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Entries in procrastination (21)


Week Thirty One: Fallen!

Here it is! At long last! A story about God's favorite who falls but doesn't know it:

Kind of.

It feels like a long, long time since I've written something new, and that's probably because it has been. But it felt good. While it's been a tremendous year for me in terms of playwrighterly success, I've been too focused on marketing the stuff I've written and not nearly enough on writing new stuff.

Back to the well, then. Onward to Week Thirty Two!


Don't write what you don't love to write

So... I think I've realized something. I mentioned before about how I'm trying to write the first book of an eventual fantasy epic series? Well, I've been doing that, and have plodded my way almost to the end of chapter 1. Only 2,503 words in something like two weeks. Very slow going, but I want to be a Real Writer and so I have perservered. 

A few nights ago, however, I was at the library after work. I had every intention of gaining some ground on this book I have told myself I'm going to write. Instead, for two and a half hours, I did every possible thing except writing: I stared at my note pad forlornly, I got up and browsed the stacks, I tried to get three stars on two different levels of Angry Birds Star Wars, I stared at my notepad morosely, I started to fall asleep, and finally I pulled out the Kindle and began re-reading Rachel Aaron's 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. This book is great and I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested giving their writing process an oil change. 

But this passage in particular struck me:

One of the hardest things I've had to learn as a writer is that while virtually any story can be a good book if done correctly, not every story should. It's possible to have an amazing idea and still lack the interest necessary to polish it to publication level shine. I can not tell you the number of books I've plotted, written 30K words in, and then abandoned because I simply could not stand to look at them another second. Every single one of these ideas looked great on paper, and maybe in another author's hands they could have been golden, but in the end I just didn't care enough to push through.


Even if you're not selling your stories yet, your writing time is precious, often gained at the expense of other worthwhile activities. Don't waste it on a book you don't love.

Get the book here. It's only $0.99 on Amazon right now and you can read it on your computer if you don't have an e-reader. It's short but revelatory. Just how I like 'em.

Anyway, while reading the passage above something began to dawn on me: I don't know that I have ever enjoyed writing fiction!

Like everyone else, I came to writing as a reader first. Lord of the Rings and the Dragonlance Chronicles probably saved my life in middle school. Later, it was Shadowrun and the Belgariad series... the point is, I loved fantasy and science ficiton. I wanted to become a writer to write exactly these kind of books, and then in college genre fiction was kind of beaten out of me, and now, almost ten years later, I've finally returned to what brought me here in the first place.

Except... I don't wanna. Through this blog, I've discovered that I really enjoy (and am possibly even talented at) nonfiction. I've also rediscovered playwrighting and have had some success with that. But I can't think of a single instance where I really enjoyed the process of writing prose fiction. I've turned procrastination into a master art form these post-college years, and I'm beginning to wonder now if a large part of that was my resistance to writing something it wasn't in my heart to write.

I do recognize that things worth doing are sometimes difficult, and that, when starting out, you have to allow yourself to suck for awhile and just do the work anyway, but I understand now that this isn't an aversion to hard work or a self-defeating fear of what might happen when I really tryit's a lack of interest. Maybe it's okay for me to read these books I enjoyed so much, but to be a writer who writes something else entirely?

So I'm putting the book down, and I'm focusing instead on my nonfiction and playwrighting, which comes much more easily to me and brings me such joy. 

How about you? Had any trajectory-altering revelations lately?


A (slightly) new direction for the Unwritten Word

A casual reader of this blog will no doubt have noticed that these updates possess a certain... infrequency. I've talked a bit about this before: I put too much pressure on myself, I procrastinate, I get too busy, I get burnt out, wah wah wah. 

These things are all true, but there's something else to it:

I think maybe the concept ("One man! Boxes of old college notes! A dream!") is maybe kind of a little bit too much about me? 

Hear me out. What I had originally wanted for the Unwritten Word was to get me writing again, yes, and to have an excuse to gain closure on my well-intentioned but poorly executed college years, yes, but what I had really hoped was to build a community and to get that community participating. 

