On any given day deciding to write or not to write is a choice. Often we forget this and take a roundabout way to avoid doing what we say we want to do.
Some of the most effective tactics you can use to keep yourself from working are to:
- Compare your work to that of other writers. Measure your work against published authors, famous published authors who have won prizes and who have worked for at least twenty years to perfect their craft.
- Worry about what other people will think before you begin. Obsess about what your parents will think. If they are no longer alive, dwell on what they would have thought about your aspirations and your work. Think yourself into a fearful state about how potential readers will judge your character based on your writing. Stew about what editors will think. Worry about how you will feel if your writing is so bland that no one reacts to it at all.
- Set impossibly high prerequisites. You’ll get around to writing just as soon as you get your computer software upgraded or when you get a new computer. You’ll sit down to work when you have a home office with custom made bookshelves and inspiring décor. Just as soon as you can find large chunks of time, then you’ll begin.
- Decide that every thing worth writing has already been written. Spend many hours in large bookstores. Sit at your computer and log onto the Library of Congress catalog. Read Books in Print religiously. Struggle to come up with a completely new topic that no author has ever written about before in the history of human kind. Give up.
- Become a prophet of doom. Look into your crystal ball and determine that you are destined to fail as a writer. See editors rejecting you or see your book on remainder tables before you start writing it. Imagine reviewers ignoring your work. Better yet, imagine a huge, rotten review in the New York Times Literary Supplement.
- Refuse to take creative risks. Only write what you are one hundred percent certain that you are good at writing. You are very good at making grocery and to-do lists. Concentrate your efforts on making more of them. Aim low when you write for publication, focusing on markets and subject matter you could write in your sleep. Fall asleep from boredom when you write. Decide you need challenge in your life. Take up skydiving instead.
- Insist on controlling the outcome. Spend months making detailed plans of what you will write. Make notes, outline and then outline your outlines Keep extensive notebooks. Create timelines for your writing rather than doing any writing. Never write anything you can’t sell. Raise anal retentiveness to an art form.
- Judge your writing too harshly. Forget that an integral part of the writing process is to spend time writing some things on the way to writing something else. View your completed work in terms of black and white. It’s either the essence of perfection or unredeemingly bad. There are no gray areas. Refuse to separate yourself for your writing. If you’ve written something that is lousy, what does that say about you?
- Show your work too soon. Let friends, family members and strangers read the first versions of your rough drafts, those you write when you take the first faltering steps toward discovering what it is you really want and need to write. Listen carefully as they correct your spelling and tell you how they would write it. Take all their suggestions to heart and incorporate them into your work. Watch as the life seeps from your idea. Instead of deciding it was a mistake to show your work too early in the process, tell yourself the mistake is in thinking you are a writer.
- Show your work to the wrong people. Find a critique group composed of frustrated writers with unresolved anger issues. Hand your personal power to them along with the pages of your manuscript. Quietly take it as they rip your work and your very being to shreds. Don’t cry until you are safely back inside your car. Destroy your manuscript and vow never to write again.
Even though these strategies work to keep you mired in procrastination, they deplete your energy – energy you could be using to write or energy you could be using to do the things you want to do instead of writing.
Make a list of the procrastination tactics you use most frequently. Step outside of yourself and write about the steps that make up your procrastination process in the third person. “She…” or “He…”. (Writing in the third person helps you to be more honest and often brings new insights.)
What would happen if next time you felt tempted to invest time and effort in these sneaky tactics, you tried a more straightforward method. What if you simply decided not to write that day. Say it out loud. “I choose not to write today.”
When you put it that way, you may decide you really do want to write. If not, you’ll be able to enjoy the alternative, get it out of your system and return to your work with renewed dedication.
To Do List Magazine: Keeping Track of Our Common Compulsions bills itself as a magazine of meaningful minutiae. The editors here want 3,000 word essays as well as shorter pieces for departments. These departments include: Profiles, List-making and Fixations. Complete guidelines are posted at http://www.todolistmagazine.com/.
Women’s Anthology on Menopause and Mid-Life: Yitta Halberstam, editor of five Small Miracles books, is seeking short, narrative essays with a positive slant about this time of life. The focus of the collection will be on renewal, redemption and second chances. Halberstam reports that she is open to all topics and that her guidelines are flexible. Stories need to be from two to fifteen pages long and payment is $100 to $200. The deadline is March 15. You can email your submission to her at YMYE@aol.com or sent them through snail maul to Yitta Halberstam, 172 Parkville Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11230.