Tag Archives: procrastination

I’m Just a Rambling Man

The writing has been kind of slow for the last week.  There has been a 50% improvement in the chaotic conditions of my family obligations, but finding that still eye of the storm is still proving to be difficult.  As soon as I feel like I’m close to it I get caught in an updraft and find myself hurtling away at impossible speeds from what I would really like to be doing.

That said – I have mastered some plot threads that needed tying together.  My iPhone, unlike the previous clunky yet small Blackberry, is proving a bit of a helpmate.  I was able to download a pages app for it that allows me to edit the most recent chapter on the go.  I don’t foresee any solid writing time on it unless I get the keyboard that I mentioned in the last post, and I am waiting for my finances to improve for that, but I can edit, add ideas, and not lose rolling trains of steamy thought.

One of my plotting solutions involves a famous historical character, Harry Houdini, who has now gained importance in the novel, and thusly I am forced (oh what terrible pain and joy!) to read the recent bio of him that I got.  Sadly it is not available on the Kindle… wait, it wasn’t but maybe it is now… let me toddle off and check…

Back. Ah, wonderful.  I feel like a walking, talking, typing advert for the iPhone, but I am a convert.  So I have downloaded the Kindle app to my phone, and my copy of the Houdini book is now there, on the page I was last reading, and I’m ready to snatch minutes from my workday to learn all I need to know about the amazing magician, contortionist, and escape artist.  Amusing note on the side: on my wall, by my desk, is my Houdini Action Figure.  It was a gift from one of my relatives – the same year I gave them one.  We exchanged.

Ok, well I was away from this for about an hour because my cat pissed on the laundry again.  It’s such a joy to be able to add the mental and emotional and maybe physical aberrations of an animal you swore to look after and love for all his days to your list of distractions from writing.  Mostly he’s been urinating on the wife’s things, seems he’s pissed off at me now too.  I am also hearing about the chores and programming/design tweaks I need to make at Pan Historia… it never ends.  And just when I have the list all organized, and all the things I have to do on it, I’ll head to work for nine hours, because that’s how I pay the bills.

Tune in next week to find out more about how my iPhone helps me to conquer the madness of modern life, and enables me to write a novel in the middle of it.  Or not.  You choose how you distract yourself from your own writing.

Perhaps you might join a revolution?

Procrastination Bites!

You know the score. You’re supposed to be writing. Instead you find your eyelids drooping and a powerful urge to sleep coming on. Or you start clicking those stupid little games in FaceBook or you open your version of Spider Solitaire. Just a few games… honest. Then you’ll get back to writing. Or maybe you’re the type that will start cleaning the house or doing the laundry… oh shit, hold on, I just have to put the wash in the dryer now, be right back…

Ok, now where was I? Oh yes, procrastination – the bugbear of the would-be writer. Or maybe even the nemesis of all writers? Possibly so. Wait? Do I hear the siren call of a completely different writing project all my name? You know, something like a blog, or maybe even a new collaborative writing project at your favorite online writing community? Whatever it is – something is always keeping you from finishing your novel, that is, if you are at all like me.

So what are your favorite distractions? What’s your laundry list of things that suddenly need doing urgently every time you sit down to write and how the heck do you conquer those distractions and interruptions?

Games? Close the program. Delete the software. Social networking? Turn off the Twitter. Other writing projects? Perhaps time management is required. Too tired? What do you need to eliminate from your day that is a waste of your time so you’ll be able to find the time, space, and energy to write?

I want to hear from YOU.

Bombs Bursting in Air

I suffer from multi-taskitis and project-overload. No matter how I try to trim down on activities and interests and procrastination it seems I keep on piling them on my head until I’m in danger of drowning. When that happens I find myself stuck on mindless distractions (anyone that is a FaceBook friend of mine will know exactly what I mean) to turn off the anxiety or napping, but of course both of these end up giving me twice as much anxiety in the long run because I become more self-critical of myself for wasting valuable time. I feel like I’m on that proverbial treadmill at the gym, going nowhere fast.

Another symptom of my over-involvement and the impossibility of focusing on one task at a time is the increasing tendency towards losing the thread, brain stutters, and memory lapses. When I sit down to work I make repeated resolutions that this day I will start to focus my energies, cut out my time-wasting activities, and structure my day. I never follow through. The miracle remains: I still get shit done.