It's all well and fine that these challenges get me writing more, but I also want you to write more! And I want to hear about it! Writing sometimes feels like the most difficult work in the world, especially if you want to write but have not written in some time. Believe me. And I think everyone should and can write more. For self-exploration. For catharsis. For hyucks.

So, effective immediately:

The weekly challenges are also your challenges

I'm still going to post weird "found" prompts every week and try to make some kind of story out of them, but also I want you to start doing them with me. I want your stories to take the prompt in a completely different direction than I did. I want you guys to write stuff that surprises you, that you wouldn't have written otherwise. 

At the end of each weekly challenge (midnight Sunday, EST), I want you to post your story on your own blog, Livejournal, Tumblr, whatever and then link back to it in the comments on my blog. Or, if the story is short, you can paste the entire thing into a comment or onto the Facebook page. Or you can send it to me via the Contact page on this site. 

Or you can report that you wrote but refuse to show the rest of us what you wrote. That's also fine! We will not judge you. (Much...)

In short, let's have fun. Let's write more. Who's in?


Useful planning versus procrastination disguised as perfectionism

Yet another from Twyla Tharp (maybe I just enjoy writing "Twyla Tharp"...) from her book The Creative Habit, this time about useful planning vs. procrastination disguised as perfectionism:

Another trap is the belief that everything has to be perfect before you can take the next step. You won't move on to that second chapter until the first is written, rewritten, honed, tweaked, examined under a microscope, and buffed to a bright mahogany sheen. You won't dip a brush in the paint until you've assembled all the colors you can possibly imagine using in the course of the project. I know it's important to be prepared, but at the start of the process this type of perfectionism is more like procrastination. You've got to get in there and do.

I used to bask in the notion that all my obstacles to creative efficiency would vanish if I only had exactly the right resources[...]. But I've learned the opposite is true: Limits are a secret blessing, and bounty can be a curse.

...and, related:

Remember this the next time you moan about the hand you're dealt: No matter how limited your resources, they're enough to get started. Time, for example, is our most limited resource, but it is not the enemy of creativity that we think it is. The ticking clock is our friend if it gets us moving with urgency and passion. Give me a writer who thinks he has all the time in the world and I'll show you a writer who never delivers. Likewise with money, which comes a close second as our most limited resource. It's tempting to believe that the quantity and quality of our creative productivity would increase exponentially if only we could afford everything we've imagined, but I've seen too many artists dry up the moment they had enough money in the bank. For every artist who is empowered and inspired by money, there is another who gets lazy and self-satisfied because of it. Necessity will continue to be the mother of invention.

Too true. When you're insanely busy all you want is a gaping expanse of time in which to write write write. But odds are pretty good that you'll accomplish much more in the limited free time you have each day than if you had the entire day and nothing else to do but write.


My creative autobiography

In Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, which was commended to me by someone who knows of habits creative, the author asks thirty-three questions, the answers to which will then constitute your "creative autobiography." 

Now, I love me some how-to books about writing, but for some reason I read them like easy novels and then put them away. I have never, not once, actually completed any of the exercises in those books. 

Until today.

So brace yourself, because this is a long'n...

What is the first creative moment you remember?

Playing “Make Pretend” with my sister Sarah and other childhood friends. “Let’s make pretend that we’re Care Bears!” “Let’s make pretend” ...I don’t know... “that we’re baby birds!” It was really just us pretending to be things we had seen. Also, “imaginate” was a verb.

Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it?

The other kids who were also playing, mostly. I don’t remember any sort of adult presence during these. Surely there was, somewhere. I mean, right? Otherwise: irresponsible.

What is the best idea you’ve ever had?

Probably starting this blog.

What made it great in your mind?

I thought it could be a fun and unique way to make peace with my college experience and make me publicly accountable for my writing output each day and possibly attract an audience for future books.

What is the dumbest idea?

Getting a graduate degree in Creative Writing immediately after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing.

What made it stupid?

Three reasons: 1) While I did learn a few things about myself and my writing, and though I did find several good friends, I didn’t need a second degree in Creative Writing. (Whether I needed the first is also debatable.) 2) I would have gotten so much more out of the experience if I had taken a year or two between degrees to be in the “real world,” establish better goals and a work ethic, etc. 3) And, worst of all, I couldn’t afford it—my year was 100% financed by student loans. The level of debt I took on affected my life and future prospects in ways I could have predicted but did not.

