This morning, as my oatmeal cooked, I decided what the topic of this post would be. Then I ate my oatmeal, checked my RSS feed, left comments on 5 or 10 blogs, considered setting up a new folder for local blogs I’ve started following, fed my birds, had a cup of coffee, stared at the screen a minute, recorded the oatmeal in my daily nutrition tracker…
I’ve written about procrastination before. Clearly, it is something that I deal with regularly. Sometimes, it’s okay – even helpful – to put things off. Other times, we do it out of fear, or laziness, or simply because we dread doing whatever the task is. In the case of writing this post, I was probably putting it off because the idea wasn’t a very good one, or at least it wasn’t a full idea. It was something that should go into the idea file.
Procrastination, though, is a topic I could write about for days on end due to my long experience with it. Right now, for instance, I am not only putting off writing this post, but something else as well:
Several years ago, I had a job as a telemarketer. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds – we were only calling licensed insurance agents, and we weren’t actually selling anything. We told them about products or job offers, and set up times for someone else to call and give them more details. But I made hundreds of calls a day – 300 calls a day wasn’t unusual. And mostly, people didn’t answer. Very few people returned calls when we left messages, so we rarely left them. It was mostly dialing and listening to ringing. Somedays it was a struggle to stay awake. We should have made the most of something like ringless voicemail messages which can be very successful if done right.
For a few months, I shared an office with just one other person. She tended toward depression, so sometimes I would tell her stories to distract her from sad thoughts, while we listened to the phones ring. Eventually I was moved into a room with 8 or 10 other people in it, and without the entertainment of telling stories, I had to work to stay awake again. So I started writing a story. I wrote on scraps of paper that I kept under my keyboard, in tiny handwriting. I decided I kind of liked the story, and dug all those scraps out of my bag took them home, and typed them up.
Then I got fired from the telemarketer job. (It was a crazy place. LOTS of people got fired from there.) And I stopped working on the story.
I kept thinking that I “should” work on it some more. It liked it more than any other fiction I’d ever written. I let a couple of kids read it (it is a kids’ story) and they liked it. One of them even occasionally asks me if I’ve written anymore of it yet. But it just sat there, in a file on my desktop. After a year or two, it seemed to be taunting me, so I moved it off of the desktop, where I couldn’t see it anymore. But it still crossed my mind regularly.
A few months ago, I decided to read it and see if I still liked it. I did. It’s fairly unusual for me to read something I wrote a few years earlier and still like it. So, I put the dang thing back where I see it. I even printed it out and put it in my backpack so that I can work on it when I find myself in a waiting room or at lunch alone.
Almost immediately, within a week of re-reading it, I had about 12 new ideas for other stories I wanted to write.
(My organizer friend is going to tell me I should have written them down, filed them away and come back to them when I finished the kids’ story. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what I should do.)
I did write them all down, and file them all away. Then I started writing one of them. Now, I have two unfinished projects that I really love chattering in my head, bugging me to work on them. “Write us!” they say every night while I’m trying to raise my high score on Bejeweled Blitz. So far, I have successfully ignored them.
In this case, I don’t think I can say that either of these stories just needs time to “ferment” in my head. One of them has been doing that for about five years now, and the other o
ne just pours out when I work on it. The words don’t get to the page fast enough to suit my brain. So, yeah, the need to let my unconsciousness work its creative magic cannot be my excuse.
Because I firmly believe that we all have plenty of time to do the things we want to do, I cannot say that I’m too busy to work on these projects. Because I (and you!) can find time to work on the things we love. Bejeweled Blitz, anyone? My high score is over 300,000 in one minute…
That leaves fear. What will I do with these things once I feel they are “finished”? What if they are not particularly good? What if I take all the risks to my ego and send them to agents, or publishers, orwhoever (I really don’t even know who I would send them to) and get – gasp! – rejected? Would that make me feel sad? I don’t like to feel sad. Maybe I should just go ahead and delete those stories and forget about writing them. It’s too scary.
All of those questions, all of that fear is bullshit. It’s ridiculous and silly and unworthy. If a friend told me they felt that way, I’d tell them to quit being stupid and write the stories, stop borrowing tomorrow’s troubles, and figure out what to do with them when they are finished. Start spending an afternoon a week working on them. Or a half hour a day. Whatever, just write, and stop worrying.
Why is it so hard to take your own advice?
Do you have a project you love so much you are afraid to work on it? Do you just buckle down and get it done, or do you give yourself mind-candy to numb your brain and silence your creativity?