Friday, October 21, 2016

The Monster of Procrastination

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

From the moment we fight our way into the world, we each have monsters to overcome. For years, many of us depend on the adults in our life to help and even fight for us. But at some point, we have to lace up our boots, sharpen our swords, and don the shields others have carried on our behalf.

Scary, yes. But also exciting. Facing down your own monsters is a rite of passage for any teen writer.

Now, some monsters are fierce in their attack, twisting your gut and brightening your face, forcing sweat down your spine. I think of Fear and Doubt; I think of Anger. These guys are all brutal in their own obvious ways, but sometimes it's the quiet ones that do the most damage to our stories.

It's the beasts who plop down on top of us all furry and comfortable, wagging their tails and convincing us to scratch their ears, keeping us numb to the fact that behind that sloppy, silly smile they're hiding jagged teeth already tearing at our motivation.

I'm talking about the Monster of Procrastination.

Oh, he's a snugly one, to be sure. He comes along with video games and buckets of free time. He slobbers in your ear and whispers that all of this--even the twelve hour Netflix binge--is inspiration. He wraps lies up in cozy truths and keeps your behind on the couch when it should be in front of a computer screen (or notebook!).

He's sneaky this guy. And sometimes he's wise. And that makes him hard to cut down, because like any creative, you need a break. You need time to veg. You need a good old fashioned time out. You might even need Netflix.

But how do we differentiate between the angel of rejuvenation and the demon of I'll-Do-It-Later. How do we find a healthy balance?

I have a few thoughts for you.

Acknowledge that life is busy. If you don't do this, then every time you sit down, you'll feel guilty. I struggle with this a lot. It's rare for me to find a moment of peace that I think I shouldn't be filling with words in some form or another. Start here, with the very basic truth that there will be times when you need to rest.

Acknowledge that your story will not get written if you do not write it. I know, I know. But this is foundational. Your story will not write itself. Your parents, your BFF, your tabby cat--they won't do it for you. And even if you could get them take on such a task, would you really want to hand this off? This is YOUR STORY. YOUR BRAIN CHILD. You either want to see it realized on the page or you only kind of want to see it on the page. The latter will not get it written. And, for reals, your attitude may shift a time or two before it stands its ground. That's okay too. But understand that stories do not want to write themselves. They need you.

Start your day with a To-Do List. Now, To-Do Lists aren't going to jump in and fight for you either, but there is something magical about these things. I make one every day. It's a habit I picked up when I worked in retail management. We started each day with a Punch List (read: To-Do List). Every task we completed as a staff got marked off and by the end of the shift, the whole crew knew we'd accomplished something--usually everything we jotted down to start with.

Checking things off is a stupid, silly motivator, but IT WORKS. In fact, some days, if I have early appointments and don't get around to making a Punch List until later in the day, I actually scribble down everything I did that morning just so I can scratch it off. It's ridiculous, I know, but it keeps me in a mode of accomplishing. You need to find that mode. Procrastination hates that mode.

Give yourself permission to start anywhere. Listen, at some point you're going to have to write that scene that has you curled up with Procrastination, but it doesn't have to be today. Start with something you can muster up the WANT-TO to achieve. Want-to is important. Honor it. If you want to work on that battle scene, do it. If you want to play with your backstory a bit, dive in. If you'd rather interview your villain for a while, put that on the To-Do list, do it with gusto, and check that baby off. Just get started. It's very possible that you'll find the want-to you need for tougher scenes as you're working on the easier stuff. Happens all the time.

Remind yourself that stories are important. Will your story change the lives of people all over the world? Maybe, maybe not. There's no way to know until you finish it. But here's the honest truth: the writing of a story and the FINISHING of a story will absolutely change you. You'll see every difficult task through a new lens. You'll gain battle experience--to finish a story you will inevitably face many, many monsters. And you will know that you CAN finish a story, that it's possible. That knowledge becomes a weapon you can use against procrastination next time.

Trust me, finishing is a big fat deal. Storytelling is ancient and spiritual and intellectual and entertaining. Storytelling matters. It's mattered forever. You've chosen to do something noble. Now, sit down, dust off the fuzzy remnants of Procrastination, and do it. That adorable little monster will sulk off with his tail between his legs wishing you'd never, ever made that To-Do List.

Now, tell me, friends. What helps you when the Monster of Procrastination strikes (er, snuggles up happily on your lap)?

7 comments:

  1. Too often I hear Netflix calling my name when I'm trying to write. I usually discipline myself by writing a scene, chapter, or try to edit something and then watch a couple episodes. Great post! I now have more weapons to take on procrastination.

    Cat
    http://finalfantasfiction.blogspot.com/

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    1. Netflix is a wily adversary. I totally understand. And using it as incentive is brilliant.

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  2. Ouch. Way to hit where it hurts, Mrs. Dittemore. On that note, I definitely needed this post today. I am currently drowning in schoolwork and find myself wanting to relax during all my free time instead of tackling my writing projects (editing book one, rewriting book two). Thanks for reminding me that it's possible to overcome the Monster of Procrastination. Great post!

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    1. Find that balance, friend. Rest is okay. Procrastination is. . . less okay. ;)

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Love this post... except I don't think I could do a to-do list. That just isn't me ;D But very good stuff that I can from this besides... loved what you said about Netflix being inspiration! Haha, I don't do that with Netflix.. but other things, yes ;)

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  4. Hey Shannon,

    This piece is very inspiring and a challenge to me. I am certain that you are right about the monster of procrastination because this mostly happens to teens or at the average age. Not like me, I have the tendency to delay things at some instance due to my age. So, I am thinking maybe procrastination has some borderline with regards to age, right?

    Whatever it is, I love what I've read and heading off to share on my grandchildren for sure.Thank you.

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