Can you connect the dots that led you to this idea?

Yep. As I wrote in Week Ten’s nonfiction piece, “I had already accrued a terrifying amount of debt from my undergraduate years, and I feared that the Sallie Mae steamroller would destroy my life if I had to start making payments before I had my Master’s degree. At this time, my understanding was that Master’s degree = college professor, and college professor = ability to pay off staggering debt in timely manner.” I believed that a Master’s degree was the only way to achieve my dreams, and that if I didn’t get the Master’s degree now then I never would.

What is your creative ambition?

To make a comfortable living writing, teaching, and collaborating with others.

What are the obstacles to this ambition?

There are considerable financial obstacles. My aforementioned student debt, for one. Probably a larger obstacle, though, would be sustaining the writerly discipline, which seems to work only in short bursts, and only if I am tending to a variety of projects—no one of them getting my full attention. I also love certain video and computer games beyond reason or cure. They’re particularly addicting when I should be writing.

What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition?

Establish an aggressive writing routine. Do not waver from it. Re-establish the routine immediately after I waver from it.

How do you begin your day?

I have for several months been getting up between thirty and sixty minutes early and trying to use at least some of that time for writing. Make coffee, eat breakfast while reading email and catching up on Facebook and blogs, retreat to home office with coffee and attempt to squeeze out some words before I have to shower and leave for work.

What are your habits? What patterns do you repeat?

I know I would be a lot more productive if I saved the email/Facebook/blogs for after I’ve written, but if procrastination is poor impulse control, then I am a master procrastinator. I do tend to jump from thing to thing. A real writing streak happens rarely, and only in moments of perfect engagement or (more likely) deadline-induced panic.

Describe your first successful creative act.

I don’t remember if it was fourth or fifth grade, but out of nowhere I wrote this epic adventure about my and my sister’s mice—Michael and Zach. I was discovering the story as I was writing it and I enjoyed every minute. I don’t remember if I showed it to anyone or what their reaction was. I wish I still had it.

Describe your second successful creative act.

This was maybe seventh or eighth grade? My friend Chris and I imbibed near-lethal quantities of Jolt soda and stayed up until 2 or 3am writing a parody script of Star Trek: The Next Generation that had to do with, uh, adolescent... concerns. And over the next few weeks we even designed and assembled a cardboard set for the movie in my mother’s basement. Tragically, we never did film it.

Compare them.

Both involved writing that was spontaneous and fun to do. Neither felt like work—I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. And they both had to do with things I was interested in.

What are your attitudes toward:

Money? Like a wild animal or a loaded gun, it can hurt you if you do not handle with extreme caution.

Power? Not interested. Wouldn’t know what to do with it if I had it. I like collaborating too much.

Praise? Yes please! (Though my first impulse is always to deny or demur.)

Rivals? Like power, not really something I think about. (Apart from occasional pangs of jealousy. We all get those. I’m not a monster.)

Work? Where I find meaning. Or could. Someday. Maybe.

Play? Much more fun than work.

Which artists do you admire most?

Joss Whedon. Tony Kushner. Aaron Sorkin.

Why are they your role models?

They are all writers with a unique style that is equal parts funny and poignant without detracting from either. 

What do you and your role models have in common?

Though I’m not at their level, funny and poignant is also what I do when I’m firing on all cylinders.

Does anyone in your life regularly inspire you?

Apart from my girlfriend, who is wonderful, and my cat, who is totally awesome and not at all conceited about it, and my friends and family and have I covered my ass yet…?, I don’t know that I have a mentor or one source of inspiration. My inspiration mostly comes from the things I read and see, and then, once I have ingested enough, from within.

Who is your muse?

Thalia and Melpomene, of course—the Greek muses of comedy and drama, respectively. Kidding. I just looked that up. Do people really still have muses?

Define muse.

Your ideal audience, I guess? Someone or many someones you hope to impress or amuse? (Amuse! See what I did there without even trying?)

When confronted with superior intelligence or talent, how do you respond?

I wet myself both as a defense mechanism and to show submission.

