Friday, June 1, 2018

How Do You Procrastinate? Tips to Recognize How You Avoid Your Writing and What to Do about It

Many writers I talk with are masters at procrastination, yet they manage to complete and publish books regularly.  What's that about?  

Here's what I've learned:

* they've also mastered a particular kind of self-talk
* they use routines or disciplines
* they work with self-imposed or other-imposed deadlines
* they promise themselves rewards when they meet a writing goal  

I know about these. 
A professional journalist for over twenty years, I'm seriously driven by deadlines from agents, editors, and publishers.  Deadlines make me get that writing done and kept me generating a weekly column for the Los Angeles Times syndicate for twelve years without missing one.  Same with magazine article when I'm contracted to write.  Getting paid made all the difference.  

Externally imposed deadlines carry weight for me, and I don't procrastinate on those.  But internally imposed ones, they don't do the same.  Books, before I signed a contract with an agent or publisher, were completely in my timing. Nobody really cared if I completed them or not.  I had to set my own deadlines, via editors-for-hire, writing partners, pitch conferences, or classes.  I knew I wouldn't get my books done without this.

You've probably heard about Gretchen Rubin's new book, The Four Tendencies. Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, which launched her into the stratosphere as an author.   I find her writing and ideas both terrifically annoying (because she's so often right) and intriguing.  I do buy and read her books, snark about them for a while, then find myself using her philosophy to my advantage as a writer and human being.

The Four Tendencies is all about how we are motivated.  Based on her research, she came up with four tendencies and believes most people can find a home in one.  I don't care for the names she gave the tendencies, but again, after much grumbling, I find they fit well.   I'll describe my take-away about them, from her book, and how they seem to apply to writers I know or work with.  

Upholders are both internally and externally motivated.  They'll get things done because they want to and because they promise they will.  They can be rigid but they are very disciplined.  Rubin herself is an upholder.  One interesting caveat is that upholders will reneg on promises they feel go against their best interests, even if others are depending on them.  They do what makes sense inside.  As writers, they know how to structure ways to get their writing done and they will often produce well and be proud of it.

Obligers are externally motivated.  They will only perform if they know someone is counting on them.  They have a terrible time getting something done if they do not have a deadline that is connected to a team, a boss, a friend or family member who is depending on them.  They show up beautifully for others, less so for themselves.  They do great if there's a class where they are noticed if they don't turn in work, or with a coach or editor they pay to keep them producing.

Questioners are internally motivated.  They do something only if it makes sense to them.  They'll ask lots of questions and do tons of research to find the best way to do whatever they've decided to try.  Sometimes the research can become an end in itself and keep them from writing, but they may not be able to comply with deadlines, if their questions aren't answered.  Once they are, the questioner is good to go.

Rebels are the group that will hate to read this, hate to be categorized at all.  They will not be motivated by anyone's deadline, neither other people's or their own.  In fact, being true to themselves, what is happening inside, is vitally important to them, almost more than accomplishing anything.  If someone suggests an idea or a new skill, rebels usually reject it immediately.  They have to come up with the idea themselves for it to have merit.  Unfortunately, they miss out on a lot of good stuff they could learn, but Rubin says rebels have a weakness:  they'll do something out of love.  In other words, if they love their book and REALLY want it to grow, they might listen to another writer, a teacher, or a coach.  As long as that person says, "Your choice, but here's an option," the rebel is usually able to still follow their inner direction and get something done.

Read more about Rubin's four tendencies and take her little quiz here.  Think about your own.  Then, ask yourself how you might use this knowledge, even a little bit, to make your writing life happier, more successful, and more creatively satisfying.

And while you're musing, here's a great article on the latest way to procrastinate, called "procrastibaking," courtesy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and my student, Rita (thanks, Rita!).