I’m like a poor mule beaten about the back to keep on pulling in the traces, but the whip hand? That’s my own. I beat myself black and blue every day just to get through the day and get something accomplished of the long list of projects I have set myself due to the incredible firing of my brain. Basically I get ideas. It never stops. Day in day out, night time too, I’m getting ideas. I find almost everything interesting. Inspiration sparks me where ever I go, from the slow times when I actually walk somewhere and have time to smell the gardenias, to the crazy overload times where my fingers are racing across a keyboard to get the ideas down somewhere before they vanish in the ether.

Of course the key to all of this is two-fold: make a plan and stick to it; and pick less projects. Maybe even schedule projects to be consecutive instead of all at once? How to reject great ideas though? It seems such a shame to consign interesting little tidbits to a murky “might never get around to this one” file.

Hey, I know. I could gain 32 hours a week if I quit my job.

Counting Towards Completion

Old Pan Historia logoAs of this morning I’m 14,460 words, 28 pages, and 6 chapters into writing my first novel. I also have 1,667 words of saved cuts.

What’s with the numbers I hear you ask? It’s not about cranking it out there, but about the writing, man. Alright, that’s not what you’re asking – that’s what I’m asking myself. I have often criticized the whole NaNoWriMo phenomena as a way of pushing output over quality. I think I understand better, now, why it’s a good idea to overcome writer’s block by short circuiting the whole anal retentive “it must be perfect” self-editorializing funk. Still my new obsession with numbers is not about writing 50,000 words in a single month. I am editing as I go along, and I started this particular resolution back on November 8, 2009.

I have long known that I needed something to push myself out of my own personal procrastination cycle when it came to writing my novel. I have written of my process here a couple of times in past blogs. Then in November I had the idea to start a writing group at my community web site, Pan Historia, which I dubbed Write Together. The purpose of the group, in all honesty, was twofold. One obvious reason was I felt that maybe a writing group of my peers where I was expected to show results would be a great way to give me a kick in the pants I needed. My other goal was to show that Pan Historia was not just a site where people fooled around and wrote purely for fun (though those are perfectly good and acceptable reasons to be there!) but also was a great hot house of creativity that could be a positive way for serious writers to have fun and improve their writing while doing it.

To prove that I needed to make myself a good example of it. It wasn’t enough for me to know that there were a few published writers on the site, and a few people that had taken their writing to the next level after sharpening their tools at Pan. I needed to be one of those people I talk about. So here I am to tell you that I am 14,460 words farther along on my goal than I was on November 8, 2009, and that feels damn good. The counting is a game that helps me to keep my eye on the ball, and my feet on the trail. It’s not about quantity, but the act of moving forward and having something I can measure to let me know I’m getting somewhere.

What game do you play to keep yourself on track with your writing goals?

Slice of Life

Wyatt’s Day:

  1. Coffee.
  2. Catch up on email, Pan message boards, staff work groups, exchange morning pleasantries with friends online at Pan and Twitter.
  3. Write blog post.
  4. More coffee.
  5. Kiss lady goodbye as she heads off to work.
  6. Post fiction to fiction blog.
  7. Find out why toilet keeps running.
  8. Make some breakfast (eggs and breakfast links)
  9. Write fiction for collaborative role-play novels: Turnskin (werewolves), FLESH (zombies).
  10. Make a chili con carne for the slow cooker.
  11. Root some plant cuttings.
  12. Contribute to reference and zone discussions at Pan like Fleur-de-lis on my most recent gardening adventures, or the Zone : Westerns on some western fun.
  13. Call the mechanic about making an appointment to have the car done.
  14. Laundry.
  15. Put together some shelves bought at Staples so the last of the books from the move can be put away.
  16. Deactivate CS3 on my old computer so it can be activated on the new one.
  17. Clean the apartment.
  18. Pick up best mate from the airport for week long visit.
  19. Eat chili con carne.
  20. Pass out.

I might just jump ahead to the ‘pass out’ part right now just from reading this list. And this doesn’t even include a million and one other little jobs for Pan Historia or my Bardic Web client that needs to be done. I went off to make my second pot of coffee and kiss my lady goodbye between writing the last line and this one and had to add line 7 to the list. Variables could throw a spanner in the whole awesome plan. I might need to be prepared to throw any number of items off the list – but the one thing that is NOT going to be eliminated is writing the fiction.

