A recent discussion about procrastination on a Facebook board (of all places) got my dander up about the Great Art Versus Boring Grind debate. It’s a false argument that permeates articles about creativity too, and it toasts my temper, it really does.
People, procrastination is normal. It’s inevitable. and it’s avoidable. The one thing that WON’T help you get back in front of your writing is avoiding the keyboard or the journal or the notebook.
Here’s my take on getting successfully to the end of a project despite lack of motivation, based on my experience completing five novels, two novelettes, a novella and a bunch of shorts. I’ll be mixing my metaphors with abandon and sprinkling in similes like a hipster putting cinnamon on a latte, so brace yourself.
My advice: write. Just that. If you’re having trouble getting going or keeping going, start doing it on a schedule. Start with five minutes. Time yourself. Resolve to sit with your tools of choice for five minutes every day (or every other, or on your days off, whatever) and WRITE. Write anything, up to and including five-minute rambling stream-of-consciousness rants about how stupid the whole idea is. If you can’t get your project to gel, be water around a rock and flow in a different way, but keep moving. That’s all it will take.
“Oh, noes!” you say, all internet-speaky and full of tips and tricks gleaned from lists and blogs and articles written by Real Professionals. “But I’ll start resenting the writing process if I force myself to sit down and write! I’ll stifle my Art! I’ll smother my creativity! I couldn’t possibly. Ooo, scary! I should stay away from writing if the ideas aren’t coming. Avoiding writing gets the juices flowing.”
Forcing yourself to do anything can make it a chore. That’s a matter of attitude, not action. Discipline generates transcendence like rubbing your shoes across the rug generates electricity. There is no art whose construction will always be enjoyable or easy, without periods of resentment, angst and sometimes even loathing. One thing and one thing only will make you a better writer: writing. To believe that discipline will poison your drive to create with such a petty emotion as resentment insults the power of your own imagination and sells your
To forbid yourself release of words and vision in hopes of inspiring motivation is like holding one’s breath in hopes of gaining oxygen. It’s self-defeating, however heady the temporary rush may feel. Treating creativity as a commodity that must be stored up — as if it will eventually run out if you don’t husband it and deny it release — is a mental trap. Don’t fall into it. Procrastination lives at the bottom.
Ideas are much more like living things that need attention and nurturing. Yes, there’s a real need to step back at times, to get some distance from a given project to relax your mind, but that’s not the same as waiting passively for inspiration to strike or holding yourself aloof from it.
Inspiration doesn’t strike, it grows, down in the dark parts of your mind where you can’t see it, until it burst out in bloom when you least expect it. You’ll get no glorious blooms of genius without first putting down roots deep in the stinky, boring soil of constant practice. To believe otherwise is to cripple yourself before you even start the artistic journey.
Discipline is a choice. Not an easy one, no, but no one questions the value of forcing yourself to take a shower so that your body does not offend, or forcing yourself to do unfulfilling work to get money to live. How can you give your art any less effort? And yes, I sometimes resent having to shower and go to work too. Don’t we all? Yet those acts have lasting value that make them worth doing despite an occasional bout of resentment.
Regularly challenge and stimulate and IMPROVE your writing by…writing. It really is that simple.
Simple isn’t easy. It’s hard, even sometimes immensely painful. Anything worth doing is worth doing even when you don’t want to do it. Especially then.
It could be worse. Imagine writing on paper when paper looked like this: