“How do you overcome procrastination?”
This is one of the questions I hear most often as a full-time writer. In fact, it’s right up there with ‘where do you get your ideas from?’. An odd question to be sure. Seems a great many would-be authors harbor dreams of being a successful full-time writer, but find themselves washing the car when they should be writing. If a never ending to-do list is stopping you from putting your novel on paper, then you’ve come to the right place. In this brief article, I’m going to examine why you procrastinate to begin with, and why you should choose a different career path.
Trigger Warning! I’m about to blow the lid off your day dreams.
First let’s talk about procrastination. Why do humans procrastinate? Because we’re trying to avoid an unpleasant task. We procrastinate because what we need to do is difficult and probably time consuming, so we find smaller, easier tasks to fill up our time. The act of procrastination fulfills two needs. First, the need to avoid the unpleasant task. Second, it provides us with an excuse as to why we didn’t accomplish the really important thing.
One day I’ll get around to writing my novel, but right now I’ve got a pot roast in the oven, the kids need to be picked up from soccer, and the dog just barfed on the rug.
All across the world employees are filling their time with busy work to avoid that report the boss wants on his desk before the weekend. Think back to your college days, if you can remember them. (Think back to High school if you weren’t dumb enough to get suckered into dropping 100k dollars on a useless piece of paper.) Academic studies are a microcosm of real-life. You procrastinated over your book report because you didn’t want to do the book report. Five pages of well-turned prose on the significance of the Sublime in Gothic literature is boring. Your brain interprets boredom as pain, and our brains go to great lengths to avoid pain. Instead of cranking out that report, you left it until the day before it was due and went skinny dipping at the Delta Delta Delta kegger instead. (Don’t worry. It’s our secret. Wink. Wink.)
So if our brains use procrastination to move us away from pain and towards pleasure (and they most certainly do) then ask yourself this question; Why do you procrastinate?
Because your brain interprets the act of writing as pain.
If you find yourself taking out the trash, vacuuming the rugs and washing the car when you could be writing, it’s because you’d rather be doing those other things than writing. In fact, you’d rather be doing just about anything other than writing.
Here’s the really bad news: If you find washing the car less painful than sitting down at the keyboard to write, then maybe you shouldn’t be a writer.
I hate yard work. Hate it with a passion. I’d rather stab myself in the leg than mow the lawn. I’ll do it, but only after the city sends someone out to tell me the lawn is too high and I have to mow or pay a fine. Obviously, I’m not going to take a job as a law care professional. Only logical, right?
Why then do I meet so many would-be authors who would rather be doing anything but writing? If you don’t enjoy the process of writing, choose a different career path. Lawn care professional maybe.
Sounds harsh. I know. But the truth is I can’t answer your question about procrastination because I don’t procrastinate. The reality is, successful authors enjoy writing. We let the lawn get shaggy and trash pile up while we’re busy at the keyboard. I’ve got the dirtiest car on the block and that’s not hyperbole. I wash it maybe twice a year when I know my father (the Marine) is coming into town and it will drive him bat-crap crazy to see an unwashed car. Laundry piles up in the hamper. The gutters are full of dead leaves and the rug hasn’t been vacuumed in I don’t know when.
What’s that you say? A slob?
I’m okay with that. I’m doing what I really love to do. Writing. I try to get out to the gym three or four times a week and I enjoy travel, but writing is my passion. When I’m at the keyboard with a story unfolding from my imagination, I’m having a blast. Woe betide anyone who interrupts. I’ve broken up with girls for less.
I’ve been building to this point: If you don’t love writing then why would you want to spend all day, every day, doing it? And if you do love writing then why aren’t you doing it?
Reality is, you might be in love with the idea of having writing a novel. That’s past tense for a reason. In other words, you want to write a novel the way some people want to get in shape. You want the fame and fortune that comes with writing a novel, but you aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to actually sit down and write.
Allow me to shatter your illusions. There’s no fame and very little money. Especially in the beginning. I’ve never had someone come up to me in a coffee shop and ask if I’m William Miller the author, then proceed to tell me how much they enjoyed Noble Man. The one time someone did recognize me in public they had me mistaken for a local actor named Brian Shea. Oddly enough Mr. Shea and I are good friends. We had a laugh over it.
As to the money. I wrote for nearly twenty years before I started making enough to quit my day job. I still live in fear that it’s some kind of mistake. I fear one day Amazon will call me up and tell me they made a colossal error. All those sales actually belong to a different, much more talented, William Miller. “Dreadfully sorry about that old chap, but we’ll have to take all the money back.” I don’t know why Amazon has a British accent in my imagination, but they do. Roll with it.
So if you want to write a book because of the money or satisfaction of telling people you are an author, go back to washing the car and forget all about this writing business. You’re going to be disappointed.
On the other hand, If you really love writing, let the laundry pile up and get busy writing. Your significant other will eventually do the wash when they get fed up with the stench. If you haven’t got a significant other, all the better. There’s no one around to smell you. You have my permission to write your little heart out.
Am I being too hard or unrealistic? Do you have a different opinion on why writers dust their bowling trophies when they could be writing? Let me know in the comment section. I’d love to hear your thoughts.