Deadlines

Today I’m going to write about arguably my biggest problem as a writer, even bigger than the Statler and Waldorf thing. It is something that frustrated my PhD supervisor, and frustrates me no end. I live in hope that it may Go Away, but given that it hasn’t yet, I grope around for coping strategies. I imagine every writer has their issues that they struggle with; more than anything, this is mine.

I don’t like to talk about it because it makes me sound like a huge flake, but it has come back in force the last while and maybe writing this will help. Maybe there will be something here that is useful for someone else. So here we go.

The root of the issue is that I am, many experts would agree, one of the all time champion procrastinators. I can put things off virtually forever, especially if there is no hard deadline. And this is where I really frustrate myself, because if you give me a deadline, I do not miss that deadline. I have never handed in an assignment late, as far as I can remember. When someone says, hey, I need this thing by X day, they get it on X day. So I’m perfectly capable of working at a steady pace and working to a schedule and producing work in a limited amount of time. It’s just that without that deadline, whatever parts of my psyche that I engage to do that stay on idle.

So you’ll probably immediately see why this is a problem for writing, especially freelance writing. There is no deadline for me to finish the new project that I’ve started work on in the last while. So, while it shouldn’t be put off, it theoretically can be, essentially forever. I don’t have to work on it today. Tomorrow will be fine.

This was a problem when I reached a certain stage of my PhD, at which there were no more assignments and no more weekly meetings and no more papers to write. It was just ‘go write your thesis’. Initial progress was, to put it mildly, slow. I did even ask my supervisor to give me a deadline for part of it, which she reluctantly did while explaining that it really didn’t work that way any more.

You reach a point where you have to self-motivate, and self discipline. I found it for the dissertation in the end, and got it done, but it was hard. I had to create a bunch of rules for myself (must be working by X time each day, and work at least until X time) to make it happen. Maybe everyone does that. I needed to.

This is not to say that I don’t love to write. I do. Writing is immensely good for my mood and state of mind, and when I get a good piece of it done, I take a kind of satisfaction from it that I get from literally nothing else. The problem is that I am not good at persuading myself to start writing if I’m not in the mood. If I’m tired. If I’m grumpy. If there’s laundry that needs to be done. Again, somewhat frustratingly, even though I know writing will improve my state of mind, I still tend not to do it if I don’t feel myself in ‘the right mood’ to write.

As a result, I haven’t gotten nearly as much done on the new project as I would like. I know what I want to do next, but I keep waiting for the perfect time to get at it, which means not much has happened. Well, a lot of laundry has gotten done. Not all that much writing.

I have read in a couple of places that this is the primary difference between an amateur and a professional. As someone who takes pride in being a professional in my teaching job, gotta say that stings a little. But it’s probably correct. Like most things, though, recognizing that the problem exists is the first step (got that down). Then you try to work on it, which I am.

It’s ok to not solve our problems (whatever they may be) right away. You do your best, you make a conscious effort to change your behaviour in the way that you want or need it to. Every day. Some days, you’ll screw it up and (say) spend the day shooting aliens instead of writing. That’s ok. Recognize that it wasn’t a good idea, give yourself a break for being human, and do better the next day. Day by day, you get there.

I’ve done this successfully with other issues in my life. Still working on it with some others, the procrastination thing prominent among them. I know I have to get a lot better with it if I’m going to be the best writer I can. Working on it every day.

For this project in particular, I’m going to give myself some help with a coping strategy. For the next week, I have some demands at work that are going to keep me pretty busy. However, I’m going to commit to writing 1,000 words in that time anyway, which I should easily be able to get in around the other stuff.  Then, once these work obligations clear up a bit, we’re back on the 1,000 words a day thing, at least until I build some momentum.

Which means I better go write something.

I’ll let you know how it goes next time.

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5 thoughts on “Deadlines

  1. elvishefer says:

    I read the first chunk of your new project the day you gave it to me, when I was in Ottawa, waiting for my 2h flight delay to be done. But I said to myself, self, I need to do a second pass at this before I give it back to Evan. No big deal, right? That was what, a month ago? Procrastination is hard because sometimes it’s laziness, sometimes things require the ‘right’ time to be completed, and sometimes life happens instead of what needs to be done. I’ve stood by the 15 min rule for the especially difficult times… Start something for 15 min and if I don’t feel like continuing after 15 min, I go do something else. Most of the time, I don’t even notice when the 15 min ends because I’m engrossed in doing whatever needed doing. Other times, I count the seconds. If it helps, there are people waiting for your next chunk of copy!

  2. Madam_W says:

    Good luck, and you’re not alone!

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