Procrastination, Percolation, and Getting Back to Work

This is a post for people who are stuck.

I’ve been stuck, too. My last couple months have involved a lot of what most–myself included–might call PROCRASTINATION. I’ve been reading, but I’ve also been streaming whole seasons of TV shows, making obscene batches of guacamole (the assembly is so cathartic), walking every square inch of this city, writing to-do lists just to write to-do lists because surely the act of imposing list-shaped order is SOME kind of warped productivity…

Really, doing anything and everything BUT writing.

And that’s a problem. I knew it was a problem, and I looked got ANGRY at myself. I looked at the number of books I wrote last year (2.5) and the number I’d written this year (0.0) and I berated my behavior and filled my mind up with all kinds of fail-y thoughts. Which, of course, didn’t help. But you see, I wasn’t just angry at myself.

I was SCARED.

Most of us associate procrastination with the avoidance of something we DON’T want to do. The fact I was avoiding WRITING terrified me. Writing has always been my passion, my sanity. The thought that I had somehow, inexplicably, fallen OUT of love with it was such a horrific notion that it only made the avoidance worse. I didn’t even want to think about it.

But here’s the thing.

There are a lot of reasons we procrastinate, and they don’t all have to do with not enjoying the task. Writers are naturally fairly neurotic, and sometimes it’s just that we OVER-THINK the task. Sometimes it’s because we LOVE the task, and caring about the task is scarier than disliking it, especially when we enter the field of publishing and the external forces begin to poke at our creative bubble. All those forces at, at best, distracting, and, at worst, paralyzing.

I do think it’s important to accept that sometimes procrastination is just procrastination. Lazy days, thinking is hard, etc. etc. But most of the time, I think we can stop and figure out WHY we’re avoiding our work.

Whether it’s fear, or doubt, or love, or too many voices in our head that aren’t ours…if we find ourselves avoiding something we love, there’s a reason. And if we truly love that thing, the reason is well worth finding.

And sometimes, it’s not so life crisis-y. Sometimes we just need to give our creative selves time to breathe, think, absorb, percolate.

The difference between procrastination and percolation? I suppose it’s the difference between being smothered and being starved. We procrastinate to avoid, to escape. Something is smothering us. We percolate when our minds need something, when they’re malnourished. Maybe we need inspiration, or maybe we just need TIME. Space.

Stories take up incredible mental resources. I know there are people whose creative gestation period is startlingly fast, but most writers, consciously or unconsciously, need time for their stories to form. They’re like dust bunnies, or tumbleweeds, or planets. They need to amass enough stuff to have weight and shape and potential.

I think that when we try to rush something into being, one of two things happens:
1. We succeed, but our brains are tired afterward and will need time to recover.
2. We’ve succeeded previously, our brains haven’t fully recovered, and the attempt fails.

the problem is that, for most of us, we lack the stability and discipline to plod along at an ever-steady, always-healthy pace. Eventually the muse wraps hits and we have to go, go, go. And that’s part of the creative process, too. But we have to be prepared for the aftermath.

I didn’t set out to write almost 3 books last year. Things kept aligning and I felt good, strong, inspired, and I went with it, and am so happy I did. But I’ve spent THIS year recovering.

That “recovery” was equal parts procrastination–too many external forces interrupting my focus–and percolation–I needed to recover creatively from the marathon that was last year’s writing output. It’s taken me three full months, and while I’m done percolating, the procrastination is definitely still an obstacle. And I’m at the point where I have to stop tolerating it. I’ve acknowledged that I’m doing it, and I’ve admitted to myself many of the reasons WHY, but at the end of the day, as long as none of those reasons is that I’ve fallen out of love with my job, then I have to push on, and push through.

That’s really what it’s about. You analyze why you’re stuck. You figure out if you’re being lazy, or if you’re letting external forces distract you, or if your creative self needs a rest. BUT if you love writing, then at the end of the day, you have to figure out whatever it is you need to do in order to WRITE. Whether it’s butt-in-chair time, or no-internet time, or just TIME.

