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)