January 20, 2012

PROCRASTINATION: AN AGELESS MALADY




Happy 2012!

I thought I’d use the fresh start this New Year offers to explore some of the reasons we may put off those things that inhabit our dreams. I’ll use the desire to write for publication as my example, but if that’s not your interest, insert your own dream or pursuit. Metal sculpture. Returning to school. Leading a Bible study. Watercolor. Song writing. Advocacy for children in the court system. . . .

I wrote two full-length historical romance novels in 2009. After receiving a phone call from my agent on March 31st, I drafted Two Brides Too Many, the first book in the Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek Series and turned it in on June 1st. Believe me, a fluttering cape is not part of my wardrobe.

Twenty-two years ago, shortly after I began my trek into publication, my dad and I were walking on a dirt road in Arizona’s White Mountains when we discovered a deserted and dilapidated cabin not much bigger than my dining room. By the time, we’d finished our walk, my imagination had planted the seeds from which the premise for a novel sprouted.

Over the past two decades, I’ve taken countless novel-writing courses, focused on learning the craft of writing a story. As part of that process, I started a second contemporary novel set in Arizona’s Verde Valley. And intrigued by the late 1890’s and the stalwart women of that time, I began writing a historical novel set in Jerome, an Arizona copper mining camp. But I had never finished writing a novel until that pivotal phone call from my agent.

In September 2008, ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) awarded my Jerome historical, A Thimble’s Worth, First Place in the Historical Fiction category of the Genesis Contest and the chairman highly recommended that I finish the novel in the likelihood that at least one editor would ask to see the full manuscript. I did want to sell the novel and become a published novelist, so why didn’t I finish the story or any of the others I’d begun?

Perhaps you procrastinate too? I’ve discovered that most of the excuses for procrastination are also quite universal. Excuses are evergreens that appear healthy year round.
           
Ever use time, or the lack there of, as an excuse not to pursue organizing a hiking group, taking a short-term missions trip, or writing the story on your heart? Uh huh, me too.

But I don’t have trouble taking the time to eat chocolate, enjoy a semi-regular lunch with a friend, or to keep my fingernails trimmed. Hmm. Seems I’m willing to carve out time for those things that are truly important to me (and the folks I shake hands with).

And how about fear? Ever use fear as a viable excuse not to move forward? A legitimate reason to shrink in the face of a daunting dream, right? Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of disapproval and fear of condemnation of your very self because of the authenticity required to write fiction that is rich in truth. I so get that. And then I read 2 Timothy 1:7 (For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.) Oh, yeah.

Truth is, excuses breed faster than bunnies so there are plenty of them, but I think I can pin a lot of my procrastination on expectations and confusion.


EXPECTATIONS

I instinctively think about routine as a set and dedicated schedule. Images of a wide-awake writer skipping to her friendly computer at 8:30am and growing a garden of words until she takes a 30-minute daydreaming break at 10:00am. A one-hour lunch served on the lanai follows a second planting of fertile words. At 2:30pm, after a third productive writing session, she stretches out on the daybed for a 30-minute brain-invigoration snooze. Then at 5:00pm she breaths a sweet sigh of satisfaction and flicks off her office light. Another day of free-flowing, literary brilliance behind her, she latches the door shut and rushes into the real world.

Hysterical and fantastical, is it not?

And so not where I am at in this stage of my life. Never has been, at least not for any measurable length of time . . . like a full day.

Some of us work at home with life spinning all around us. Others of us also work outside the home, and family-life rides tandem with our dream of writing for publication (or whatever it may be). Due to health issues, my hubby retired seven years ago and is a mostly-stay-at-home man. I travel regularly to speak at schools, conferences, and women’s retreats. My only grandchild in the United States lives a mere hour away. I am a caregiver for my mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease and her ailing husband. And so on. Your own list of other responsibilities is compelling and long. So how do you and I set aside blocks of time for the writing process or any other lofty pursuit?

Don’t give away time unnecessarily and don’t discount the all important wedges of time.
I’d been under the impression that I couldn’t write a novel with distractions. That I needed big chunks of solitude in order to complete a full-length story worth publishing.

Such expectations set us up for procrastination.


PRIORITIES

Time is an issue, no doubt about it. You and I are both pulled in many directions and that can take place within a five minute period. We face many opportunities to serve others, the church, the community, the world. All of them good causes. Some of them even great. So how do we choose? Warning: here comes the dreaded “P” word. Priorities. They, well, take precedence over any number of time-munchers. Remember the chocolate and the fingernails? We will make time for those activities that we consider a priority.

Can someone else write the articles, the books, the poems, the songs, the stories rooted in your heart?

No? Okay. Can someone else clean the church kitchen? Serve on the Valentine’s banquet committee? Teach the weekly Bible study? Dot. Dot. Dot.

I’m just asking . . . what is the best use of your time?

Next time you get a phone call, an email, or a text asking you to do this or that, stop and think. Think about your motivation for saying yes. Then think about saying no if the activity wouldn’t be the best use of your time.


DISRUPTIONS HAPPEN

I do have a “work schedule.” One I refer to as fluid. Recently, my mom called me in meltdown mode and needed my help. Though not my first choice, that was the best use of my time. I also frequently find myself in hospital rooms and doctor’s waiting rooms. I have learned to savor all the bits and blocks of writing time I have and I’m figuring out how to draw the best out of them.

Writing on the Go  

1) Know when to go somewhere else to write. A place with white noise works well for me these days. McDonalds being one of my favorite places (might as well have a fruit parfait and an iced Mocha while I’m there). When I crave a quieter atmosphere, the library is just the ticket.

2) Be ready to carry writing work with you. My motto: Have tote bag, file folder, AlphaSmart keyboard, and/or laptop—will travel. I keep my tote stocked with index cards, extra batteries for my AlphaSmart, a notepad, and a snack. Depending upon what I’m working on and what stage I’m at in the project, I might add research material I want to read or organize, character sketches I need to fill in, a hard copy proposal or chapters I want to edit, a market guide for checking out possible publishers—things I tend to when I’m . . .

Writing in a Pinch

Be prepared to fill those wedges of writing time with activities that don’t necessarily require big blocks of uninterrupted minutes or hours. Research, outlining, character interviews, proposal components, editing scenes or chapters, drafting a query letter, studying possible markets, etc. can all be done more readily in snippets of time, which leaves any blocks open for spinning the story.

Writing Settled In

By tending to some of the pre-writing and the business side of writing on the go or in the pinches of time, I’m better prepared to sit down at the keyboard and get to the writing that requires a more concentrated chunk of time or place. Also, having those smaller tasks out of the way or at least lined up for writing on the go or writing in a pinch, I’m in a frame of mind to jump right back into my story.


MAKING SENSE OF ROAD SIGNS

My other evergreen excuse stems from those years of taking so many courses on writing fiction, reading a plethora of how-to books on the genre and craft, and studying so many different methods for constructing and polishing a great story. They all converged in the land of checklists and do’s and don’ts to form a maze through which I could not see the end of my novel.

When I accepted that two month deadline for Two Brides Too Many, I gave myself permission to shape my own routine for writing.

Are you struggling with procrastination? There isn’t just one way to plan, write, or finish a novel. Give yourself permission to find a route that works for you and keep on keeping on. 

QUESTION: What do you dream of doing? What next step will you take toward fulfilling that goal?







 
MONA HODGSON is the author of Two Brides Too Many, Too Rich for a Bride, and The Bride Wore Blue (May 2012), the first three books in the Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek Series (WaterBrook Multnomah). 

www.facebook.com Mona Hodgson Author Page

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