When faced with stupidity, hostility, intransigence, laziness, or indifference in others, how do you respond?

Depends whether or not I am invested in this particular’s person success. If I am, even a little (and it does not take much), then I try to advise, help, inspire, cajole, and/or argue with. If I am not, then I avoid. Like a stupid, hostile, intransigent, lazy, and indifferent plague.

When faced with impending success or threat of failure, how do you respond?

Success, like praise, can make me feel oogy. I am probably a high-functioning sufferer of the Imposter Syndrome. Failure itself can knock me down for a while. But the threat of failure can motivate me unlike anything else. (My father’s half of the family fondly refers to this as the “Crose Call.”)

When you work, do you love the process or the result?

Sometimes I love the process. Usually I love the result more, because now it’s out there and people can respond to it. For some reason, it’s only when people respond to something I did that I feel like I actually did it.

At what moments do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp?

When I log in to my bank account and am confronted with certain hard truths.

What is your ideal creative activity?

Either brainstorming with collaborators or writing something when I am truly plugged in to it.

What is your greatest fear?

Disliking my life and feeling helpless to change it. Being a bad or disinterested parent. Being disliked and/or utterly alone.

What is the likelihood of either of the answers to the previous two questions happening?

Very likely and not very likely, respectively.

Which of your answers would you most like to change?

The “greatest fear” one, with my attitude toward money a close second.

What is your idea of mastery?

Confidence. An inner calm. Unshakable faith in myself and the process. A sense of purpose.

What is your greatest dream?

A happy family, a beautiful restored farmhouse, close friends, and making a comfortable living writing, teaching, and collaborating with others.


Well, that revealed some interesting stuff! "Collaborative" and "collaboration" are my two favorite words, but I really had no idea just how people-centric many of my hopes and fears are. It also made me realize that I need to focus more on chasing what's fun in my writing rather than what I suppose people will think is good. Also-also, I need to make a lot of money so I can stop worrying about money.

Did this stir up anything for you? I'd be interested to see how other people respond to these same questions. Post a link in the comments if you give this a try on your blog!


How to procrastinate productively

Courtesy of Writer's Digest, ten ways you can help your book/play/screenplay/etc. that are not actually writing it:

  1. Write a blog post. Reinforce your expertise while doing a little fun, informal writing.
  2. Visit your online community. Take a five-minute coffee break with other writers on Facebook and Twitter. Let their good news, struggles, questions, and insights percolate through you; chime in here and there. Notice any seeds of new ideas, projects, or collaborations taking shape in your peripheral vision.
  3. Make order. Sort and purge your in-box. Vacuum or do dishes or fold laundry. You can improve beauty and order around you while resetting whatever brain pretzel you may be locked in.
  4. Stand up and stretch. It’s far easier to keep butt-in-chair if blood is flowing to it!
  5. Do your due diligence. Enter your business expense data into QuickBooks or pay bills.
  6. Get prepared. Update your to-do list.
  7. Empty your mind. A quick, three-minute meditation can settle your stirred waters so you can see clearly again.
  8. Manage your contacts. Add business cards and other contact information you’ve collected recently into your contact database, sorting and categorizing appropriately by type of audience (students, colleagues, newsletter subscribers, etc.).
  9. Share the wealth. Visit a few favorite blogs or websites and tweet about your findings.
  10. Call your mother. (But don’t open the mail while you talk; she won’t like that.)

Read the rest of the article here!

Attentive readers will note that I have just now accomplished points 1 and 9. My procrastination, you see, is doubly productive.


Brainstorming Week Twelve

  • Someone is exhausted, clearly. Mentally and physically.
  • They needed to accomplish something specific by a certain date?
  • Succeeding in (or committing to) this has come at some cost.
  • Workaholism?
  • Procrastination?
  • OCD?
  • The costs of ambition.
  • That THING that won’t ever let you be content with a normal life.
  • What is that thing? Where does it come from?
  • When can you stop chasing it?
  • Can you ever?
  • You eventually succeed because you make it your life’s work; you never relent.
  • But what kind of life is that?
  • And when you do finally succeed, how will you continue without the need for urgency?
  • Will the work still be vital to you when it’s banal?
  • “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Does success?
  • Once the work isn’t everything, how will you learn balance?
  • Maybe this is a story about someone who unknowingly (or knowingly) self-sabotages so that the chase is always the single most urgent thing—in this way, they will never have to contend with themselves.

