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Block | Procrastination

There is an inevitable rule that the chores I've been putting off suddenly seem essential when I plan to write. Sure there are times I just sit down and do it. Just like I'll go through stretches of drawing every day. But then comes the time I need to buckle down and get something done when I'm not in the mood, not motivated, not interested and in general flat out don't feel like working.

It's amazing what lengths I will go to, how much work can go into not working. My latest project in the kitchen is homemade cola which in fairness was something I wanted to try. But with all the other kitchen experiments in the past couple of days it has left the counter in need of clean-up. And the housework is more tempting than my writing.

To put this into context, my most hated chore is the dishes. Vacuuming doesn't count because I hate it so much I won't do it. The noise is just too much to bear. So any day a dirty sink is more appealing than cracking open my laptop you know I really, really don't feel like writing.

But if we only ever work when we feel like it we will never make it as professional artists. And even if we plan to keep something a hobby we reach a point the effort is greater than the reward of doing it. I'm just learning how to really draw and it takes me longer and longer to produce work that is arguably better but not good. And I suspect all art goes through what I call the garbage phase. A great deal of energy is spent on making something that is plainly an amateur attempt. My first 5 iterations of my website come to mind.

There is no doubt about it. Art is work and sometimes work sucks. And if we have the time to pursue our art but not the impending doom of a deadline, it is so very easy to work on that gut wrenching tear jerking scene tomorrow. Or next week. Or even next month. I have yet to hear someone deciding to put off creation for an entire year but add up enough time procrastinating and eventually that is what happens.

So how do you recover from "bum in chair syndrome"?

You trick yourself.

Here is my not so patented method for getting work done when anything, even just sitting still drinking coffee, sounds better than looking at whatever project I’m trying to complete.

I glance over what I have done, usually with some disinterest and then determine I will at least write a paragraph, finish an article, code a page in my website, draw the outline of a face, whatever it is. I will do a minimum just to have started it.

The deal I make myself is I can stop afterwards but usually by then I’m underway and just keep going. But there are times I write about three paragraphs, get fed up and take a break. So if I really, really can’t reign in my concentration I try something else to get myself to stick at it.

I time myself. Fifteen minutes. All I need to do is fifteen minutes. Or five. Then I can give up for a while. Or maybe I don’t even need that long I just need to finish the article or post I’m working on.

When I’m first trying to get going all I can think about are the errands I need to run and the cleaning I need to do. But I keep stabbing at it until I make progress, and then that tends to carry its own momentum. And if it doesn’t? I take a break, lots of breaks if I need to.

If this still isn’t enough I remind myself I’m an unbearable pain in the arse if I’m not working. I get grumpy and moody and depressed. I might give myself an artificial deadline because I get disappointed in myself if I'm not making progress.

Sometimes I perform rituals as suggested by other authors. I might make a cup of tea to ignore while working. But most times I just do the trick myself method.

And if none of that works I always have one last way to motivate myself.

I have a time clock on my computer with all my projects. I punch in and punch out. It’s designed for freelancers and it’s perfect for keeping me motivated to at least do some work so the number gets bigger. And I can visually see that while I might not have much to show for my work, particularly if I’ve just being doing research or editing, I have indeed been doing something.

Sometimes all of this smacks up against road blocks. As I wrote this very article my hands started to protest the change in weather. My always painful joints were worse than usual and my splints drive me crazy in the winter and thus a no go. But oddly it was this adversity that kept me on task. I switched to my iPhone and finished the piece. Because I wasn't going to be stopped when I had finally started. I was now determined.

The creative mind is a perverse thing. Nothing is more motivating than being in a position that inhibits our ability to be productive. Mum calls it turkey in the oven syndrome. Her best ideas were always on Christmas Day as dinner was being prepared.

Indeed when I was very little I could easily tell when mum was writing. Our dinner was black. So if all else fails, make yourself busy until you can't stand it any longer and skive off to do some work. Just be prepared for some burnt vegetables.

Tell your family it's Cajun.

Last updated March 16th, 2018

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