Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I had planned to write on the topic of world building this week, but then two things happened: 1) I read a great piece on Procrastination that resonated with me 2) I realized that many of you were off to the Romance Writer's of America Conference in Disney World this week and would not have time to read the blog. Therefore I decided to be a bit selfish and talk about what I want to talk about which is this great piece on procrastination.

I am reading, "The Feeling Good Handbook," by David D. Burns, M.D. I must admit my sad little secret, I love self help books. I read them to learn how others view the world. I look for character flaws to give my characters. I look for ways to improve my characters lives with a self-help growth arc. I find that self-help books, from the fabulous and well documented, to the mystical, are a great insight into the way humans-and therefore characters- think and act. Conflicts that are unique and feel true to life come out of the human experience. Self help books allow me to understand a multitude of points of view- and a million ways to grow and change those pov's.
But that's another subject. I'm procrastinating again and off topic, so lets come back to procrastination--a very common problem for writers of all ages. Chapter 9 in this book is dedicated to procrastination-it's causes and effects, and how to handle it.
On page 169, the author asks- "which comes first motivation or productive action?" We all think, motivation, right? Wrong. The most productive writers know not to wait for their muse. If they set a time, sit down at their computer, open a word file and begin, they know that sooner or later their muse will show up. The muse can't resist. They have to know what you are doing. They want to butt in with their fabulous thoughts. Sometimes I will write contrary things about my characters- I get about a half a page in and they show up complaining that they would never act that way. Then I have them and before I know it five or ten pages are written. Productive action is the best way to kill procrastination. The key is to start- start small, allow yourself to do it imperfectly- or do it imperfectly on purpose. Five pages edited out is still five pages more than not starting. Five pages more of practice. Five pages of working out a problem. In effect, Doctor Burns writes, "Action leads to motivation which leads to more action." Nike was right. Just do it.
On page 170 the Burns writes: "People who procrastinate often have an unrealistic view of how a productive person really functions." In other words, they think that, unlike them, things come easy for productive people and that "productive people don't have to endure frustration, self-doubt and failure." I hear this all the time. When I'm published things will be better. I will sell everything I write. I will sell my backlist. (People used to say that to me when I would say, I've written 15 manuscripts and am not published. Well, they would answer, once you are published you will sell you entire backlist. um, no.) Writers assume that if you are published-no, really published (whatever that means to them)-then being productive is easy. HA! Warning truth alert: if you are writing full manuscripts, revising, polishing, sending them out, and getting rejections you are living the published authors life. Minus the book on the shelf. :) But even then only one in four of the books I write make it to the shelf. I don't say this to discourage you. I say it to emphasize what the doctor says next: "Highly productive people are more likely to have a 'coping model.' They assume that life will be frustrating and that there will be numerous rejections and setbacks and even failures on the road to success. When they encounter these obstacles, they simply assume that things are as they should be and persist."
He goes on to name the other reasons to procrastinate: the fear of failure, the fear of success, lack of rewards (this is hard for writers who hit the, "I'm not publishing why keep going?" and "My numbers are small, I'm doing all this work and the guys at Mikey D's get paid more than I do," walls.) There is also the "shoulds"- I should write this because that's what's selling, I should write because my partner wants me to, etc. Here's a revelation:the more you tell yourself you should do something, the harder it is to do it. The only way to do something is because you want to- not because you should. Ex: I want to pay my bills because I don't want to pay late fees. I want to write a thriller because I like to write action.
Then there is procrastination as a passive aggressive act, you don't write because you are mad at your cp, your editor, your agent or your spouse. Unassertiveness-you can't say no and although you said yes to writing a blog or a short story for an anthology you really wanted to say no so you procrastinate. Also, coercion sensitivity where you procrastinate because you feel people are acting bossy and forcing you to do something you don't want. Which happens more than you know in writing-especially with the pressure from writing groups or partners. Finally procrastination can be caused by a simple lack of desire. You simply aren't interested. The answer there is to decide not to do it. If you decided not to do something then it's no longer procrastination but a decision. Writers need to give themselves permission to choose to write or not. Permission to take time off, to do something else, to explore other options. Many really good, really well known authors only write one or two books. If you are done, you are done. Life is too short to live in procrastination hell.
As the famous Yoda says, "Do or do not. There is no try." If a someone thinks less of you for making your life decisions then they are not really your friend, are they?
I hope these tips, which helped me, will help you. Next week Ill talk about world building... or not. :) Cheers~


Linda Kage said...

What a fabulous post. Thank you so much for putting in some lines from the self-help book. I love the idea about purposely writing something off in order to coax your muse into shaking its finger at your and saying, "no, no, no. That's now how this should go."

I also love how he says a published author goes through the same process as an unpublished author; the only difference is one has a book on the shelf. Classic.

Now I feel all encouraged to go and do something beside procrastinate. Thank you.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Linda,

Thanks! I can't imagine you procrastinating much-you have a new baby and books coming out. whew-

Lynda Young said...

I'm a world famous procrastinator... well, I would be world famous, but I'm too busy procrastinating :P
great post

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

As a major procrastinator, I not only enjoyed reading your blog on procrastination, but I also got a lot out of it. I like the idea of “Just do it.” I’m feeling inspired and hope my muse now has to work overtime to make up for my recent unproductiveness. Thanks.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Lynda,

Thanks for stopping by. :D

Let's hope you do become world famous. Cheers~

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane,

I do like to trick my muse. You'd be surprised how they hate to be left out. Best of luck! :)