We need to understand why we’re stuck, not so we have an excuse to continue being stuck, but so we can extricate ourselves, and go back to work.

(This post was inspired by a comment from Lynette Henderson on Twitter about procrastination and percolation)

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16 thoughts on “Procrastination, Percolation, and Getting Back to Work

  1. Tracy says:

    I am a “stuck” person right now, fully in the fear stage. I’m terrified I’ve lost my excitement for writing, that I don’t have “it” anymore. I also wrote three books very quickly, and am now stuck wondering why it isn’t so EASY anymore. I don’t have my answers yet, but this post made me feel less alone…and much more hopeful that I WILL find the reasons, and be able to get lost in the creative process once again. Thank you so much.

  2. LOVE this post. This is so me right now. My first book was released, I wrote another one, and half of two more books last year. I knew I was burned out but I guess I didn’t think it would take me so long to get back into the game :) Plus, I think I’m definitely over-thinking things. When I need to just write and let my brain work it out for me as I go. I think part of my problem is that I’m working on a book I really love but I’ve been trying to listen to too many people when I need to just listen to my characters. I can deal with what doesn’t work later.

  3. I’m ‘stuck’ too. But I’m stuck with plot and plan in my head. I’m just terrified that I can’t do justice to them on paper. Scared that my best efforts to show my exciting story and characters will just fall flat because I’m just not good enough. *sigh* And bleugh.

  4. I’m struggling to get my latest off the ground at the moment, and this post rang absolutely true. I’ve published five books in four years, two of them in 2011, and I’ve always known that I was not a 2-book-a-year writer but more like a book-every-12-to-18-months writer. I need fallow time to catch my breath and fill my creative well, but instead I feel like I’ve barely had a second to hit the Fainting Couch (™Sarah Rees Brennan) before the next deadline descends upon me like an anvil. It’s hard to relax and enjoy writing under those conditions, but it’s also hard to slow down in a business that’s constantly urging writers to produce more, and faster, just to stay afloat.

    I am definitely over-thinking things — the story, my career, my life. It’s my besetting tendency, and the reason I find it easy to identify with Hamlet. (Well, except for that Ophelia thing. That was just uncalled for. Jerk.) The question I keep asking myself is, how do I STOP thinking and just go with the flow? How do I recapture the innocent zeal for writing that I had before I knew what the heck I was doing? O id, where art thou?

    That being said, the entire writing process for my last book was a ball of neurotic misery and over-thinking, and now a bunch of readers are telling me it’s their favorite. So I guess my consolation is that you don’t have to be bubbling over with joy and eagerness in order to write well? (But I would sure LIKE to be bubbling over with joy and eagerness! Because I do love my characters and I do want to tell their story. I just wish it weren’t so much !#&*% WORK.)

  5. Rather than embarrassing us both with proposals of marriage and declarations of eternal love, I’ll just say:

    THANK YOU! OMG, THANK YOU!!!!

    My whole life has been endless packages of stress for the last two years–personal, professional, even family and health. Just everything. The writing was always my shelter/sanity despite the chaos. But starting in January, I was just burned out and empty. And it’s so paralyzing to look at this new concept you adore and the blank page that used to feel like freedom to write ALL THE THINGS and feel nothing but fear that you’ll never pull it off in a million years.

    I don’t know what changed this week, because I still have all of the same life stresses and even more day job and family stresses, but I actually spent Wednesday night fully engaged, and it felt AMAZING.

    And then last night I felt empty again, and I totally panicked.

    So, thank you for this. I actually feel like locking myself in my office over the weekend to write. Here’s hoping it works!

    (Also, marry me, k?) (Mostly kidding.) (Mostly.)

  6. Leigh Caroline says:

    *hugs* I know that one well. After moving cross country, I’ve got this lovely gap while remodeling finishes on our condo, where I have no bills (well, except car payments/insurance, but that’s automatic, and was accounted for ahead of time), no job yet (because I’m 1 1/2 hours from where I’m going to live, and I don’t want to spend 3 hours commuting across states), and nothing really important to do. I had this lovely plan that I’d sit down, and bash out a draft of a novel. Only to get here, settle in, and proceed to play online way too much. Definitely procrastination. It’s sometimes a matter of just picking myself up, smacking my head a few times, and putting fingers to keyboard. I found for me, it helps to set a start time, a lunch break, and an end time. If I treat it like a job, then I have to be actively working on something writing related, not just playing dumb facebook games all day!