It’s been a whole week since I have found the time to write fiction. Regardless of life’s fusillade of distractions I will practice what I preach.

#WriteChat on Twitter

Right now I’m participating in #writechat – which is a rather cool Twitter phenomena. Every Sunday writers form a free-wheeling chat group in the Twitter stream that weaves in and out of other conversations. Topics are about writing: inspiration, mood, tips, techniques, publishing, etc. For those new or unfamiliar with Twitter, the chat/microblogging platform, hashtags are used to separate out topics and make them easily searchable. If you have software like the Tweetdeck on your computer you can actually create a ‘group’ for any topic you want to follow and it separates them out for you, regardless of whether you follow that person or not.

One of the recurring topics on #writechat is often how such conversations help inspire writing or writers. I don’t really find that to be true. Actually I tend to think of such activities as a bit of procrastination from the act of writing itself. After all if you’re reading a bunch of ‘tweets’ about writing and then jumping in yourself you can hardly be busy at work.

That said I still think it’s a very valuable tool. One of the reasons I’m a big fan of collaborative writing is that I’m a social animal. Traditionally writing has tended to be a lonely business with its fair share of misanthropes in its austere and often dusty ranks. Activities like #writechat connect up different writers to each other and shake out the cobwebs. So even though it doesn’t always lead me to more or better writing, I would be the last one to deny the benefits of just hanging out and getting to know other writers.

And for those that argue that they can see no point in Twitter it’s definitely one of the better uses of the application. It is an excellent Petri dish for meeting and breeding new writers and just one of the examples of how Twitter can be used in a good way to increase connections between people, rather than magnify the modern malaise of alienation, as many detractors of social media claim.

A Fire in the Belly

I have often been accused of being ‘too hard on myself’. I’m the first to admit that I like to set the bar high. I even set it so higher than it is possible to achieve – when it comes to art and fiction. In writing this blog my advice has often verged on aggressiveness in regard to my stance on what writers should do. In other words I tell them to write. No matter what just write. A few people have taken me to task for this. It’s true – not everyone has room in their life to take as much time out for writing as I do now, or enough time to get into the studio and paint, or sculpt, or whatever is they do, but that is because they have set other things as higher priorities.

When I was a single parent of a kid under the age of his majority I had to set a couple things as higher priorities than my writing or art. I had to make sure he had a roof over his head, food on the table, a good school nearby, and a pair of the right shoes to fit in with his peers. This often meant some sacrifices. Back when he was quite small I decided to become a painter. At times I was able to indulge myself, but when times got harder I had to cut back to the point that I didn’t have a studio to paint in. For me to do oil paintings meant that if I didn’t have a studio I didn’t tend to paint. I find landlords tend to keep your security deposit when you have ruined the walls and floor with paint and solvents (I’m a messy kind of painter). Oil paints and canvases are expensive. Their acquisition interfered with buying food and paying rent. Working freelance for a time meant that I found myself with less time as well. This was okay – because my priority had to be the young life I was responsible for. That didn’t take away my urge to create though. I found a way to do both.

I found myself on the computer a lot. This is when I began to write more earnestly. When I first started it was definitely only an outlet for my frustrated artist-self. Gradually, however, I found it was something that I could manage as a single parent and sole support of my difficult offspring. Collaborative writing, in particular, was suited because I could write in small chunks when time afforded, which was between work deadlines or when unmanageable demon-spawn offspring was finally restive (passed out or zoned in to his then obsession with Wrestlemania).

As I began to learn the craft of writing, I was beating myself up a lot over not painting. How could I call myself an artist if I didn’t do the one thing that qualified me as an artist, i.e. make art? I still wrestle with this problem since I have found that my inspiration for painting is either on or it is off. I don’t dabble. As a writer I have shown far more consistency. It fits in with my life style better. I can find room for it in my day. I can get up an hour earlier or stay up an hour later. It’s true I haven’t written the novel that I planned so many years ago, but I have maintained a pretty decent writing schedule for years now. Now the child is grown and I can change my priorities back to the creative life so it’s even easier than before to justify the time, but that doesn’t mean other things don’t get in the way. I just have to remember to move them back out of my way again.