Week Seven: Live on Stage!

Just a quick post to let y'all know that a revised version of Week Seven's short play will be appearing in this year's Hovey Summer Shorts Festival! [Here's an article about last year's show.] 

As I wrote in Week Seven's reflections, growing up a bit has helped my writing quite a lot. Being accepted into a festival such as this was my holy grail toward the end of college, but in truth I wasn't ready. At that time, writing was about the end result, not the process. Hence the procrastination. Hence the reluctance to start something new when the last thing I wrote didn't earn the accolates I craved.

Now it's all (okay, mostly all) about the process. Which is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Huge thanks to everyone who read and enjoyed Week Seven or any of these weekly challengesyour continued interest is the reason I received the exciting email I did this morning.


Reflections on Week Ten

[Read the completed story here!]

This one was shockingly not at all difficult for me. Is it that Microfiction Week detonated all my blocks and barriers, or did Dean Wesley Smith's advice inspire me to better discipline, or both? Whatever the case, I seem to have a much easier time with nonfiction than I do with fiction. Writing Week Five's story (once I knew what to write) was also a great experience. 

I drafted this a bit differently than the others: probably for the first time ever, I put no pressure on myself for this thing to make sense. In my half-hour each morning I would just try to capture a few moments or feelings I remember having during my year as an adjunct college professor. These little scenes were in no order whatsoever, and I didn't have any idea how each of them (or any) would fit into a larger narrative. (In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises trying to describe only what you could see in a one-inch by one-inch picture frame. Without realizing this at the time, it's pretty much what I was doing here.)

Once I had over 2,000 words, I printed it off and cut each vignette into a separate strip of paper. Then I launched a hostile takeover of the kitchen table, as can be seen below:

[Yesthose scissors are pink.]

I know I've read a few times that this is a great way to revise a story, but of course I've always been too much of a procrastinating perfectionist control freak to actually give it a try. I'm glad I didI was pretty easily able to group the slips by chronological sequence and emotional throughline. Several of them didn't fit anywhere, and that too was quickly apparent. And some others were created in revision to bridge gaps. 

I'm pretty happy with the end result, but kind of sad that I had to stop. I didn't touch at all on all the plagiarism (unintentionial and the other kind) I encountered, or the challenge of teaching non-native English speakers something I barely understood myself. At some point down the road, once I have some distance, I'll probably revisit this piece and expand it, maybe even submit it somewhere. 

Anyway, give it a read and tell me what you think!


How to be a professional writer

Awesome post from Chuck Wendig about how to make a living being a writer:

And so, I figure, it’s time for some general tips on not just being a writer but, rather, being a professional writer. Further, being a professional writer who can do more than just buy an annual steak dinner with your earnings.

Here we go.

Speed: Learn to write with some zip in your fingers. A thousand words per hour is a good base level and not at all difficult to achieve.


Time: Learning to write well and with some speed means this takes time. Do not expect to be one of those “overnight successes,” a creature as rare as a Bigfoot riding a unicorn on a saddle made of leprechaun leather. A writer’s so-called “overnight success” is just the tip of the iceberg exposed, while the rest of the writer’s time and effort and narrative R&D exist in a massive glacial mountain beneath the darkened waters. Just because the writer appeared on the world’s radar doesn’t mean that poor fucker hasn’t been working his fingers bloody for quite some time.

No, Really, I Mean It: This can be a slow process. It was about a ten year journey to go from “freshly-minted, ruddy-cheeked penmonkey” to “battle-hardened full-timer with stories wound into his bloody beard-tangle.” Be ready to invest the time and effort.

Read the rest here!

Much of this advice is reassuringly similar to Dean Wesley Smith's, right down to the writing speed of 1,000 words per hour. (Though the advice later in the post about self-publishing is wildly different.)

No one in any of my dozens of writing workshops has ever suggested that I try writing quickly, but man oh man has it solved a lot of my problems re: being a procrastinating perfectionist.