First off, let me wish all of you the most incredible things for 2014.
Success, money, love, happiness; may you have it all.
I don’t know if there’s such a thing as practical procrastination, but it’s the attitude I’ve chosen to adopt. We all procrastinate, right? Maybe I’m biased, but I do think creative people tend to fall prey to procrastination’s claws more often than other professionals. Sometimes procrastination gets to me sooo deeply that entire days pass without me writing a single word. The most infuriating thing is that since I have a day job, most of the time those days that fizzle away with zero productivity are vacation days that I took specifically to write. Needless to say, I have launched an all out war on procrastination. And I lost.
You can’t beat procrastination. At least not with any means I’ve tried. If you’ve found a magic trick, please shout it out in the comments. But what you can do is trick procrastination into thinking you’re procrastinating, while in fact you’re doing useful stuff. Aha!! Hence the name, Practical Procrastination.
Here’s how I do it. My process is obviously tailored to writers; whats more, it’s very personal, but I hope anyone can try it with good results.
First, I never work on a single project. Having only one project at a time is just daring writer’s block to strike. I always have a minimum of three parallel projects; two long, one short. Of the two long projects, I have a main and a secondary, but you can’t afford to see your secondary as such, otherwise when you get stuck, that project won’t feel it’s important enough to switch to.
Not sure I can solve your problem per se, but here are a few things that work for me.
I write science fiction but have no true scientific training. Sure, I tried my hand at Bio-medical Science, but it ended up not going anywhere. What I mean is, even if you’re a scientist, you probably won’t only write inside that area of expertise that is yours. You want to do your research, and you want to do it ahead of time, before starting work on your first draft if you can. This is where Practical Procrastination comes in. Nowadays, most universities offer some if not all their content in the form of recorded lectures, available from the comfort of your own home, whether you live in Belgium like I do, or in Alaska, or in Tokyo. How cool is that? You can check out MIT Open Courseware and Open Yale Courses for starters.
If you’re willing to put in money, though not that much for the value you get, you can check out The Great Courses. Their courses range between 24 to 60 thirty-minute-long lectures on any given subject. Writing about black holes? No problem. Have that story that dives into a lengthy explanation of String Theory? You shouldn’t explain String Theory in a story, but if you want to go ahead and be factual, here you go.
The idea is that you get to procrastinate, not do what you’d set out to do, but instead of drinking up cat videos on YouTube, you could be expanding your knowledge, finding inspiration for your next story, or researching the one you’re about to write.
No, I’m not saying to watch those cat videos where they teach cats to write or speak or any kind of activity. Forget cats. I mean, instead of running to Facebook to update your status with that great cat quote you stumbled upon, why not head over to the Query Shark Blog to learn a bit more about the querying process? Done that to death? Why not Writers Digest’s How I Got My Agent column? That thing is so inspiring that it will save you when you’re so desperate you’re ready to give up on that jewel of a novel. When possible, procrastinate in a useful way. Is it still procrastinating? Absolutely. But at least you’re doing something you won’t feel as much guilty about as you will with those damned cat videos.
Obviously, I mean outside of writing. If so, then procrastinate toward that passion. Unless your passion is cats, there’s no reason to be typing that noun in Google Search, especially not when preceded with adjectives such as “funny” and “adorable”. Let’s say you love ice sculptures. Why not brainstorm on how you could build a story featuring ice sculpting? Devise a plot. An ice sculptor falls in love with a woman made of ice. Expand, spice it up. A recently divorced ice sculptor falls in love with a woman made of ice. Shake it up some more. A recently divorced ice sculptor falls in love with a man made of ice. Keep working on it, bring in the overflowing knowledge you have about ice sculpting. Flesh out the characters. Come up with a plot or synopsis or even better, both. Maybe you’ve got your next novel or short right there. How about that?
Why not then use it for the writing? Do you love web development? I do too! Aren’t you tired of tracking your writing with messy spreadsheets? Check out how I used the little knowledge I have in PHP to write a little app that does my tracking for me. Automatically. Freeing up time for me to either write, or come up with more ways in which I can procrastinate without feeling guilty about it.
How to fight procrastination when all you want to do is sit in front of your TV and binge on the latest trending TV shows? How can you make that profit your writing? Well, I get those periods when even the thing I usually enjoy the most just tastes like shit. I don’t want to do anything at all but sleep and watch TV. Do I give in? Yes, yes I do. But I don’t give up and load YouTube, already salivating at the prospect of my feline friends and their goofy accidents. No, sir, no ma’am. I watch The Vampire Diaries or Homeland or Game of Thrones or How I Met Your Mother and Took Eight Fucking Years to Tell the Story. And that’s just the appetizer. When I binge, I indulge myself; I don’t get choosy, either. So long as it’s got a plot and characters, I’m game.
Why do I not more carefully choose what I watch, you ask? Because, that’s an incredible opportunity to learn. I mean, if Show X made it to broadcast, chances are it did something right at some point, right? Maybe was it in its promotion, its characters, its plot, or simply in the way it combined all of those elements? Well, guess what? We as storytellers have to deal with the same thing, putting together many dimensions of storytelling to create just the right story. If the people behind the helm fucked up and I notice, even better. Then I can get to wondering what it was exactly that I think they screwed up. How would I, in their shoes, handle things differently? I learn. And you can never learn too much.
Absolutely. But if you spend nine out of ten procrastination sessions doing stuff that’ll actually advance your craft, you’ll feel incredibly better for it. And you will enjoy those silly cats all the more.
Have experience with procrastination? Share your story in the comments! Come on, don’t be shy! You can even talk about cats!