Setting the bar high is my way of keeping a fire in my belly and a goad at my back. I don’t beat myself up for not achieving my goals; I beat myself up for not trying to achieve my goals. So again I say to you: you want to be a writer? Find the time to write. Even if you have to take a notepad to the crapper and lock the door, write. It’s just that simple.

But don’t forget to live – yesterday I spent the day at the beach combing for interesting stones – because you have to write about what you know.

Warming Up

The lure of good soil...

The lure of good soil...

If you follow my blog regularly you know that I recently moved. Life has radically altered, and yet… it must, by the nature of what I do, remain the same. I still need to get up in the morning, log onto my computer and begin my day. Besides any paycheck job I might eventually get I brought my work with me when I moved. I still need to work on my community site Pan Historia, I still need to work for any clients I get online, and I still need to be a writer. The challenge is fitting in the old into the new without losing why I came west in the first place.

There have been a lot of disruptions to my writing and Pan schedule. It’s been harder for me to find the time to do my fiction writing, or to write for my blog. New family obligations have popped up – and then there is the draw of the outside. Back east so much of the year was spent in cold, sleet, snow, ice, and wind that I had little temptation to unseat myself from my writing and take up other activities. Even in the summer I was rarely moved because I dislike humidity and New England summers are often very humid. I can’t even image what it’s like down south so don’t start with me.

The upshot is that it is very easy to get up from my computer and to take myself outside (which I wanted in my life, a big part of why I moved in the first place), and very hard to get back into my routine which I need to keep as well. It’s my writing that has suffered the most. While I have not completely succumbed to writing inertia I have only completed three posts for my collaborative fiction stories at Pan since moving into my new place, thus my stories are languishing. It’s not easy for my fellow writers to work around me. My blog has also suffered. Not being in the full flow of writing and thinking about writing means that I have fewer ideas for my blog. I hate to just write for the hell of it. Yet, here I am.

The purpose of this blog post (for me) functions just the same as warming up before an athletic event. Even though the sun is shining on my garden right now, even though the guest bed needs folding up and putting away, even though there are still boxes to unpack and sort and decide what goes back into storage, I am going to write. Even if I have to work later into the night to meet my deadline for my client, Bardic Web, I am going to write.

The lesson in all this for any writer is that no matter what you need to make time in your life to write. It doesn’t matter if you love the outdoors, or if you are on a job search, or if you are a single parent (I know of what I speak) you have to make that time and keep to it. It may not be as much time as ideal, but make it regular and make it priority.

There. Now I have warmed up my fingers a little bit. It’s time to go slip into the skin of a man who has endured natural disaster and a nuclear holocaust and is now living under a bitter sky.

A Little Calisthenics for the Writer

Coming off any kind of enforced writing hiatus can be a challenge. In my case it was a move across country with all the accompanying handicaps and hazards. The end result is always the same. It’s difficult to get started again. Just like when you have ‘writer’s block’ (I put that in comas because I hesitate to believe it’s anything more than mental laziness or a bout of low self-esteem) the only way back into the creativity is to plow straight back in – get on that horse and ride.

I have the added challenge that I do most of my writing in collaboration with others. When you write collaborative fiction one of two things can happen, in my experience. Either everyone wrote up a storm while you were gone and you have some serious catch up to play, or no one wrote and you have to get a whole bunch of people past their own little version of writer’s block. I have the latter issue this time.

First step I’m writing this blog post. I consider my blogging calisthenics for the writer. I can do it fairly quickly and easily (there are no other writers to consider on my blog), and I can get out a few thoughts, organize them, and then get the sense of creative accomplishment when I hit the post button that will help motivate me towards my other projects. My next step will probably be to repost some of my old fiction on my other blog. While that might seem like a time waster in terms of writing it’s actually not. By choosing, rereading, reviewing and editing, I find myself shifting back into the fiction writing mindset that I need. Often I am either happy with what I posted and thus inspired, or I think that my old stuff is crap and so I am motivated to do better. Sometimes I rediscover ideas that never got followed through and that will also goad me into action.

