I am very, very good at procrastination.
Even as I write this I’m debating putting it off. I need to go to the post office and the library, the little voice says, the blog can wait. Who reads this stuff, anyway? Oh, and it’s about time for a fresh cup of tea. Wasn’t scratching behind the kitten’s ears fun? Yeah, let’s do that some more, then sort some Magic cards. Screw the job search and the writing, that stuff’s just depressing.
Allow me to give that sentiment – and maybe yours – a mental steel-toed kick to its metaphorical balls.
I wasn’t a fantastic student in university. Of the many papers I wrote, only a few were heavily researched and edited before turning them in. Most of them were dashed off based on scribbled, Ramen-stained notes the night before. Still managed to pass, though.
Having milestones, deadlines and checkpoints always helps. They can be major or minor, but like achievements in video games, they’re something to work towards. Sometimes I’ll make it, other times I won’t. But how does one hone a work ethic when there’s no set work to be done?
You set the deadlines yourself.
And you stick to them.
A couple weeks ago I hemmed and hawed about my to-do list. Since then I realized I do, in fact, want to write a sixth story for my anthology. But Red Hood took a lot longer than it should have to put together and a little reading of Revenge of the Penmonkey (available on Amazon and Nook, review later this week, short version: YOU GO BUY NOW) helped me realize why. I’d given myself no deadline. I spent mornings on Monster and Jobfox and whatnot, letting the best and most active period of time for my brain dribble away in a drab, seemingly hopeless and endless search for a new dayjob while Unemployment jerks me around.
Resolved to fix this after last night’s unfortunate turn of events with Building New Worlds (reschedule pending), I jotted down some titles and dates on a Post-it and stuck it onto my desk, opposite my StarCraft 2 reminders and the big one saying I need to write 1000 words that aren’t in the blog every day. I consider that a bare minimum.
Now I’ll be doing it in the mornings because dammit, I have deadlines to meet.
Specifically I’ve given myself until the 11th to finish this last short story. I’ve set Halloween as the date to send the veteran his edited manuscript, and while that’s going on I have until Thanksgiving (almost two months) to tackle the rewrite of Citizen in the Wilds. And after that, Valentine’s Day 2012 is the drop-dead date to complete the first round of edits and second draft of Cold Iron.
See, the thing is, if you don’t establish deadlines, especially if you’re doing something where they’re not established for you, the ‘dead’ part of the word rises from the rest and may very well choke the life out of your endeavor. We get distracted. Important things get our attention. Kitchen appliances explode. Earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, smog. Cats rubbing on our shins. Spouses, too.
I’m not saying chain yourself to your desk, glue your wrists to the bottom portion of the keyboard and type until your fingers bleed. Unless you have to. What I’m saying is impose some sort of structure on what you’re doing. Make promises to yourself about the amount of work you’re going to do, and for the love of whichever muse you think visits you in the night to whisper sweet writerly nothings in your ear, do not break them.
When you do, it’s not the deadlines who have the upper hand. It’s you. And when the deadline arrives and your work is done, you’re the one pointing and laughing at the deadline’s postmortem twitches and spasms, rather than being the victim of your own procrastination.
With me? Good. Once again, let us pray.