Posts Tagged ‘procrastination’

I’m back from the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat, and what a lovely five days I had! After all the hullaballoo of looking for a place to live, I was even more ready than normal to have time away from my cell phone and the logistics of my life. Whenever stress would intrude (say, from an e-mail from my current landlord), I’d go outside and look at the lake–sometimes rippling in the wind, sometimes a perfect mirror of the clouds overhead–and I’d feel much, much better.

It's hard to look at such beauty and not feel something loosen inside. Photo by Amy Sundberg (me!)

It’s hard to look at such beauty and not feel something loosen inside. Photo by Amy Sundberg (me!)

While my writing focus has been much improved this year compared to last year, I’ve been noticing as February progressed and the house search continued its grim plod that it was gradually worsening. It was taking me longer to get started writing every day, and I was taking more and more breaks. By the time I actually found my soon-to-be home at the beginning of last week, my focus was so shaky I had lowered my daily word count goal. So I went into Rainforest this year worried about my ability to produce.

I’m happy to say I was as productive as I hoped to be, which gave me food for thought. Why, I’ve been wondering, am I so much more productive and focused at Rainforest than at home? And is there any way to replicate any of Rainforest’s effects?

Factors that make Rainforest work so well for my productivity:

1. It’s remote, with no phones or cell reception, and very spotty internet connection. Without much communication from the outside world, it’s much easier to focus.

2. I clear the decks for the trip, which means for the most part I don’t have real world concerns intruding on my time or focus either. (Real concerns can range from daily dog care to doing my taxes to planning this social activity to going to appointments to doing chores.)

3. The word count board builds in accountability to my peers. This works better than an announcement on Twitter would because there’s a more tangible feeling of community and that we’re all in this together. I see people writing constantly, and conversation often revolves around how the writing is going that day.

4. I have extra motivation because of the resources used to take the trip, which ends up giving me the feeling that I’d better make this time count.

5. Because I have lofty (for me) daily word count goals, I tend to engage in less general shilly-shallying while ostensibly writing.

6. My writing day is more structured with meals and activities than it often is at home.

Some of these factors are hard to duplicate at home, most notably #2. I have to spend a certain amount of time each day dealing with life stuff, and sometimes that amount of time is much higher than I would ideally want it to be. So it goes.

Today, though, my first day back writing at home, I experimented with #5, otherwise known as the Shilly-shallying problem. And lo and behold, since I am now less accustomed to shilly-shally after a few days of better writing habits, I was able to cut down a great deal on the procrastinating that can accompany writing. And this on a day when I had a great many stressful life concerns piled up and demanding attention. Key to this, I think, was encouraging the belief that I could write my words in spite of what life was throwing at me, as well as remembering what it felt like to take those concerns and put them off to one side for a while and very deliberately doing that during my writing time.

I’m going to keep playing with that, and soon I’d like to experiment with #6 and see if adding a little more structure might help my productivity as well.

What has helped you become more productive?

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Today I started writing another novel.

It took a long time. In addition to actually typing some words, I did the following activities:

– I ate a Japanese cinnamon flavored mini Kit Kat, an extra peanut butter cup, and way too much cranberry sauce.
– I pet the dog. More than once.
– I spent time on Craigslist.
– I spent a little time emailing before throwing up my hands in despair at how far behind I am.
– I did laundry.
– I played Minesweeper.
– I emptied the trash can in my study.
– I took the dog to the park.
– I worried about the novel.
– I worried about things having nothing to do with the novel.
-I worried about other things having nothing to do with the novel.
– I practiced music.
– I played Solitaire.
– I thought about texting people and then didn’t get around to it because if they texted back, that would be the end to any pretense of productivity.
– I wandered around the house.
– I rinsed out a glass jar of jelly.
– I looked at the clock a lot.

Really, it’s a miracle I squeezed a thousand words out of my brain somewhere in the middle of all that activity, the majority of which was based around me not wanting to start the new novel.

It’s not that the actual writing is so unpleasant. I like writing. Even when it’s difficult, it’s still generally very satisfying. But even so, there’s a certain amount of resistance that I have to push through at the start of any new project. And I expect that resistance to continue for at least another week or two.

I’ve become very good at Solitaire, let me tell you.

The beginning is hard because I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know my characters very well, and my outline is full of vague comments like “They come up with a plan” (Fabulous! Now if only I knew what the plan was) and “She does something awesome” (if only I knew what awesome thing she could do) and “She’s given an important assignment” (but who knows what that might be). I don’t feel comfortable in my world. I can’t remember everything I’ve thought about it, and as soon as I commit sentences, I realize all the things I haven’t figured out yet. And then I realize all the things I know that I have to make sure the reader knows too, even though it would be so much easier to just breeze past those bits.

Beginnings are like that in general, aren’t they? We don’t know what to expect when we start something new. There’s no routine to fall back on, fewer tested assumptions to use as mental shortcuts. It’s scary because we don’t know if we’ll be any good, or if we’ll like whatever new thing we’re starting, or if we’ll be somehow screw things up because we don’t know any better yet. They’re uncomfortable and uncertain.

But beginnings are also a time of great promise. We don’t know what to expect so maybe amazing things will happen. It’s exciting to strike out and start something new. It lets us learn more about ourselves and more about the world around us.

So tomorrow when I sit down and begin the whole lengthy push-a-thousand-words-out-of-my-head process again, that’s what I’m going to try to think about. That even though I’m uncomfortable, maybe amazing things will happen.

I hope they happen for you too.

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