The one thing I will have to try and avoid is getting distracted. It’s very easy when you’ve not been writing for a while to decide you just really have to do the laundry first, or fix the garage door, or whatever little thing is niggling at you that will keep you from your first and primary task (if you are a writer). Obviously daily life must be lived – chores must be done, but you know what I’m talking about. It’s the chores that suddenly leap over into the time designated for writing until finally you are just too busy to write. Don’t let that happen. The laundry can wait for an hour. Fix that writing time in stone, and make it sacred.

Notice how I didn’t complete my set of steps I’m going to take to get into writing again? I got distracted not with the laundry but writing about the laundry. Case in point: anyway the next step in my process, because I am a collaborative writer, is to get out my bullwhip and motivate my fellow writers. That, in of itself, can be a distraction but I need my co-writers to get back on the horse and write as well. I’ll probably jump all over my planning boards with ideas for new storylines or suggestions on how we can move forward. And then, finally, I will write something. Anything. But it needs to be done and it needs to happen as fast as possible because every day you prolong the hiatus, or the block, is a day wasted, and it only gets harder with more time.

The Great American Novel Stowed Under the Bed

(originally posted on November 3rd, 2008 at http://www.panhistoria.blogspot.com)

I was tidying up this morning (shocking but true) and I came across my copy of the Gary Robert’s biography of Doc Holliday – which I had been reading last month, the month before? Anyway it reminded me that not too long ago I had been back in deep with my idea of writing the Great American Novel (i.e. the unfinished manuscript). I try not to talk about writing the book too often for the very reason that I keep putting it off, getting distracted, and just generally pissing about and not doing it. As an artist, as a writer, I know those people that are always talking about wanting to be something, but they never just DO IT.

Really the doing is the key. Back in art school I remember one of my professors disparaging ‘talent’. Now I’m a firm believer in talent, but what he said really sank in that day. In his years of teaching he’d seen lots of talented students that never made the grade as artists; they’d just piss it all away in ego and laziness. It was determination and discipline that made the artist. It was the one that worked at it – no matter the starting point – that achieved success. I’ve been judging myself by that standard, and frankly I flop as a novel writer. I piss about and I don’t actually write the damned thing.

Yet I’m different from other wannabe writers. Why? Because I actually write at least a page a day, and often much more than that. Every day I log into Pan Historia and participate in the writing there – perhaps it’s not a fictional piece that I write, maybe it’s this blog, or maybe it’s instructions on how to participate in some contest, or it’s my email correspondence, or even it’s just the conversations I have with people online via our instant messaging system. As an aside on my counting online chat as writing I have to elucidate: I never use emoticons, I always spell the entire word out, and I endeavor, always, to use correct grammar and punctuation. When I describe something I’m aware of the words I choose, always.

I do value the writing I do at Pan Historia – like the re-enactment I talked about in my recent blogging – but deep down I feel like all this practice should be going towards the ‘real deal’. What is holding me back? Is it fear of failure? Ultimately I do hesitate to claim ‘writer’ status for myself. I happen to know some incredible writers personally and I cringe to suggest I can do what they can do, no matter how I strive to learn the art of word craft, but I don’t think that’s really what stops me. After all I keep painting even though I know I’m no Picasso.

It’s more like I’m a glutton and I need to be more single-minded. I grab hold of so many things, pulling them towards me, my mind always searching for the new and interesting. I have to read The New Yorker on the john because I have two novels on the go (and that biography of Doc Holliday), and then when I’m the computer I’m working on Pan Historia or learning my Adobe Suite programs, or talking fiction, art, history, or god knows what. Even when I paint I have sitters and we talk and I can only manage a couple hours at most and there are numerous other projects too numerous to mention.

I have no point of stillness.

To truly write is to hear the story in my head and just follow it, hour upon hour. Even if that is an hour set apart in a day it needs to be one still hour. I’m not even doing that now. While I type this blog post I’m holding a conversation with three people at Pan via instant messaging and I have my Twitter going. In fact I was just ‘gone’ for ten minutes as I posted at Pan regarding our Halloween Home Contest, left a message for someone about their prize, and generally futzed around – and did I tell you that my feet are cold and I need to get some socks on?

Good thing I don’t believe in Attention Deficit Disorder. I would be on drugs now. Wait… I am on drugs, but just painkillers folks, no need to call the cops.