life. Maybe that’s why it’s a good thing that Thanksgiving falls in the midst of NaNoWriMo. It’s good to remember to be thankful for what we have now.

And lastly, take that deep breath. Take a walk. Soak in a long, hot bath. Cuddle up with your sweetheart. Talk or play with the kids. Sleep. In essence, recharge before you go back into the fray and start making decisions about how to handle it all. Often, you’ll be more productive for the brief respite and grounding.

Now, let’s see how well I take my own advice this time. J

How do you deal with time crunches and procrastination?

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