  7. Yes.

    I could just leave it at that. LOL. BUT I WON’T.

    I had a month last fall that was possibly the worst mentally and spiritually that I’ve had since I was a teenager bc I thought I didn’t love writing anymore. That I was broken. Ruined. I’m pretty damn sure it was less related to how much I wrote as to transitioning from almost-published to published. I thought I was doing fine as a debut author, that it wasn’t getting to me… and overtly, consciously, it wasn’t. But that tricky subconscious level, the psychological bits that I can’t see because I’m sitting in my own head, really tensed up and… well, I think it was sort of like post-partum depression.

    Like RJ, I had to rediscover that id, that “innocent zeal” when I only wrote because I loved it. It took like 10 months and 7 drafts and tears and hatred and horrible things, but I’m finally, finally through that rebirthing period, loving my writing AND being better at it. I *like* to think I’ve leveled up as a writer (and as a human being).

  8. KrysteyBelle says:

    Ah, your year sounds exactly like the year I’ve had. Many false starts, but at the end of the day, absolutely nothing. So, I’ve spent time reading, writing short stories, and picking and prodding old projects, but not commiting to any new ones. I’m hoping a new one appears in my head very soon, but until then, I’ll keep trying.

  9. Thank you, Victoria, for writing this. As a burgeoning writer, I sometimes panic when my brain is empty. This happened recently after I finished writing a very difficult chapter (I had to kill a favorite character). It scared me, but after letting my brain settle and taking a deep breath, I was able to move forward. Took a couple days, but the engine revved and I was off. In some ways it feels like I am moving faster after having been through that.

    Writing is emotion. When those emotions are stressed, it makes writing harder…that and we’re a bunch of neurotic weirdos. :D

  10. Rose says:

    Great post! I’ve not been writing for a while. I figured it’s time for me to solve the problem and get things written.
    Thank you(;

  11. Oh, gosh. I think we must be soulmates. I go through this all the time – the whole neurotic, over-thinking mess of it. And I’m not even published yet. I guess all that needs to be done is “pushing on and pushing through”.

    And as Tessa said (God, I love both of you for summing this stuff up just right) – it’s all about leveling up as a writer. Makes me picture all writers as some sort of awesome Power Ranger pack, so I guess you are both Red Rangers at this point ;)

  12. [...] Author and blogger Victoria Schwab had provided an amazingly insightful outlook on writer’s block.  I found this entry on procrastination v. percolation via Tessa Gratton’s twitter and thought it was definitely worth sharing with whoever might read this.  I agree completely with her stance, even though I am not published.  Sometimes you can get creatively spent and you have to reboot–percolate.  Or, other emotions (fear or anxiety, for example) can cause us to anticipate failure, which we, of course, would like to put off for as long as possible–procrastinate.   The thing is this:  We are guaranteed failure if we never start or finish.  There is still a chance what we do could be successful if we realize we are procrastinating and push through it.  Beyond writing practices, Schwab has given her blog followers a life lesson.  See if it pertains to you by giving her entry a look here. [...]

  13. [...] Elsewhere on WordPress, YA author Victoria Schwab has written a great column on overcoming overcoming procrastination and getting back to work. [...]

  14. [...] 3) Equally awesome is Victoria Schwab’s recent post about the difference between Procrastination and Percolation. [...]

  15. Stacy Green says:

    What a great post! My first book comes out in November, and I’m working on the second as well as plotting a series. And that doesn’t even count the social media/marketing. It’s overwhelming, and I alternate between frenzy to get it all done and being so tired at the thought of all the hard work I need to put in. This post was something I really needed to read, thank you.

  16. [...] sometimes someone else just says it better. [...]

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